At a time when multinational corporations fund fake grassroots organizations to promote dubious causes, Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance (CCFA) offers a refreshing example of a true grassroots effort to improve the local food economy in central Colorado. David Ward, president and founding board member of CCFA, said he and wife Suzanne, also a founding board member, developed an interest in foodshed alliances, and the organization grew from seeds sown during a series of meetings organized by Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Bill Gardiner.
“Bill was putting together a database of local ag producers, and a group of us started meeting, with Bill leading the discussions,” Ward said. People like Dan Hobbs, owner of Hobbs Family Farm in Avondale, attended meetings to offer advice. “When Dan met with us, the group was talking about community-supported agriculture, and Suzanne and I worked with Beki Javernick in Cañon City to start a CSA.”
In the meantime, Ward said, Guidestone, a farming enterprise near Berthoud, lost the use of its land and several of those involved with the farm ended up moving to Chaffee County, including Seth Roberts and his wife Caitlin, who founded Weathervane Farm. By 2007 the informal group decided to form CCFA, and the Wards, Javernick and Roberts became members of the original board of directors. Aided by Hobbs, CCFA obtained a rural economic development grant and began several projects in the first year of operation, including the Salida Farmers Market. Markets in Buena Vista and Cañon City soon followed.
“Seth was a big motivator for the [farmers] markets happening,” Ward said.
The farmers markets have become CCFA’s signature contribution to the local food economy, providing a marketplace where local producers can sell their goods and increasing availability of fresh, healthy food for local consumers. As a cooperative organization, CCFA doesn’t look to make a profit, but it does operate as a for-profit entity for the benefit of producer members trying to carve a living out of the local economy. One service provided to members is collection of city, county and state sales taxes at each farmers market, and in 2013, CCFA paid nearly $5,000 in taxes to the city of Salida alone, not counting taxes paid by Weathervane Farm, the market’s most active vendor.
Not eligible for the grants and donations that sustain nonprofit organizations, CCFA pays its own way thanks to conscientious local residents whose membership dues sustain the organization and its mission of supporting the local economy, promoting sustainable, productive open space, and providing education about the value of local food. In addition to organizing farmers markets, CCFA publishes a “Guide to Local Food,” maintains an informative website, organizes community workshops and sponsors educational events that provide exposure to local and global food issues. ShedFest, CCFA’s annual harvest celebration at Salida SteamPlant, has evolved into one of the most anticipated community events of the year.
The farmers markets remain CCFA’s most significant contribution to the local food movement, providing consumer access to produce harvested hours prior to purchase, unlike supermarket food that may have been picked weeks or months before. Not only is this local produce fresher and tastier than supermarket produce, it is also healthier. And for consumers concerned about food production issues like pesticides, animal cruelty and genetically modified crops, CCFA farmers markets allow consumers to build relationships with local farmers and learn how their food is produced.
While CCFA focuses on local food issues, its members also recognize the importance of community, and the farmers markets bring community members together in a positive, family-friendly environment. Shopping at farmers markets also puts people in touch with the natural progression of the seasons. When we eat locally, we eat what’s in season, and the money we spend stays close to home, benefitting the entire community.
With an eye to the future, CCFA continues to grow and evolve, and its board of directors remains active in local food initiatives, including efforts to develop a local food hub that would facilitate enhanced local food production and strengthen the local economy.
CCFA now hosts two farmers markets in Salida and Buena Vista and maintains an affiliation with the market in Cañon City. The Salida Farmers Market takes place from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. every Saturday, June 7 through Oct. 11, at the corner of Fifth and E Streets in Alpine Park. The Buena Vista Farmers Market happens every Sunday, June 8 through Oct. 12, on Colorado Street next to the Buena Vista Roastery downtown.
Both markets feature the freshest local foods available. Local artists, crafters and jewelers also offer their creations for sale, and live music accompanies every market. Additional information about CCFA, including membership forms and vendor applications for the farmers markets, is at www.ccfa.coop.
Joe Stone is a freelance writer and general manager of CCFA.