The times of the food guide to strengthen the links between consumers and producers
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – As the farm is open for the season in southern Colorado, a new tool aims to strengthen the connection between consumers and the families who grow their food. The Palmer Land Conservancy has just released its comprehensive local food guide.
“It was born out of real need, a disconnect between community members and where our food comes from,” said Dillon O’Hare, community conservation manager for the Palmer Land Conservancy.
The document is more than just a directory of farms and ranches in the area. It also includes an article detailing the history of agriculture in each county.
“There’s a seasonal guide to help you get an idea of what vegetables are in season right now, there are recipes in there, there are grower highlights that dive into some of the specific family stories,” explained O’Hare.
Britt Colon, a fourth-generation farmer from Colon Orchards in Cañon City, witnessed the disconnect. She teaches agriculture lessons to public school students every day in October.
“When I ask them where the food is from, it’s not from the grocery store,” Colon said. “There’s a farmer over there who grew this.”
She invites the students to pick apples from the trees.
“A lot of adults have never picked an apple from a tree,” she said.
Colon sees farming as a dying profession. It requires a heavy amount of labor often for very narrow margins.
“Farmers don’t take days off,” she says.
Farmers and herders often risk significant financial losses due to natural disasters. A few years ago, temperatures remained abnormally warm until November. When a sudden cold front knocked the thermostat down, the temperature swing devastated the orchard.
“We lost about 85% of our trees,” she said. “So, ouch. Farming is definitely tough.”
Colon had to get creative. The farm now operates a corn maze in the fall, offers guests wagon rides, the opportunity to pick apples and pumpkins.
“It has regenerated the farm, agritourism is a great thing,” she said.
Breeder Elin Parker Ganschow also sees her profession in terms similar to an endangered species. When she was growing up, cattlemen like her father could typically expect a return of about $0.70 for every dollar a consumer paid for beef at the store. Breeders are expecting over $0.25 today.
She explained that in the 1940s the government came up with the concept of parity to value livestock.
“Here’s a simple way to look at it, how much cattle does it take to pay for a new Ford F-150 pickup, for example,” she said. “So back then it needed about three, now it probably takes 60.”
Ganshow reinvented the Music Meadows Ranch business concept in the mid-1990s. Consumers could buy a whole cow, or split the cost with other buyers, through its Sangres Best Beef product label. The meat is packaged and frozen for long term storage.
“We have a very specialized business that supplies ranch to table beef,” she explained. “So we sell direct to the consumer.”
Where commercial ranches will send cattle to feedlots before shipping them for processing, Ganschow lets them grow nice and fat by eating the 60 different grasses, herbaceous plants and legumes that are native to this valley.
“Kind of like the Dolly Parton song, I was country when country wasn’t cool, well, I was grass fed before grass was cool,” she jokes.
Its managed grazing program has been recognized by conservation groups because it not only sustains the land, but also improves it. The herd is concentrated on smaller pastures for shorter periods.
“It fertilizes more evenly, the hoof action is important because it creates divots in the soil that help prevent runoff from flowing away,” she explains.
Cattle also compete with each other for the tastiest herbs. This competition adds more variety to their diet and prevents less desirable forage from becoming overgrown. Moving the herd more frequently also allows the remaining grasses to recover faster.
“We all want there to be some kind of shortcut to everything, it’s just our nature, and when it comes to food, every shortcut will come with some kind of cost,” Ganschow said.
Like the Colon family, she also found creative use of the ranch to support her family and educate the public about food production.
Guests can book a week-long vacation to the family’s ranch and take classes in cattle ranching.
“We’re actually in the Dude Rancher’s Association now,” she said. “We’re probably the smallest ranch of them all.”
CLICK HERE TO USE THE PALMER LAND CONSERVANCY INTERACTIVE LOCAL FOOD GUIDE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PALMER LAND CONSERVANCY LOCAL FOOD GUIDE 2022 PDF
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