Our Community Foundation: What’s the future of food in Eagle County? | VailDaily.com

Our Community Foundation: What’s the future of food in Eagle County?

Kelli Duncan
Valley Voices
Members of the New Roots CO team begin planting seeds in the EagleVail Community Garden.
Special to the Daily

In Eagle County, 16% of our population struggles with food insecurity, just slightly higher than the national average which hovers around 12%, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Meanwhile, just under 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste, much of it before it even arrives at your local grocery store.

Together, these statistics paint the picture of a broken food economy, a fact which has been acknowledged by many prominent research agencies such as the USDA, the United Nations and the Government Office for Science in London.

A large-scale problem

Much of our global food economy relies on large scale farming of a single product year after year in order to streamline production and generate massive amounts of popular goods. This practice is often referred to as “monocropping.”

New Roots CO is working to foster healthy, resilient food systems in the Eagle River Valley and to stimulate local, sustainable avenues for food through partnership and education.

Evan “Lanny” Ellis, the master gardener and secretary of New Roots CO, said the practice of monocropping negatively affects the health of our soils, our environment and our bodies.

“What happens when you have these massive, large-scale farms is you have a lot less attention being paid to what gets wasted, a lot less attention being paid to the soil, a lot less attention being paid to the nutrient content of the product they’re harvesting … it becomes much more about the bottom dollar,” Ellis said.

Adam Fenton, vice president and interim president of New Roots CO, said that the decline in soil health caused by monocropping is a much larger issue than some people may realize.

“The entirety of existence on this planet relies on a six-inch layer of soil. On average, six inches spread across this entire planet is what supports all of the plants, all of the animals, us,” he said. “So if you don’t tend to it and keep it healthy, I mean, that’s it.”

Smaller is better

So how do we protect the future of our planet while also making good quality food accessible to everyone regardless of income?

According to a 2010 report by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the only way our food production will be able to keep up with population growth in the coming years is to reimagine our food system and to invest in small-scale, sustainable farming.

The report recommended that “As part of their obligation to devote the maximum of their available resources to the progressive realization of the right to food, States should implement public policies supporting the adoption of agroecological practices [in part] by improving the ability of producers practicing sustainable agriculture to access markets … and creating a supportive trade and macroeconomic framework.”

According to Hannah Semler, the CEO and co-founder of FarmDrop.us, founder of Whole Crops and former food systems consultant for the Eagle River Valley Food Bank, this kind of shift in the food economy will rely heavily on increased demand for local produce from individual consumers in communities across the U.S.

“Consumers in Eagle County are not necessarily prioritizing or imagining that they should have a market to purchase local food,” she said. “There is this sort of cultural need to reimagine how local food is made accessible year-round so that it becomes a priority for all people in the community.”

Currently, options to buy local produce in Eagle County are limited and often seen as too expensive. Semler said there are many ways to work with farmers to make the local food market more accessible for everyone.

“The best way is to work with local farmers to find the perfect way to scale their operations so that they can cover their costs, make a profit, but still not overcharge people for the individual product,” she said.

Ellis pointed out that another, perhaps simpler, way to have more control over the quality of the produce that we consume is for more people to grow their own food.

“I would tell everyone just to grow your own food if you can … that’s the No. 1 most effective way to take control of your own health and to foster agency and independence apart from the global food system,” he said.

However, Semler pointed out that growing your own food is not something that everyone has the ability or the resources to do, especially those in low-income communities who may not have access to land. One solution to this that has been gaining popularity in recent years is the idea of community gardens.

“Every community should have a community garden where anyone who does want to grow their own food has access to land to do so,” she said. “How to bring more land to people who do want to grow food is what we should be focusing on more than forcing everyone to grow their own food.”

This season, New Roots CO will be managing a handful of community garden plots in both the EagleVail and Edwards Community Gardens on behalf of the Eagle River Valley Food Bank. Produce harvested from the garden plots will be donated to the food bank to be redistributed to local, low-income families.

If you would like to help us in this effort, while also learning more about the process of growing your own food, please contact Kelli Duncan at kelli@ourcommunityfoundation.org.

“There’s all of these parts to this problem that, when I look at it, actually have the solution within them. We do have a lot of small growers in the valley, they just need the appropriate support system in place to be able to sell their product,” Fenton said.

If you would like to learn more about how you can purchase locally grown produce, reach out to them at info@newrootsco.org.

Kelli Duncan is a marketing and volunteer coordinator with the Eagle River Valley Food Bank, a project of Our Community Foundation.