Carbondale resident Gwen Garcelon is passionate about teamwork and local food. That’s why she co-founded and now directs the Roaring Fork Food Policy Council (RFFPC), which she compares to scaffolding around the local food system. “It allows for a hub,” she explained. “Now people can talk together and share resources.”
But, she added, RFFPC is more than a resources broker. “We make things happen.”
Garcelon’s passion for helping others began in her 20s while studying with Guru Mayi Chidvilasananda in New York and Aspen. In 1998, she went to work for RESULTS, an international, grassroots advocacy group, working to end hunger and poverty. She traveled the U.S. and the world as an organizer until the crash of 2008 ended her job. She said RESULTS helped her think differently about solving the world’s problems. “I got to think in terms of policy and collaboration,” she said.
So, she decided to put her talents to use locally. “There was already great stuff happening here,” she explained. “But people weren’t working together.”
Garcelon and Dawne Vrabel founded RFFPC in January 2012 and a month later, organized their first action to help Rifle-based Eagle Springs Organic farm fight construction of an asphalt plant next door.
RFFPC rallied supporters to attend a Garfield County Commissioners meeting in late February 2012. “One person showing up at a meeting doesn’t do a lot,” said Garcelon. “But, leveraged action comes from working together.”
Garcelon is big on leveraged action, which she believes is exemplified by the success RFFPC had with Eagle Springs. After a peaceful rally, local food advocates (aka locavores) packed the February meeting, voicing concerns about incompatible land uses and the importance of high-quality food. Commissioners sent the asphalt plant developers back to the drawing board. The plan was eventually approved but not without significant changes to try to accommodate the needs of the farm.
Garcelon, however, wants to do more than send out emails: She wants to change the dominant food paradigm. The food we typically buy in the U.S., she said, is largely subsidized. That’s what makes it cheaper than locally grown food. “We’re used to paying low prices for our food,” she said. “But agribusiness is depleting the top soil and poisoning the land and our food.”
Local food is more expensive, admitted Garcelon. “But what you’re paying for is the real value of the food and the labor.”
Making significant changes to the way we value food is not easy. “But, you have to start somewhere,” she said.
For RFFPC, one starting place is in the local schools. Schools have land and provide education, which makes them a great place for the local food movement to gain traction. “We can reach out to those who most need [to eat healthy food],” she said.
RFFPC received a small grant from Aspen Skiing Co. to research what it would take to create successful school gardens. Over six months, RFFPC talked to local school principals and visited six school gardens in the Re-1 school district.
Garcelon said several needs emerged, including curriculum training and community partnerships. A successful example, she said, is the relationship between Sopris Elementary School in Glenwood Springs, Mountain Valley Developmental Services and Colorado Mountain College.
As a project of the CMC Sustainable Studies program, Mark Browning, a Sopris Elementary school teacher, developed curriculum that includes the MVDS greenhouse, explained Garcelon. The course has not only taught elementary school students about gardening, it has also created relationships between students and the adults at MVDS.
“Instead of people trying to do things on our own, we can listen to each other and understand our needs, resources and talents,” she said.
Garcelon sees food as the foundation of all human needs. “If you’re starving to death, not much else is going to happen,” she explained. “We have to figure out how to feed ourselves.”
Plant a Row to End Hunger is another starting place. The project blossomed last May out of a social entrepreneurship class that Garcelon teaches for CMC’s Sustainable Studies program. The students wanted to get more local produce to people in need, so they gave seeds to local gardeners to grow. At the end of the season, growers donate that produce to the project.
Pretty soon, summer camps, summer school programs, and local community gardens were donating plots of land for gardens. RFFPC picked up the project to help with funding. “The food is being harvested now and is going to peoples’ homes,” said Garcelon.
RFFPC needs a grant-writer to grow its projects and more volunteers for the Plant-a-Row program. But, said Garcelon, “What it really needs is more people to stand up for local food.”
RFFPC is co-sponsoring a two-day, COhere Harvest Gathering in Carbondale this weekend. Forums, hands-on workshops, music, dancing, and a huge community potluck on Saturday evening are planned at the Third Street Center, Planted Possibilities Community Garden, and CMC’s Lapalla Center. The event is crowd-funded through today at WeTheTrees.com. For more information, contact Gwen Garcelon at 963-9182.