Support your local grower
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series about eating and buying locally produced food.EAGLE COUNTY The latest food debate pits organic produce against locally grown fruit and vegetables. Should you pass up the apple grown without pesticides for one that was grown conventionally, but grown right here in Colorado? It’s a choice with no right answer, but there are certain people, like Brook LeVan, who says, when you can – always buy local.
“We have little local food production in our valley, as is likely true in the Vail area, and that puts us all at great risk,” said Brook LeVan, executive director of Sustainable Settings, an organic farm and green development in Carbondale. “If the trucks stop traveling in our direction due to either weather, the high cost of fuel or the inevitable fuel scarcity, our dreamy little mountain towns will go hungry. Rebuilding or relocalizing our food production and distribution is crucial to our Rocky Mountain livelihood.”People who reach for the local apple – and local is defined differently, from the distance of a leisurely Sunday drive, to grown within a 150 mile radius to their home, to grown in their state – believe the risk of digesting a few pesticides far out weighs the oil it took to transport the organic apple from some distant farm.They also know the farther an apple has to travel, the longer it sits in a crate on a plane or in the grocer’s storage, losing its taste, and more importantly, losing its nutritional value.And then there is the fear that if not supported, the local farmers will disappear all together, pushing the food source even farther away from communities and everyday life. So what’s a Vail Valley consumer to do? Afterall, this isn’t California. Farming is tougher at high altitudes, and the growing season is much shorter. But there are ways to buy locally, albeit seasonally. And there are a lot of state farmers who grow organically, eliminating the need to make a choice between the two.Community Supported AgricultureOne way to buy locally is to become a member of a community supported farm, or CSA. Basically, community members pay an annual fee to help cover the production costs of farms. In return, members, sometimes called share holders or subscribers, receive weekly baskets of produce from June to October, in Colorado, although some Front Range farms sell year-round. Usually, there is a common drop off point in the area.Because CSA farmers have to please their “share holders” most grow a variety of produce, which changes with the summer season and as the garden grows. In Colorado, early baskets might include sweet cherries and spring lettuce, then stone fruit and finally winter squashes. You never know exactly what you’re going to get.
Membership fees vary from farm to farm between $300 and $1000 for an entire season. The more expensive, the more produce in your weekly basket. Some farms offer working shares, where a member can work three-four hours a week in exchange for a discount on membership cost. Austin Family Farms in Paonia is one of the few Western Slope CSA farmers that delivers to the valley, dropping off baskets every Saturday in Minturn, while he mans a booth at the Minturn Market.Austin said, like anything in life, things can go wrong during a growing season. A hail storm in summer could mutilate some plants, or an early freeze might shorten the growing season even more. A CSA member still pays, assuming all the costs and risks of owning a farm, along with the bounty of fresh food.”The consumer advantage is you get produce that has been harvested one or two days prior, rather than two weeks,” Austin said. “You get the freshest and the very healthiest produce. There’s less chance of contamination because we harvest here, rather than buying something that came out of Chile or Mexico.”Farmers’ markets and fruit standsIn the winter, Marilyn Jones works as a flight attendant, but as soon as the Bing cherries turn ripe, around July 1, she’s driving a truck up from Palisade to sell Colorado produce daily at stands in Eagle-Vail, Silverthorne and Gypsum.Jones and James Lukinich have a small farm, growing tomatoes, plums, walnuts and basil, and to supplement variety, they buy from neighboring farms.”We pride ourselves on selling the freshest produce,” Jones said. “James picks that morning, bags it up and delivers it by around 3 p.m.,” to Eagle-Vail.Fruit stands and farmers’ markets are other ways to buy locally, although prices tend to be higher compared to a co-op. During summer, the weekends are a buzz with markets hosting mostly Colorado vendors. On Saturdays, there’s a market in downtown Minturn and in Edwards. On Sundays, Vail hosts a market on Meadow Drive. Because its usually a farm worker selling the goods, buyers can ask their questions directly to the grower: What’s fresh? Did you use pesticides? How should I cook this? And unlike a CSA, you can buy on a whim or as to what looks tastiest in the moment.Backyard gardenThe best way to ensure great produce in the mountains, Aaron Brachfeld of Coastalfields farm said, is to grow it yourself. Coastalfields is a year-round CSA in Arvada, they ship most of their produce as far as Texas and California, but will also deliver it to the Vail area for a charge. But Coastalfields will also teach anyone who wants to learn how to grow food for free, except for a little gas money, Brachfeld said.The Brachfeld and Mary Choate use the “Active Fallow” method of growing, and that is what they teach.”We are the cleanest farm around,” Brachfeld said. “We don’t use any herbicide, we don’t even pull weeds. We use no fertilizer, no compost, no pesticide. We don’t even swat mosquitos.”Le Van of Sustainable Settings chimes in about the importance of growing food yourself.”Vail needs to encourage more food production,” Le Van said. “Buy local has been a chant we have heard through the last decade or so. We need to live that ethos if we are to make the transition, if our mountain towns are to move toward anything resembling a secure food future.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.