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Feeding the valley while keeping environmental sustainability in mind

The Community Market’s sustainable practices have remained as strong as ever, even as the organization faces unprecedented demand

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Walking Mountains Science Center
Environmental sustainability is one of the Community Market’s essential values as an organization.
The Community Market: Feeding the valley

One of the goals of The Community Market, a project of the Eagle Valley Community Foundation, is to be accessible to anyone and everyone who needs food assistance in Eagle County. Anyone is welcome to show up at the market, which does not require proof of income or identification. 

This program aims to decrease barriers to accessing food in a safe, noninvasive way. 

Locations:

  • The Community Market in Gypsum, 760 Lindbergh Drive in Gypsum, unit #7. Open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • The Community Market in Edwards, 69 Edwards Access Rd. #6. Open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, from 1 to 6 p.m. 

For more information, visit eaglevalleycf.org/the-community-market/.

To learn more about the Actively Green program, visit, walkingmountains.org/activelygreen.

The Community Market food bank and pantry in Gypsum and Edwards, was serving about 1,000 individuals per week before the pandemic. Demand surged to about 4,000 people per week during the height of the summer lockdowns, and remains high now at about 3,000 to 3,300 per week. 

Had the Community Market, which is run by the Eagle County Community Foundation, not had solid sustainability practices already in place, this increase in volume could have also had serious environmental impacts. 

Rita Mary Hennigan, partner relations and sustainability coordinator at the Foundation, said environmental sustainability is one of the Community Market’s three key values. Without systems in place for how to remain as forward-thinking and green as possible, though, it would have been hard to keep the practices up while meeting such increased service demands. 

The Community Market began perfecting its practices with Actively Green, a sustainability training and certification program offered through Walking Mountains Science Center. Hennigan said the program has helped the Market build sustainability into all of its systems and operations, and they’ve even added a new sustainability initiative during the pandemic. 

“The Actively Green program has been wonderful for us. It helps to have the framework to think about how we can apply sustainability into all these different aspects of our organization,” Hennigan said. “And it’s a good tool to help keep ourselves accountable to make sure we’re thinking about sustainability in a variety of applications and different ways.”

Soft plastics program

The Actively Green program has helped The Community Market apply sustainability into many different aspects of its operations.

Since the Community Market began in 2018, the goal has always been to try to send as little material to the landfill as possible. They have robust composting and recycling efforts, but Hennigan said they noticed that there was always an abundance of soft plastics leftover. 

Soft plastics include things like grocery and ziplock bags, and packaging wrap, which can’t be recycled with other plastics. 

“We heard that Eagle County Schools does a soft plastics recycling challenge with a company called Trex, so we learned about it through their participation and implemented a soft plastics recycling at both community markets,” she said. “It knocked the last major chunk of landfill waste into a category of waste being recycled, and it’s now part of our daily operations. City Market sends it to Trex and it’s made into outdoor decking materials.” 

Food labeling

The Actively Green program has helped The Community Market apply sustainability into many different aspects of its operations.

Food waste is a global environmental and sustainability problem accounting for 63 million tons and $218 billion in food that never gets eaten. The Community Market has focused some of its local sustainability efforts on how food labeling affects local food waste. 

Its Food Rescue program picks up food from grocery stores across the valley that can no longer keep the food in their inventory, but it’s perfectly safe, healthy and nutritious to eat. 

Food labels aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration outside of labels for baby formula. That leads to ambiguity around the differences in labels such as “best by,” “sell by,” “best before,” “use by,” and “expiration.” 

Data shows that confusion around date labels is estimated to be responsible for up to 20% of consumer waste of safe and edible food.

Dates on packages are often a reason for why a food item is culled from a grocery store’s shelves and then donated to the Community Market.

“There’s a lot of confusion around what those labels mean,” Hennigan said. “The dates can be arbitrarily determined by the food manufacturer. It’s usually their estimate about when the food is at its highest quality rather than an actual safety regulation.”

Local food sourcing

The Community Market food bank and pantry was serving about 1,000 individuals per week before the pandemic. Demand surged to about 4,000 people per week during the height of the summer lockdowns, and remains around 3,000 per week currently.

During Colorado’s growing season, the Community Market buys roughly 2,500 pounds of food per week from Austin Family Farm in Paonia. This is in addition to all of the food donations received from local grocery stores. 

“We want to make sure we always have healthy, fresh produce available to our customers,” Hennigan said, adding that they chose Austin Family Farm thanks to its organic growing practices, “so they’re stewarding the environment in ways we want to support.”

Waste-tracking system

A waste-tracking system is one of the requirements for an Actively Green certification.

A waste-tracking system is one of the requirements for an Actively Green certification, which Hennigan said has been especially interesting for the Community Market. They use a spreadsheet to track waste and it’s become a part of the daily operations for all staff and volunteers. 

Staff members weigh every bag or container of trash, compost, and recycling before taking it out of the building and to the appropriate receptacle. The Community Market’s volunteers have the opportunity to learn from staff about why and how waste is sorted and tracked so closely.

“It’s been really cool to see that become part of people’s everyday work,” she said.


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