Archuleta County’s first Food Summit deemed a success

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By Pauline Benetti | Food System/Food Equity Coalition

On Saturday, April 9, Archuleta County experienced its first Food Summit at the CSU Extension building. The event was organized and sponsored by Healthy Archuleta, which operates as FSFE — Food Coalition. 

Based on a number of factors, including a healthy attendance of approximately 110 folks and the unanimous declaration by those who completed the evaluation form that the event should be repeated next year, organizers declared this inaugural event a success.

 Add to the above the many positive expressions heard throughout the day. 

One long-time community member, Kathy Keyes, put it this way: “Felt like a coalescing of so many efforts over the years!”

Mary Jo Coulehan, Chamber director, said, “It was also very rewarding to see so many connections being made in the community and the sharing of new ideas and relationships. Archuleta County has the opportunity to grow in food production and this summit was just the start of an emphasis on agricultural production here.”

A third long-time community member, Udgar Parsons, said, “What inspired me the most was the work that the food pantries are doing to provide healthy nutrition to members of our community who are in need.”

By many measures, then, the event was judged a success.

The keynote opening, “Health, Food and the Environment” by Dr. Jon Bruss, set the tone for the day and introduced the first segment — the wonderfully personal illustration of the six elements of our food system in which individuals told stories of their involvement in a particular element. 

A number of very memorable moments were shared:

• A speaker, who both grows a huge garden and preserves its harvest, explained how conserving she was of the water that comes from the Park Ditch to irrigate the hay field and then through another waterway to the vegetable garden and then via a third that leads back to the San Juan. 

• A generational rancher who for years has produced beef for shipment away from our community expressed surprise at the current interest in locally produced food including beef.

• A speaker involved in retail marketing and distribution showed the system of flags created to indicate local, regional and Colorado products. 

• A tearful speaker who directs the charitable distribution of food through a food pantry made clear that her dedication is attributable to her own food-deprived lived experience as a child. 

• Two speakers who purchased ingredients and prepared menus for a class that allowed them to share their passion for traditional recipes shared. 

• A dietitian stressed the importance of eating fresh local foods to preserve nutrients and promote health.

• A restaurant owner shared her highly developed use of spreadsheets to prevent overproduction and thus control for food waste.

• A teacher who brings a bucket to class so her students can see that their food waste will be consumed by their teacher’s chickens shared.

This segment brought together these many stories illustrating how we all participate in the food system in our own unique and creative manner.

The afternoon was largely dedicated to a panel presentation consisting of town and county planning and development agencies, CSU Extension and a representative of several water nonprofit agencies. 

The stage was set with the introduction of the recently passed Archuleta County resolution declaring our county an agricultural county followed by town and county presentations that essentially overviewed the policies, practices and future plans of the agencies that regulate and support agricultural activity, businesses and food in our county. 

CSU Extension overviewed the many valuable programs available to the agricultural interests in our county and the water representative summarized the projects underway in our county aimed at agricultural use of our precious resource, water.

A significant quantity of information was presented and our Food Summit audience remained attentive and engaged as measured by the number of questions at the end. Also notable throughout this activity was the sense of a partnership in the making — a public/private partnership punctuated by statements such as: “What can we do to help?” “Come and talk to us about it.” “Give us your input to help in the decision making.” 

While the first in Archuleta, this is not the first Food Summit in Colorado. A previous, statewide food summit took place in Denver; however, it was determined that participation could have included more representation from across Colorado. To expand the reach, participants recommended that funding be provided for regional summits with local ideas then moved up for consideration at the state level. That is the plan this year, with a December date for the state summit.

Finally, our Food Summit attendees were asked to propose ideas that could be raised up to the state summit. The outcome of that presentation follows and will require further definition to select those to be raised up and those to be applied locally. Most critically: the importance of school gardens in teaching future generations how to grow and the importance of food/nutrition education; the need to leverage state policy to make certain classes mandatory; a local food co-op with commercial kitchen space and community space for selling and programs regarding local food; programs and education regarding sustainable foraging in our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands; creation of community gardens in residential vacant lots; and creation of robust water and fire prevention plans.

As a result of this first Food Summit, we have created a foundation of interest in the food system and in growing, concern for limited resources, motivation to action, and ideas for implementation. Now, we must build on what has coalesced. That will mean change. Are we ready? We invite you to get involved. Contact fsfearchuleta@gmail.com and visit our website: https://www.foodcoalition4archuleta.org/.