In 2017, LiveWell and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union partnered with UCCS to learn more about Colorado’s farm-to-institution success stories from Pre through K12, colleges and universities, and hospitals. Ten institutions were studied from which commonalities were identified. This project developed into Farm to Institution Colorado, starting with Southern Colorado. By 2020 you will be able to watch our farm-to-institution documentary and vignettes for local food purchasing and obtain various resources to help guide the process of local procurement in your institution. These resources are launched as they become available.
Farm to Institution Southern Colorado
Farm to Institution Southern Colorado will sustain rural family farms and boost economic prosperity in the Southern Colorado region, located in the Fountain Creek, Arkansas River, and Rio Grande Watersheds. Farm to Institution Southern Colorado will also improve the health of Southern Coloradans and support sustainable food systems, while empowering southern Colorado institutions and their food service teams, employees, health care professionals, faculty, and teachers to procure, create, and inspire using food grown on family farms.
Why local food for institutions?
Purchasing food grown locally by institutions impacts many areas of the local and regional food system. It particularly affects those producing (farmers) and consuming (people) the food. Purchasing locally can also preserve and restore farmland and protect the environment. On the consumer side, local food procurement has nutritional benefits because locally produced food is harvested shortly before consumption, making it a fresher in-season product. Cutting out long distribution distances and transit time from harvest to plate can positively impact nutrition and flavor, while also reducing the environmental impact of transporting food across the country.
Southern Colorado is well known for warm and cool weather crops such as the famous Pueblo Chile pepper, Rocky Ford melons, apples, onions, garlic, squash, corn, wheat, dry beans, cabbage, quinoa, barley, beef, pork, lamb, eggs, oil seed, potatoes and other root crops. On ancestral lands of the Utes, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Comanche, Hispanic and Anglo settlers established Colorado’s first farms in the region between 1840 and 1850 near today’s communities of Avondale and Hardscrabble (south of Cañon City). Hispanics and later Italian and Slovenian immigrants brought unique culinary traditions and introduced a wide range of specialty crops to the region. Institutions investing in this food system, not only commit resources to sustaining this rich agricultural bioregion, but also ensure the return of these nutritious and culturally relevant crops directly from family farms. The opportunities to leverage these foods in menus for the benefit of patients, children, students, women, and families are countless.
Local food procurement also impacts what kind of agriculture an institution supports. Many small to medium size family farms in Colorado practice regenerative farming. Regenerative agriculture emphasizes organic farming principles with minimal or no chemical inputs.
Southern Colorado’s agriculture promotes farming practices such as rotational farming, cover cropping, and polycultures to support biodiversity and pollinator habitat, enhancing the soil and restoring healthy ecosystems. Due to Colorado’s drought conditions, these farms also focus on water conservation accompanied by careful soil management strategies to prevent erosion, resulting in improved soil health transferrable to nutrition and flavor of these regionally adapted food crops.
One of the most important considerations for institutions to buy locally is the institution’s participation in the lives and livelihoods of multi-generational family farms that have been part of the agricultural landscape since the 1850s. Typically, these farms are located in rural areas and often struggle with access to markets and affordable labor. In addition, urban development and industrial pressures are leading to loss of prime farmland and water rights, resulting in diminished regional food production. The survival of Colorado’s family farms is, in part, dependent on local purchasing commitments through institutions which provide farmers with an additional and stable market.
Institutional procurement from local farms and food hubs leaves money spent in the region, which means community prosperity, job creation and retention. Institutional commitments also strengthen food security for the region through sustained proximity to fresh, locally grown produce and access to this food for everyone, as it is subsidized by schools, hospitals, universities and other institutions. The institution partakes in the investment of sustainable and healthy communities through the food served to customers. The value of locally and regionally produced food for institutions is broad, with a win-win-win outcome to farmers, people, and the planet, especially considering the negative impacts from large-scale, industrial agriculture and unhealthy eating behaviors on diet-related chronic diseases, environmental degradation, and an ever widening rural-urban divide. Farm to institution promotes food literacy and provides a breath of opportunities for transformative experiential education, academic programming, and health behavior change.
Local Food Definitions and Tools for Assessment
USDA: Food raised, produced, aggregated, stored, processed, and distributed in the locality or region in which the final product is marketed. Within the state or within less than 400 miles from origin. (https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/local-regional)
Real Food Challenge: Food purchased within a 250 mile radius. Must also meet size (small and medium size farms), and private or cooperative ownership.(https://calculator.realfoodchallenge.org/) The calculator also assesses other metrics of real food.
AASHE (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education): Same as above, local or community based: Food purchased within a 250 mile radius. Must also meet size (small and medium size farms), and private/cooperative ownership purchased within a 250 mile radius. (https://stars.aashe.org/). STARS also evaluates other sustainability practices of the institution.
GFPP (Good Food Purchasing Program): Encourages and awards institutions for purchasing from small to mid-size farms within local and regional perimeter. Besides local economies, GFPP also evaluates nutrition, animal welfare, valued workforce, and sustainability. (www.goodfoodpurchasing.org).
The Farm to Institution Movement and Colorado
The Farm to Institution movement started within the last decade, finding its origins in the Northeast, specifically New England, New York State, South Carolina, and Michigan. Farm to Institution encompasses the better-known Farm to School initiative but has recently been expanded to all sectors of institutions, including colleges and universities, health care organizations, local and state-governments as well as military and correctional facilities. Helpful resources are available through FINE (Farm to Institution New England, https://www.farmtoinstitution.org/), FINYS (Farm to Institution New York State, https://finys.org/ ) and the National Farm to School Network (http://www.farmtoschool.org/), as well as Colorado based resources such as the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council (COFSAC) https://foodsystems.colostate.edu/ and LoProCo Livewell, CO: https://livewellcolorado.org/healthy-institutions/local-procurement-colorado/