LIFT-UP looks to local farmers as food insecurity doubles
The number of Garfield County families relying on food assistance has more than doubled in the past month, and LIFT-UP is relying on local farms to provide quality food to those in need.
“I love it, because it nourishes the community, as well as the economy,” said Angela Mills, executive director of LIFT-UP.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the related economic costs of lockdowns, LIFT-UP typically served 625 families per month. Now, they’re serving close to 2,000 at mobile food pantries from Parachute to Carbondale.
The increased demand for food has brought in more funding, which has allowed LIFT-UP to expand an existing Farm to Food Pantry program, sponsored by a LiveWell Colorado grant, designed to help charities source food locally.
“As long as the funding is there, what we’ve been able to do is bring more farmers on board, and purchase more options from them,” Mills said.
One of the existing local suppliers is Potter Farms in Missouri Heights, which supplies ground beef to LIFT-UP. Mills has had to increase orders of the pasture-raised beef in recent weeks to keep up with the need.
“We could go through 1,400 pounds of ground beef a week,” Mills said.
Justina Potter, who runs the cattle ranch and farm operation with her husband, Ted, is grateful for the additional orders.
“We have a school and restaurants that we supply to. The school is shut down, and one restaurant is doing takeout here in Carbondale, but it’s limited so that’s reduced, and the other restaurant is shut down,” Potter said.
As the weather warms for vegetable crops, LIFT-UP will have several local garden cooperatives providing fresh produce.
There are other benefits to sourcing food locally beyond nutrition and supporting nearby farms.
“So many people, I think, tend to think that they go to the grocery store, and it will always be there,” Potter said.
Pandemic shopping has shown that one cannot always count on items being available.
LIFT-UP hasn’t faced supply chain issues with produce or meat, but a few weeks ago cereal was hard to get, Mills said.
“I think that having folks understand how local agriculture and food production is tied to food insecurity is huge, and it’s not a conversation we have a lot,” said Sara Tymczyszyn, director of the fledgling Highwater Farm in Silt.
As a new producer in the Farm to Food Pantry Program, Highwater is gearing up to plant their first crops at the Silt River Preserve. The farm intends to donate 25 percent of their crop to LIFT-UP, and sell the remaining 75 percent.
Sourcing food for nutrition programs locally could avoid harm from disruptions to the broader supply chains.
“I think that’s a benefit because when the bigger operations shut down, they have a place to get products for people in the community,” Potter said.
Even if charities and average consumers get more of their food locally, it can be difficult to predict how much local farmers will need to plant to cover demand later in the season, according to Ben Armstrong of the Farm Collaborative at Cozy Point Ranch in Snowmass, which supplies cabbage to LIFT-UP.
“On the one hand, there’s a lot of demand for local food because people are realizing the bigger supply chains might be at risk. On the other hand, we know that our normal markets are going to be out of whack,” Armstrong said.
“All of us farmers feel very fortunate to still have work during this time. We’re going to keep working as hard as we can to grow a lot of food, and hopefully, there will be some programs to get that into everybody’s hands,” Armstrong added.
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