Community Agriculture Alliance: Consumers and producers join

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— Producers in Northwest Colorado face a challenge confronting every family farmer and rancher. When the producer gets only $2 for a pound of steak that the consumer buys for $8, or 35 cents of the $3 or more for a pound of tomatoes, it’s time to find ways to bring a larger share of the consumer’s food dollar home.

Fortunately, consumers want to know where their food comes from, and they increasingly want natural and local products. These are the ingredients for a direct marketing campaign, and the Northwest Colorado Farmers Union (representing Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties) is working with local leaders to make it happen.

A series of producer meetings explored approaches to expanding producers’ access to local markets, and then a steering committee was established to spearhead research on creating an online market. The study, funded by LiveWell Northwest Colorado, was handled by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Cooperative Development Center. Research indicated that an online farmers market could benefit local consumers and producers.

“An online market could provide additional marketing opportunities for producers,” Northwest Colorado Farmers Union President Leellen Koroulis said.

It could encourage producers to diversify by exploring crops that local consumers want. One idea brought forward was expansion of vegetable production using season extenders such as “hoop houses.”

“Northwest Colorado Farmers Union will continue to work with our partners and groups with similar goals to pursue this opportunity,” Koroulis said. “We had several planning sessions to explore partnerships that include direct marketing other products, such as artisan bakeries.”

An online market, modeled on the successful High Plains Food Co-op on the Front Range, would allow consumers to buy direct and have their purchases delivered to a local distribution point.

On the federal front, Northwest Colorado Farmers Union has its eye on the federal budget discussion. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is planning listening sessions on the 2012 Farm Bill in the coming months. In July, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson alerted members to the likelihood that the 2008 Farm Bill will be extended because Congress will be unable to hash out a new bill. This will mean expiration of new programs that the Farmers Union fought for in the 2008 bill, including elements of the agricultural producers’ safety net and energy programs.

In mid-September, Farmers Union members from many states, including Colorado, will gather in Washington, D.C., to visit with their senators and representatives about the next farm bill and other issues important to farmers and ranchers. Northwest Colorado Farmers Union also will be represented on the committee that reviews Rocky Mountain Farmers Union policy before the annual convention in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Nov. 18 and 19. The new farm bill is sure to be part of the discussion.

Mick McAllister is the director of communications for the Northwest Colorado Farmers Union.

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