ALAMOSA— Pueblo chilis stuffed with goat chevre, Roasted garlic fingerling potatoes, vibrant green salads decorated with fragrant tomatoes, nutritious grass-fed burgers dripping with melted Monterey jack jalapeno cheese. The ingredients for all these dishes could be sourced from our regional producers. Stakeholders gathered at City Hall last Wednesday to imagine the “Taste of the San Luis Valley” on downtown menus and on the center of diner’s plates.
The effort will require a reimagining from both restaurants and customers. At Locavores, owner Wendy Seger laments the price points that she must observe to keep her customers happy while sourcing local.. She founded her restaurant on the value of showcasing regional farms and sourcing her ingredients locally, but it is not always easy.
Local family farm grown foods are a very different product than the large volume faceless nameless foods that come into the valley on various broad liners. These broad liners operate on volume, and produce varietals are often chosen for their travel and storage hardiness at the expense of flavor and nutrition, states Nick Chambers, general manager of the Valley Roots Food Hub. The Valley Roots Food Hub is an aggregation and distribution hub based in Mosca serving the regions farmers and ranchers, restaurants, institutions and retail outlets.
Scott Graber entrepreneur owner of the SLV Brewery and the Roast is eager to grow the local food presence on his menus but notes that he sells the cheaper anonymous burger 10 to 1 for every higher priced local grassfed burger on the menu. This is where customer education is needed. The grassfed cattle grew up in the San Luis Valley grazing on pastures as Mother Nature intended. Inputs to grow the grasses, irrigate the pastures, pay taxes, buy replacement animals, pay veterinarians, utilize Mel’s Custom Meat processing in Romeo or Salazar Natural Meats in Manassa, pay inspectors, package and put through the Food Hub or deliver direct, involve and support local businesses and that money is circulated here at home vitalizing our community.
Ranchers children attend our schools and are our neighbors. Farmers love for the land and the story of their production practices stays with the product all the way to the plate. These producers don’t operate as much on volume as they do on quality and core values of caring for the earth, raising their animals with holistic grazing methods that build the soil, sequester carbon and create spongy soils that hold water at much higher capacities.
The San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition founded the Valley Roots Food Hub in 2015 to better conduct farm to plate activities in an effort to foster an equitable local food system. Later a group of diverse stakeholders launched a Local Food Local Places initiative working to vitalize downtown Alamosa with local food, art, music and a friendly pedestrian environment. Local Food Local Places is a national technical assistance effort started in the Southeast as producers and downtown groups there sought to revitalize after the tobacco and coal industries took a downturn there.
Katy Baer, director of the Women Infant and Child (WIC) nutrition program at Valley Wide Health Systems, Inc. has been a local foods advocate for years and helped Colorado WIC include produce vouchers in their nutrition program for pregnant and nursing mothers and their children. “If we can get people to pay premium prices for good craft beer, we should be able to get them to support the same idea on the plate,” she said.
Monica Wolfe of South Central Seniors was inspired by the robust offerings of the Valley Roots Food Hub in the dead of winter. She is wanting to include healthy local foods in her three senior meal site kitchens in the SLV. She was happy to see all that the Hub offers weekly of frozen peaches and cherries from the western slope, microgreens from Poncha Springs, fresh mushrooms from Colorado Mushroom Farm outside of Alamosa, cornmeal and polenta from the Southern Ute Reservation farm, tortillas from Tortillaria la Unica in Center, bolita, Anasazi and pinto beans from the SLV and from Dove Creek, beef, pork, lamb, yak and bison from the SLV, flour and sausage from Gosar in Monte Vista, organic quinoa from several farms that have followed White Mountain Farm in quinoa production, eggs from Yoder Farm in Rio Grande County, fresh turmeric and ginger from Cool Sunshine Farm in Alamosa, hemp seed and flour products, and of course several delicious varietals of potatoes.
Mandy Pittman of the Alamosa Farmers market is enthusiastic to expand the opportunities for her farmers. This initiative to vitalize downtowns with a “Taste of Place” has caught on in many communities in Colorado. The Vine in Montrose leads with local foods and has a robust following as do many restaurants in downtown Durango and in our little burg of Crestone.
Next meeting of the Local Food Local Places stakeholders will be 10:15 on April 2nd in City Council Chambers. Attend the meeting or call 719-539-5606 to learn more.