We’re all familiar with the little produce stickers proclaiming that bundle of cilantro from Mexico, or that underripe-looking tomato from California. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and for the fourth year in a row, qualifying Mountain Village families and residents will have the opportunity to receive a free weekly box of fresh food grown and produced on Colorado farms just down the road. The program, called Farm to Community, will provide a community supported agriculture (CSA) box of fresh veggies and other products like eggs and bread for 14 weeks this summer, beginning June 16.
To qualify, applicants must live in deed-restricted housing in Mountain Village and either meet certain income requirements or be a household of at least one adult and one dependent.
“The whole purpose of this program has been to do three things,” explained Zoe Dohnal, business development and sustainability director for the town of Mountain Village. “We want to help our residents that may not have the resources for a CSA, we want to support local farmers in providing local produce, and we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This program does all three of those things.”
Applications for the program are now open on the Town of Mountain Village website, and for a one-time $35 application fee, 80 qualifying households will receive a weekly box of farm produce and goods from mid-June through September. Applications and assistance are available in both English and Spanish. The boxes must be picked up between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Market on the Plaza, Mountain Village’s weekly summer farmer’s market in Heritage Plaza.
“We’ve gotten so much great feedback,” Dohnal said of the program. “I’ve have parents tell me, ‘My kids have never eaten so many veggies.’”
Each box comes with recipes tucked in among the veggies with ideas from the farmers, so that items like rutabaga, parsnips or bok choy make their way into tasty new dishes instead of languishing in the refrigerator, the wilting victims of culinary uncertainty. Beyond the health and flavor advantages of the nutrient-dense local produce, the benefits of weekly farm boxes extend beyond the food itself, encouraging shoppers to make healthier choices at the grocery store and try new things.
“It is actually harvested and in your kitchen within a day or two so you get the peak of nutrition and flavor,” said Sam Andrews of Norwood’s Birdhouse Farm, who helps coordinate getting the farms’ goods into the hands of participants, along with Norwood’s Fresh Food Hub and other farmers. “It also benefits the farmers as more money goes directly to the farmer rather than to the middlemen and distributors.”
Since many Mountain Village residents make regular trips to Montrose for grocery shopping, the weekly food box also helps cut down on environmentally harmful emissions, not only by reducing trips to surrounding cities but by drastically slashing transportation distances to get the veggies from the soil to the salad. Supporting local farmers also cultivates a long-term view of healthy, connected communities.
“A farmer is here for the long haul, often thinking of their kids and grandkids in farm decisions,” observed Andrews. “They are helpful, knowledgeable and family oriented, they make great neighbors. They rush to the aid of a neighbor, to help pull you out of the ditch or put out a fire. They are by their very nature very caring people.”
The Farm to Community program is funded by the Town of Mountain Village, which allocates $60,000 annually to support the program. It’s a team effort, relying on a dedicated corps of town officials, volunteers, farmers and participants to succeed. Last year, due to the unprecedented hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the town expanded the program to provide the CSA boxes for an extended period of time, serving over 18,000 pounds of food to 85 families.
When residents come to the Market on the Plaza to pick up their box, they can talk directly with a farmer, gaining a direct connection to the food they eat, where it comes from and how to cook it. For busy working parents or residents working multiple jobs to make ends meet, the program offers a vibrant, tangible way to support a thriving, healthy local community.
“We really want this to be as inclusive a program as possible,” said Dohnal. “We want to include everyone who is qualified.”
Making CSA shares accessible to more members of a community is the gift that keeps on giving, according to Andrews. Consumers benefit, farmers benefit, the land, animals and environment benefits, and communities benefit.
“By supporting local farmers, whether it’s a cattle ranch or veggies or fruit orchards, we are preserving a heritage of sustainable agriculture while also ensuring our good health with good food, hopefully for generations to come,” she said.