Connecting Coloradans with local-grown produce not always easy
Agriculture looms large in Colorado, and many residents seek homegrown produce when they go to the store.
Colorado’s ag industry contributes $47 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs 195,000, said Tom Lipetzky, the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s director of marketing programs and strategic initiatives.
But, all that economic influence doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to find a Palisade peach or Olathe corn in the produce department at your local grocery store. And, additional barriers can end up pushing growers to sell out of state even when they want to focus on the local market, one Garfield County grower said.
“We export more produce outside of Colorado than we sell inside, and that’s weird,” said Charles Barr, president and CEO of Spring Born, a lettuce-growing facility in Silt. “The whole purpose of this greenhouse being here is to have local food for local people.”
In total, Colorado greenhouses and nurseries contribute over $2 billion to Colorado’s economy — just about the same amount generated statewide through ag exports.
“We do have a lot of our products that move throughout these different markets — whether they be general local, regional, national, international markets — but, then, there are times where we can’t find our local product in our own supermarkets,” Lipetzky said.
With Colorado agriculture being a part of the public and private sectors, data showing the overall impact and opportunity — through sales, export data and more — is often reporting an incomplete picture. Private businesses typically consider such information protected and privileged.
“I know sometimes that’s a matter of distribution, in terms of those retail stores’ policies of purchasing, distributing from Canada, their central distribution points,” Lipetzky said. “And, that can sometimes be very frustrating for consumers, but, yet, we know there’s all kinds of Colorado produce out there.”
Barr said the majority of his product is exported to California, and he has had a hard time breaking into the Colorado markets.
“We don’t really keep a lot of statistics of what stays in state versus what moves out of state,” Lipetzky said. “We’ve got great data on what moves out of the country because that all has different requirements for those types of commercial transactions; but, you know, trade between states is virtually impossible to track.”
In his persistence, Barr has found some reliable success.
“If you eat out in the Roaring Fork Valley or even in Denver, there’s a good chance you’re eating Spring Blend,” he said. “Where we struggle is with the retailers, and we have trouble getting into the retailers to get the product to consumers.”
He said he appreciates the work Whole Foods does to make sure their produce is as locally-sourced as possible.
“Whole Foods is a great partner; they are putting us in their Rocky Mountain Division,” he said. “That’s part of Whole Foods’ mission, is they want local food — and they mean it — and they bend over backwards to get it, so that is very much appreciated.”
Barr was able to receive funding for his facility from the United States Department of Agriculture and Colorado Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy to grow his lettuce because the facility is indoor and uses much less water than outdoor growing.
Gov. Jared Polis recently signed House Bill 22-1301, which will utilize hydroponic, indoor farming for controlled environment growing year-round in Colorado and use less water than traditional agriculture methods.
“It’s easier to change Colorado tax law than it is to get into Colorado grocery stores,” Barr said.
Reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-384-9131.
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