Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: What the local food coalition has been cooking up this summer and fall | SteamboatToday.com

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: What the local food coalition has been cooking up this summer and fall

Andy Kennedy For Steamboat Today

Yampa Valley Health

When I was asked to join this behind-the-scenes mastermind group — the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, or NWCFC — I was honored to join the ranks of some of this area's action-oriented doers. Every quarter when the group gathers to update and collaborate, I am amazed at what this collective is getting done.

The brainchild of Karen Massey, Colorado State University's Routt County Extension Director and Family & Consumer Science Extension Agent, and Barb Parnell of LifeWell Colorado, the NWCFC expanded from the LiveWell Northwest Colorado Coalition formed in 2009, and its mission is to facilitate communication, collaboration and integrate solutions among individuals and organizations to develop and sustain a resilient food system in Northwest Colorado.

Representatives to the coalition come from the fields of public health, CSU Routt County Extension, Routt County Environmental Health, the nonprofit sector including Community Agriculture Alliance, LiftUp of Colorado, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and Yampatika. The education sector including representatives from public schools and Colorado Mountain College and community members with specific interest (farmers, growers, educators, etc.).

Five years ago the group kicked off with an extensive area-wide food assessment, spearheaded by Parnell, giving a focus for the group. Last spring, the collective created a strategic plan for moving forward and created subcommittees for the over-reaching goals of food consumption, distribution, processing, production, regulation and waste.

In every field, the focus of this group leans heavy on collaboration; what I admire most about this mastermind is that the mantra is most certainly all-for-one and one-for-all. From collaboration on updating existing regulations about greenhouses to ensure that everyone who wants to grow food can, to maximizing the implementation of a food waste prevention program started at Colorado Mountain College getting buffet food that would go to waste into the hands of those who need it, to working with CSU professors on a resources model to identify and reduce gaps and redundancy in our food distribution system, it seems that every quarter this group is up to something innovative and inspiring.

This quarter's update was no different. Jeff Modesitt of LiftUp Routt County reported on the growing mission of LiftUP as a regional "food hub." Consistently and impressively still supplying food on a massive scale to the food impoverished in Routt County, LiftUp is expanding its reach with the upcoming construction of its own on-site garden that will be completed spring 2018.

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Its first goal is to produce 500 pounds of produce per month, nearly doubling their existing 800 pounds of fresh fruit and veetables donated through their new Adopt a Shelf and Grow a Row programs. See more on LiftUp in last month's NWCFC article. LiftUp is an inspiring model to food pantries throughout the state, and its recent growth has set this organization as a leader in Colorado.

Michele Meyer of the Community Agriculture Alliance reported on many topics as usual, including the ever-expanding Community Marketplace — where local growers list and sell local food to locals — and how they've been keeping up with demand by looking at more producer storage and better distribution, in collaboration with Routt County Environmental Health. Meyer also updated on their first Yampavore Eat Local Challenge that went out through social media from mid-August to mid-September. Partnering with producers to get local food on the table is a challenging feat that Meyer has been at the helm of for several years.

Colorado Mountain College continues to be a community leader as well, with innovative, student-lead, sustainability-focused programs such as the Real Food Challenge, Food Recovery Network and Land Exchange System. The latest goal reported on by Professor of Social Science, Patrick Staib, is an aggressive goal of 20 percent local food use in their cafeteria by 2020. The college is currently at 3 percent local food.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this mastermind group is collectively manifesting and influencing across the county and state, and, as always, I continue to be inspired by and honored to sit with this collective. Learn more and stay up to date on the group at  communitycommons.org/groups/colorado-food-system/northwest-co-food-coalition.

Andy Kennedy is a member of the Northwest CO Food Coalition.

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