Spotlight – Local Food Security
In 2010, community members organized Mountain Roots Food Project under fiscal sponsorship with Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley as a grassroots initiative to build a sustainable local food system. This 12-month partnership with CFGV allowed us to launch our programming immediately while establishing our own independent 501(c)3 status. Our first vacant-lot urban garden engaged 50 volunteers and produced 600 pounds of food for local food pantries and schools.
Momentum built quickly, and with the annual engagement of 300+ volunteers contributing over 4,000 hours per year to our projects, by 2014 we had established a district-wide Farm-to-School Program, a network of youth and community gardens, and conducted a Community Food Assessment to inform the food security initiatives we’d pilot over the next few years. The demand for fresh, local food has continued to increase, outpacing supply and presenting more equity challenges. Food security is integral to the mission of Mountain Roots Food Project. It is not just part of a local food system, it is the result of a food system that is locally-based, regenerative, and equitable for all. But what is Food Security?
Food Security means having consistent, reliable, physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A household that is experiencing food insecurity also experiences stress and fear that they won’t have the means to adequately feed themselves or their family. The 2020 census shows that over 22% of Gunnison County residents live below the poverty line, and recent local studies show that an additional 30% – 45% of our neighbors fall in the “missing middle:” households whose income level does not qualify them for social services like SNAP benefits or Medicaid, but who still struggle to make ends meet. That means too many of our community members are faced with hard financial decisions on a regular basis: decisions like whether to pay for heat or an oil change, a medical bill or groceries.
In 2020, the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in food systems and we’re currently seeing just how fragile the global system is as the war in Ukraine influences prices of so many food items. Now, more people than ever before are turning to local farmers as a trusted source of fresh food. To meet the need and desire for fresh, local food as a source of food security, in 2020 and 2021 Mountain Roots doubled our farm production capacity and tripled our food security relief efforts. The Backyard Harvest program now serves over 100 households by distributing boxes of fresh produce every week all year long at no cost to them.
Food security initiatives extend beyond fresh food donations to education through the Cooking Matters curriculum, a program that teaches individuals with low incomes how to cook healthy and nutritious meals for a family of four on a budget of $10 or less. By mentoring backyard gardeners through the Gunni Grows! Network and engaging locals from all walks of life in our three community gardens, Mountain Roots has distributed over 28,000 pounds of fresh produce to households in need in 2022 alone. Backyard gardening is an integral piece of the food security puzzle, which creates a more equitable and resilient local food system for us all.
This holiday season, Backyard Harvest is expanding its reach to 200 households who will receive a larger box of organic and locally-sourced goods like a whole roasting chicken, a loaf of sourdough bread, and of course, delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. These Holiday Harvest Meal boxes will be distributed twice to these 200 families, once at Thanksgiving and once in December.
Mountain Roots envisions a world where no one faces hunger. We believe that everyone deserves equitable access to fresh, healthy food that is culturally relevant, and supports an active and healthy lifestyle. As we prepare to feast with family and friends in the coming weeks, let’s also come together to strengthen the connection our kids have to the earth, to rejuvenate our soils and conserve our water, and to uplift the most marginalized and vulnerable members of the Gunnison Valley community. Mountain Roots is your local food organization dedicated to eliminating food insecurity while improving the physical, social, mental, environmental, and economic health of the Gunnison Valley.
To learn more about Mountain Roots, the work we do in the Gunnison Valley, and how to get involved, please visit www.mountainrootsfoodproject.org.
Contributed by Rachel Branham, Development Director, Mountain Roots Food Project