Garfield County ag community looks to put down new roots
Food producers, gardeners, farmers and anyone interested in keeping Garfield County’s food local gathered for an all-day Food Summit in Glenwood Springs last week to discuss what it will take to keep Garfield County’s food locally sourced into the future.
Since last spring, Western Slope Uproot Colorado’s Ciara Low has been talking with local farmers and producers about the results from a food survey administered by Garfield County Public Health.
At the Feb. 21 summit held at the Morgridge Commons, Low assessed some of the trends, challenges and potential opportunities to keep food locally sourced in Garfield County.
Food that’s local tends to be the most nutritious, freshest and gets to your plate the quickest, she explained when she went over the data before the Garfield County commissioners earlier in the week.
Local food also promotes a strong and resilient local economy, as those dollars are spent on local agriculture and recirculated back into the economy, she added.
It also increases the opportunities for young entrepreneurs and other food-related businesses. However, that does not come without its challenges, Low said.
In talking to local producers, she said the greatest challenges have tended to be access to land, labor and water.
The cost of farm real estate more than doubled in the past decade. At the same time, net farming income has not kept up, she added.
“You have to love to grow things to be a farmer, because you have to have two jobs to stay afloat,” Commissioner John Martin said during the Feb. 18 presentation.
Many of the farmers Low interviewed said they worked second jobs.
Affordable housing also continues to be a problem for all industries in Garfield County.
Availability and access to affordable labor was cited as an issue by farmers, Low said. That includes for farms of all size, she explained, as low food prices combined with high input costs has led to farmer income decline.
“It’s an expectation and perception by our general public that you can go to the store and get anything anytime of the year,” Martin added.
“I think the biggest gamblers in the world are those that deal with livestock and agriculture. It’s a tough life,” Commissioner Mike Samson added.
Opportunities to grow
Despite the challenges facing farmers locally and nationally, Low said she is seeing a movement of young and new farmers interested in farming. As a result, the Roaring Fork Valley is full of new farming opportunities.
Sahay Farm owner Erik Soto moved to the valley over six years ago and began working at Osage Gardens near Silt. He said during the local agriculture and food production panel at the Feb. 21 summit that building his company took small steps, and he first had to register as a business.
Garfield County Community Development Director Sheryl Bower explained that the county doesn’t require a permit to farm, but a business license is required in order to sell goods.
During the panel, Skip Doty discussed his success in opening another store in Silt, as he saw an opportunity to market the value of locally sourced foods.
Low listed open space leasing programs and tax incentives for leasing or selling to farmers as potential options for Garfield County, which could better support local farmers.