An effort to connect local food growers and producers to schools, hospitals, restaurants and poverty assistance programs has earned the support of Garfield County commissioners.
Commissioners agreed to put $6,000 toward assessing whether enough supply and demand exist to establish a regional food hub.
The project, headed by the Roaring Fork Food Policy Council, aims to create a place where locally grown food can be processed, stored and distributed to organizations that can use it.
“Distribution is a major issues,” said Gwen Garcelon, director of the Food Policy Council, which was established in 2012 to grow and nurture a local food supply chain in the valley.
The assessment would “identify ways to connect small growers with others to help them broker deals, and make a price point that will work for the institutions and the growers,” Garcelon said.
“We also need a way to handle food that is currently being wasted in the region, and get it in the hands of people who are in need and can use it,” she said.
Garcelon also plans to approach Eagle and Pitkin counties and other organizations for the remaining funds to complete the estimated $14,000-$20,000 study.
She envisions something similar to the Greeley Food Hub, which provides locally grown food to the local public schools and other institutions, but on a smaller scale. The project will include an inventory of other such food hubs in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.
“We’re not sure what the exact model would be here,” Garcelon said. “We have a very unique region, and the demographics cross a broad spectrum.”
The project will involve interviews with growers and food service providers, focus groups, academic research regarding the local food market, and development of a potential business plan.
“The data-gathering phase will give us a solid understanding of the actual area needs and resources, and the planning phase will bring together stakeholders for productive, facilitated dialog and design,” according to a project description given to the Garfield commissioners.
The project is expected to take between four and six months to complete.
County Commissioner John Martin, a food grower himself, pointed out that among the challenges in establishing a food distribution center are the required state and federal health inspections.
Health rules can also impact the ability to make use of food waste from restaurants and farmers markets, he said.
Garcelon added that part of the needs assessment will be to make producers aware of health requirements and how to comply with them. It could also look at existing rules regarding re-distribution of food that is still usable, and whether there is any way around that, she said.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who sits on the county’s LiveWell Project committee, said he has taken a keen interest in establishing more healthy food options, especially for people in need.
“Good production and food delivery is important, and it is becoming more important as our culture changes and people start to take a closer look at what they’re eating,” Jankovsky said.