March 10, 2021 Delta County Independent article written by Lisa Young.
The North Fork Valley Buy Local Resource Campaign is moving full steam ahead this spring with plans to expand its reach and provide better support for the valley’s numerous agricultural industries.
Natasha Léger, Citizens for a Healthy Community, said the campaign was launched last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to remind citizens about the importance of the valley’s agriculture and food economy.
“We were concerned about the impacts that the pandemic would have on our farmers, restaurants and the markets they generally rely on,” she said.
One goal of the campaign is to create a circular economy, one that can survive despite a lock-down or an unexpected economic shift.
“We wanted to continue the campaign this season, but more importantly start it earlier. Again to remind people that even outside of the growing season there’s local food and local support available,” said Léger emphasizing that the movement is beyond normal economic development.
“It’s really about investing in our community and our local economy long term. So, this year we have eight groups so far joining in the campaign and we’re looking at doing a workshop in the spring around a circular economy and what that means.”
According to a simplified Wikipedia definition, “a circular economy is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources.”
“The whole concept of circular economy is how the community supports itself so, how every dollar spent in the community goes back into the community,” said Léger.
One example of a circular economy at work is the local farmer’s market. Last year’s Arbol Farmers’ Market was able to replace lost Front Range markets for area producers proving that there was a viable market in the area.
While the pandemic may have been a part of the reason for the market’s success, Léger believes there’s enough local demand to absorb local production with the local fruit market being the exception.
“I think it’s really important for the smaller diversified vegetable farmer that they actually have a local market they can turn to,” she said.
On a larger scale, Mountain Oven Organic Bakery in Paonia is an example of how one business is encouraging the principles of a circular economy. Owners Chris Sullivan and Dana Whitcomb are expanding their business and encouraging the reintroduction of a viable grain crop in the valley.
The bakery recently began construction on a new millhouse located near the bakery kitchen. The project was made possible with the help of a $50,000 loan from 2 Forks Club, an investment group focusing on “slow money principles” for community farming and food.
Mountain Oven expects to complete the millhouse project in the next couple of months and with the addition of a 48-inch stone mill and sifter the growing bakery will be able to produce a majority of its own flour from grain grown in the North Fork Valley.
The need for locally-grown food goes beyond the economic side of things. The world-wide pandemic has highlighted the need for nutritious foods that can improve our immune systems.
“Local organic food is better. In the age of coronavirus I think we want to bring more attention to how important the quality of the food is that’s available to people and we really have that locally. We should not only honor that but we really savor that and nurture it and allow it to grow so that it’s available to more and more people,” Léger said.
For Léger, community health is not just about statistics or access to health care facilities, it’s more about how the com- munity supports itself and fills the gaps when they arrive. One way to fill the gap created by the pandemic was to begin a buy local campaign that focused on supporting the North Fork Valley.
Another huge gap was created by the loss of two coal mines that forced the North Fork area to reinvent itself and rely more heavily on organic agriculture and local industries.
“We’ve created a new trajectory for the North Fork economy and really making sure that there’s no reason for people to believe that we need extraction in order to either jump start the economy or as economic development to keep it going,” said Léger citing research showing how the valley has replaced the lost revenue from coal in the last five years.
Looking ahead, the buy local campaign hopes to help create and support an economy that isn’t subject to “booms and busts.” One way to do that is to be more proactive when it comes to solving problems and that’s something the North Fork Valley Buy Local Resource Campaign is already doing.
Participating in this season’s North Fork Valley Buy Local Resource Campaign are Citizens for a Healthy Community, Colorado Farm and Food Alliance, North Fork Valley Creative Coalition, Slow Food Western Slope, The Learning Council, Valley Organic Growers Association, Viva La Vida and West Elk Wineries.