Local food trend could benefit area producers

Colorado State University Ag and Resource Economics Professor Dr. Dawn Thilmany/Courier photo by Ruth Heide

MONTE VISTA — Local food trends could mean expanded markets for Colorado growers like potato farmers, Colorado State University Ag and Resource Economics Professors Dr. Dawn Thilmany and Dr. Becca Jablonsky told attendees of the 2019 Southern Rocky Mountain Agricultural Conference & Trade Show in Monte Vista on Wednesday.

Thilmany said while consumers may be buying more items on the internet, they are still buying fresh fruit, produce and baked goods locally. In gauging consumer attitudes in Colorado, researchers have noticed that in recent years residents are looking for Colorado foods or local foods, “anything produced in Colorado,” she said. With Coloradoans spending $13 billion on food annually, that is a huge market.

Buying directly from the producers is also a trend that is increasing, Thilmany explained. In 1997, consumers bought 85-95 percent of their food items from known grocery stores, but now residents are buying more of their food through direct outlets like farmers’ markets, which represent 3.9 percent of the $13 billion food sales.

Also, there has been a recent uptick in start up food companies in Colorado, with quite a few in the Denver and Boulder area but also throughout the state. These might include craft beer outlets and specialty foods like jams and jellies. These types of food businesses can grow into regional plants.

These trends give farmers more options than just the commodity market, Thilmany said.

“You need to be aware what’s happening so you recognize how the landscape is changing,” she said.

Thilmany added that consumers want their food to be free of certain ingredients like gluten, but that’s a benefit for potato growers, because potatoes do not contain gluten.

Jablonsky said potatoes and other locally grown or raised products could figure into Colorado’s blueprint for agriculture and food and specifically Denver’s blueprint or food vision. Denver’s food vision includes factors like health and vibrancy, with vibrancy having to do with supplying Denver with food produced in rural areas, since agriculture around Denver itself has declined.

“We have been working closely with Denver to look at priorities that may create opportunities for our food/agriculture producers in rural parts of the state,” Jablonsky said.

Denver is looking at food procurement options for the Denver jail, the Boulder school district, Denver public schools, University of Denver, Regis, Children’s Hospital, Centura and others.

A bill has also been introduced in the state legislature that would provide local purchasing incentives for schools, which could have a big impact on agriculture in the state, Jablonsky explained, especially since schools provide not only lunch menus but breakfasts and summer meals.

“Many kids get the majority of their calories through school food,” she said. “This is an opportunity moving forward to try to connect more Colorado grown/raised products with our school system, if this goes through.”

The successful Healthy Food For Denver Kids ballot initiative that began collecting taxes in January is expected to generate $11 million a year, and preference in food procurement will go to Colorado producers.

Denver is also considering adopting the Good Food Purchasing Program, begun in Las Angeles and adopted by many cities across the country. The program considers values like animal welfare, workforce treatment and environmental sustainability. Jablonsky, Thilmany and others involved in agricultural production such as the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee have been working with Denver to help the city adopt a reasonable program in conversation with farmers and ranchers in the state.

Denver is also interested in developing a public market, which would be a year-round market featuring locally grown, raised or handcrafted items and foods that could be eaten on site. “Ideally rural and urban come together,” Jablonsky said.

Of the 30 largest cities in the country, only two do not have public markets yet, and Denver is one of them.

Jablonsky invited more partners to engage in this conversation.

Thilmany said that some of these potential market sources for producers would require more marketing efforts than dealing with one commodity buyer, but they could provide more options for producers.

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