Business

How food can transform community

Local farmers’ markets provide ways to help out the greater community

Posted 8/8/17

Nathan Mudd is a former attorney, and his wife Kimberly used to work as an accountant. But the two have always had a special dedication to the local economy and local food.

“Our passion is to increase local food in the state,” Kimberly Mudd …

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Business

How food can transform community

Local farmers’ markets provide ways to help out the greater community

Posted

Nathan Mudd is a former attorney, and his wife Kimberly used to work as an accountant. But the two have always had a special dedication to the local economy and local food.

“Our passion is to increase local food in the state,” Kimberly Mudd said. “The demand is there, and the supply will grow as we connect urban and rural communities.”

Now, the two run the Main Street Markets— which operate farmers’ markets in Arvada and Westminster —and have a public-private partnership with the City of Brighton to operate a 10-acre working historic farm called Bromley Local Foods Campus.

Their focus on bringing healthy food to communities is part of a surging trend across the state and country that reflects a growing demand for knowing where your food comes from, supporting local growers and — perhaps most importantly — ensuring affordable access to healthy food across all income levels.

“Hunger is a silent problem,” said Jenna Metzinger, the farmers market Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coordinator with Jefferson County Public Health. “It affects more people and families than we realize.”

The farm-to-table movement, in essence, has become more than just about supporting and eating locally sourced food. With its varying forms of programs sprouting up, it is transforming community, whether by connecting rural and urban populations with each other or providing ways to give back while battling food insecurity.

Strides to SNAP out hunger

More local farmers’ markets are accepting SNAP benefits, including Main Street Markets and Metro Denver Farmers’ Markets, which has an Arapahoe County location in Littleton, a Douglas County location in Highlands Ranch and a Jefferson County location in Lakewood. SNAP is the former federal food stamp program, which offers offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families.

“In my experience, most people want to eat healthy,” Metzinger said, but added that most SNAP recipients receive only $1.41 per meal or $4.23 per day in benefits, making it a challenge to have enough money to buy healthy food for an entire month.

Last summer, SNAP launched a new incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks Colorado, also known as Double Up. It allows SNAP recipients who shop at participating farmers’ markets to have their purchase matched with a voucher worth up to $20 per visit, providing them with more access to fresh, healthy food options, Metzinger said.

Double Up started as a statewide partnership effort led by LiveWell Colorado, the Colorado Department of Human Services, the Colorado Farmers Market Association, Cooking Matters-Colorado, the City of Greeley and Boulder County Public Health.

In its inaugural year, 38 farmers’ markets and farm stand locations participated in Double Up. This year, 70 farmers’ markets statewide now offer Double Up. Among the newcomers is the Golden Chamber of Commerce’s Golden Farmers Market, which is managed by Colorado Fresh Markets.

“Golden has done a wonderful thing by creating a more welcoming, inclusive farmers’ market,” Metzinger said.

Veterans lend a helping hand

In the spring and fall each year, the Denver Botanic Gardens and a Colorado-based organization called Veterans to Farmers work collaboratively to bring the Chatfield Farms Veterans Farm Program to men and women who have served the country.

The benefit to veterans is two-fold, said Erin Bird, communication manager for Denver Botanic Gardens. It provides horticulture therapy and an opportunity to learn the necessary skills to pursue a career in agriculture after leaving the armed forces.

“They all love the program. They take so much pride in what they’re doing,” Bird said. “And there’s the camaraderie of working alongside others who have served.”

With the program, veterans grow produce at the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield Farms, a 700-acre native plant refuge and working farm in southern Jefferson County.

They receive hands-on experience with key farming topics, such as irrigation, harvesting, composting, canning/preserving and even beekeeping, in addition to learning business planning topics such as recordkeeping and marketing.

The program has seen its share of success stories, Bird said. Every participant receives a certificate of completion, and some have continued on to start or manage their own farms, while others have gotten jobs at nurseries or other similar organizations in the industry.

Once the produce is harvested from Chatfield Farms, it is delivered in a refrigerated truck to several weekly farm stands in the Denver area, located in neighborhoods that are either food insecure or within a food desert, meaning there is not easy access to healthy, fresh food. The farm stands, which accept SNAP benefits, are a partnership with Denver Human Services and are open from June to October.

“The community is thrilled to have this come to those who are in need,” Bird said. “And it’s a great way to engage and support as many people as we can in the Denver area.”

Creating economic partnerships

Creating partnerships among local and regional food vendors is also key to meeting the clamor for healthy food, while growing the local food economy.

“The demand is there, and the supply will grow as we connect urban and rural communities,” Kimberly Mudd said.

Farmers market shoppers tend to pay attention to their products’ food miles — a way to measure the transport of a food item from producer to consumer, Nathan Mudd said.

But, because not everything can be grown in Colorado, some vendors with Main Street Markets — where 90 percent of vendors sell food — have partnerships with other regional farmers.

For example, cherries from Colorado are already done for the season, but are still at their peak in Montana, Nathan Mudd pointed out. Having a partnership with a Montana cherry farmer can bring the product to Colorado farmers’ markets, while still providing shoppers with the knowledge of the food miles.

“If we can keep our food identity preserved with regional partners, then we’re allowing the shopper to always know where their food comes from,” Nathan Mudd said. “It’s a statewide and regional solution.”

Connecting community

The main goal of the Edgewater Farmers Market is creating a true neighbor-to-market experience, said Anthony Murray, the City of Edgewater’s market coordinator.

The market uniquely takes place on Thursday evenings — most other markets run during the daytime hours on the weekends — in a historic shopping district. People enjoy the variety of fruits and vegetable vendors, most of which come from within a 10-mile radius of the Denver metro area. Among them is Sprout City Farms, a nonprofit organization that accepts SNAP and has the mission to cultivate education and urban farms to engage and strengthen communities.

But some of the produce to be found at the market also comes from Edgewater residents themselves, Murray said.

​HEALthy Edgewater, a co-op of local residents, has two initiatives to promote healthy eating and active living in the community. One is bringing backyard farmers and gardeners to the market to sell their produce, Murray said.

What sets the city’s market apart from others, though, he said, is the diversity of entertainment: There’s also live music and children’s activities such as face painting and balloon animals to create an atmosphere of community getting together to experience an amazing sunset on a warm summer night.

“The farmers market is all about enjoying yourself,” Murray said. “It’s a time to unwind, listen to live music and shop for fresh produce and intricate arts and crafts.”

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