Consider it an organic corn cob jammed in the tailpipe of big, polluting agribusiness. A new beginning.
Fueled by works like The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food by bestselling author Michael Pollan, and Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by activist/author/grass farmer Joel Salatin, a new movement's astir. It hinges on the concept of eating local, from sustainably farmed lands, and building relationships with the people who grow your food.
Via three community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, Front Range residents can now join the front lines of this movement. By slapping money directly into a farmer's hand, you support conscientious growing practices designed to reclaim America's top soil. In return, you get a bag of locally grown, fresh produce every week.
In terms of buying food, says local advocate and Peak to Plains Alliance coordinator Melissa Marts, "CSAs are the best thing that you can do."
Foods considered "beyond organic," according to Venetucci Farm's Susan Gordon, don't require petroleum-based fertilizers, which fuel big agribusiness as well as our demand for oil while negatively impacting ecological systems. Nor do these foods require pesticides or herbicides.
The farms producing these foods employ biodiverse farming practices, says Marts, "which means they incorporate animals on the land and also multiple crops instead of just mono crops. That allows the soil to get replenished and continue to be able to sustain new growth."
As an effect, when farmers water, "they don't use as much because the ground is more apt to absorb it."
But supporting more eco-friendly farm practices is only one positive aspect of joining a CSA. Another is investing in the small-scale farmers themselves.
Buying into a farm's CSA equates to making a preseason payment toward a small share of a farm's mid-June to late fall harvest. By purchasing one of several share options small- or large-family shares, ranging from roughly $400 to $700 a person helps to insulate the farmers from the financial risks inherent to raising crops.
In return, "shareholders" receive more than 50 different fruits, vegetables and herbs as they come into season, with options to additionally purchase naturally raised eggs, pork and honey, depending on the CSA.
Venetucci Farm, Grant Family Farms (in Wellington) and Pueblo's Country Roots Farm each offer pickup points in Colorado Springs. Country Roots also services Pueblo, while Grant reaches Denver, Fort Collins and Cheyenne, Wyo. With limited space, each CSA will likely fill up soon.
Ryan and Betsy Morris have run Country Roots in Pueblo since 1993, and began their CSA in 1994 with seven families' support. In 2000, they began offering food to Colorado Springs; we locals now represent two-thirds of their roughly 110 CSA families.
"We like to stay on a personal level with our members," says Ryan. "One year we grew too fast, and I don't think we did as good as we should have."
Country Roots used to sell to Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market, but Ryan says he grew dissatisfied with simply dropping off food and being disconnected from buyers. Also, he never knew whether the big stores would buy everything he planted: "It was a real guessing game."
But through the CSA, Ryan has "a ready-made customer they want what you're growing, and it fits like a hand in a glove.
"The benefit we see is [the CSA] holds the community together. We're not losing more farmland, and we're getting people out to the farm ... we're teaching kids where food comes from and how it grows, things they've never seen before."
The Morrises also helped teach the Venetucci farmers, now in their second year, some basics.
"If you're talking about being green, you've gotta start with your food," says Susan Gordon.
Supported by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Gordon and her husband, Patrick Hamilton, left Learning Ground Farm in Cañon City to take over Venetucci Farm's 190 acres on Highway 85. While Nick Venetucci's philanthropic pumpkin growing had made the farm famous, it also had left the soil largely depleted.
The couple has spent the last year planting cover crops, incorporating pigs and chickens, and using inputs from the community to replenish the soil. Bristol Brewing Co. has contributed used mash; The Blue Star, fruit and vegetable scraps; and a local equestrian center and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, manure.
"The whole foundation of good sustainable practice is ensuring the health of the soil," says Gordon.
As one more input, Fountain Valley High School science students recently began producing biodiesel from the school kitchen's waste oil for Venetucci's garden tractor. A physics class built the biodiesel generator, which takes the filtered oil with lye and methanol additives and converts it to biodiesel. The school no longer has to pay to dispose of the waste, and the farm gets free fuel: a perfect symbiotic relationship with the community.
Venetucci, which Gordon and Hamilton have modeled on Salatin's Polyface farm in Virginia, is emulating Country Roots by starting small, with only 40 families in its CSA. After learning by doing this summer, it hopes to double that number next year.
The large-farm model
In addition to bearing a good reputation for fair labor practices, Grant Family Farms lays proud claim to being the first certified organic farm in the state; Colorado State University professor Lewis Grant and his son Andy made the shift from conventional growing in the mid '70s.
Grant's CSA, now in its second year (but its first year distributing to Colorado Springs) is really "a farm within a farm," according to CSA coordinator Josh Palmer. While the big farm grows acres of organic produce for distribution to stores like Whole Foods Market, the "small farm" grows heirloom varieties of many more types of produce specially for the CSA. This year, Grant anticipates accommodating 350 families through the program.
Last year, Palmer says, was tough. In addition to suffering the worst sustained hail storm that Lewis Grant had ever seen, which pushed tomato harvest back six weeks and killed several flower crops, Grant experienced only mixed success in pairing with new farmers' markets and with chefs at gourmet restaurants across the region. This year, Palmer plans to focus efforts primarily on the CSA.
Logistics aside, Palmer offers two benefits to joining a CSA: a smaller carbon footprint (with food traveling locally, rather than 1,500 miles on average), and produce that's fresher, having been harvested and delivered within 48 hours.
"You save money by buying directly from us, and we get more money in the end it's not being lost to a broker," says Palmer. "The CSA is the best way to access locally grown organic produce."
Country Roots Farm
29342 Everett Road, Pueblo, 719/948-2206
Grant Family Farms