MONTROSE — When Montrose resident Lee Bartlett eats at the Montrose Memorial Hospital once a week, he usually enjoys a crisp, green salad. Not only is he satisfied with the flavor of the lettuce, but in knowing the “spring mix” is locally grown.
“It’s definitely important to me to know where this is coming from,” Bartlett said.
A food partnership was created to increase community wellness and connect the farmlands of the Uncompahgre Valley with its residents. The Valley Food Partnership was founded in March and already has secured sponsorship from the Montrose Community Foundation, according to partnership coordinator Carol Parker.
“This is a return to more scratch cooking and get more locally grown products into the schools and cafeterias of Montrose,” Parker said.
Parker said the nonprofit partnership aims to create a sustainable resource within the area, educate the population about the nutritional values of fresh food and create new agricultural markets and jobs.
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The effort is designed to organize growers into a network, which would create infrastructure that includes delivery, storage and space where locally grown food can be bought throughout the year.
This process is aimed to get as much local food into homes, restaurants, nursing homes and schools as possible, according to Parker.
Similar organizations in Delta, Gunnison and La Plata counties are working to network themselves with efforts on the Front Range to make these programs better known.
Parker said fresh local food is more nutritious than food trucked in from other places and promotes a philosophy of self-sustainability.
“Fruits and vegetables lose 50 percent of their nutritional values after just three to five days,” according to Parker.
Parker admits much more planning is needed to get the partnership off the ground.
Olathe farmer Kerry Mattics says he has mixed emotions about the program’s longevity.
Mattics Orchards currently supplies vegetables and lettuce to the Montrose Memorial Hospital and to schools within the Montrose County school district.
“It’s a good idea. How feasible it is, sometimes I don’t know,” Mattics said.
Mattics said farmland in Montrose and Olathe is not the best to sustain a yearlong program because of a short growing season and narrow harvesting window.
Although he supports the plan, he said details about storage and logistics, including deliveries, still need to be addressed. He also fears small growers in the area won’t be able to compete with prices offered by larger companies.
“Everything out here is done by hand. I don’t have the labor that larger companies have. When you increase the labor, you increase the price,” Mattics said.
Jim Dyer of the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado in Durango said the efforts in Montrose are another example that a food revolution, or “farm-to-plate,” mentality is on the rise.
“We see it growing with people disenchanted with the way the food companies are controlling the food supply,” Dyer said.
Dyer said local community programs like the Valley Food Partnership, along with increased awareness, can help people reduce their consumption of unhealthy processed foods, and in the process lower obesity rates and other health risks.
Dyer, Mattics and Parker all agreed communities need to turn to more local food sources as they did decades ago when large grocery chains did not dominate the market.
“I try to buy as much locally grown food as possible whether it’s at the farmer’s market or grocery store. I appreciate the local effort, it’s so important,” Bartlett.
Parker said the partnership is looking to work with grocery stores to carry more local products.
This sort of farm-to-table initiative, which connects growers and eco-friendly agricultural producers with consumers (in this case cafeterias and schools) is significant because of the precedent it sets for other consumers such as restaurants.