Perhaps you’ve eyed those signs and stickers in the store touting the abundance of Colorado produce available and wondered if it’s really worth the purchase. Or maybe you’ve driven by the farmers market and thought to yourself that you’d like to stop in, but you’re just too busy.
If you’ve been curious about the hype of local food, August is the perfect time to purchase locally produced products.
Where to find local foods in Northwest Colorado
• Wednesdays: 7 a.m. until sold out: DeVries Farm Market, 750 W. Victory Way, Walgreens parking lot, Craig
• Thursdays: noon to 6 p.m. Craig Farmers Market, 500 block of Yampa Ave.
• Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Steamboat Farmers Market, Seventh and Yampa streets
Other markets to visit:
• Bamboo Market, 1110 Yampa St., Steamboat Springs
• City Market, 505 W. Victory Way, Craig, or 1825 Central Park Plaza, Steamboat Springs
• Health Works, 2035 W. Victory Way, Craig
• Steamboat Meat & Seafood Company, 1030 Yampa St., Steamboat Springs
This month officially has been declared Colorado Proud month by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The Colorado Proud Program was created by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in 1999 in order to promote products grown, raised and produced within the state.
To make identifying local food easier for consumers, nifty little stickers are placed on Colorado grown goods.
Colorado is home to more than 36,000 farms and ranches spanning a total of 31 million acres, nearly half of the state’s land area, according to a Colorado Department of Agriculture fact sheet. The agricultural sector creates more than 170,000 jobs and contributes more than $40 billion annually to the state’s economy, with cattle and calves ranking as the No. 1 agricultural commodity.
The reasons for eating locally are many, but when you’re choosing between that big pile of Palisade peaches or the imported nectarines across the aisle, your own health is every bit as important a reason to stay local as the health of your community.
For starters, the fresher the food, the higher the nutrition. Daniel Wright, owner of Health Works in Craig, pointed out that transit time takes a toll on the foods that we eat.
“Something that’s locally sourced should have better nutritional value to it, from not having been stored forever, not having been transported long distances and not having to have been processed,” Wright said.
As soon as you pick any kind of produce in the field, the nutrient value begins to fade, according to Wright and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Farmer Bill DeVries, of Grand Junction, has been in the business of growing and selling his produce for nearly 50 years. He and his daughter Shauna DeVries haul their harvest to Craig every Wednesday — a practice that Bill has kept up for 45 years — where they sell tomatoes, peaches, squash, roasted green chilies and a full array of other fruits and vegetables to customers in the Walgreens parking lot.
“This stuff was picked yesterday,” Bill said. “If you care for your family and you care for your youngins growing up, go with the freshest stuff. With it being fresher, it’s got to taste better too.”
Better flavor is a happy side effect of the freshness factor, making the experience of eating your fruits and vegetables that much more interesting and enjoyable. And if you enjoy it more, chances are you'll boost your intake of the healthful stuff.
Local varieties are also likely to be grown with taste in mind rather than shelf life. Many of the fruits and vegetables we see in supermarkets have been bred for the ability to store longer and transport better. When you buy locally grown foods, you often can find heritage breeds and varieties that have been lost from our mainstream food system.
Kelly Landers, co-owner of Creekside Cafe and Grill in Steamboat Springs with her husband, Jason Landers, sources as much local meat for their restaurant as possible for better flavor and to support the local economy.
Referring to the comparison between conventional meat and the meat she sources from Yampa Valley Farms and Yampa Valley Beef, both based in Steamboat Springs, she said, “The difference in taste between the pork is just like the beef, it’s like night and day. I can’t even go to most restaurants and eat a hamburger.”
The Landers are so committed to the superior local product that Kelly drives to Craig every time their supply of beef gets low to pick up a whole steer from the meat processor. The Landers recently were honored with the business philanthropist of the year award for 2014 from the Yampa Valley Community Foundation for their commitment to supporting the local community.
“They’re finally getting the recognition that’s deserved,” said Tammy Delaney, owner of Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary in Hayden. “They’re leading the charge, really, out of any of the restaurants in the valley.”
Delaney herself is doing her part to bring food production back to the Yampa Valley, as well, viewing it as a return to the area’s roots rather than a new idea. She currently is leading an effort to revive the old mill that houses her coffee shop in Hayden by growing heritage wheat varieties on the land nearby.
“Most communities always had a mill,” Delaney explained. “They always had local wheat growers. You know, Hayden had a flour mill, Steamboat had a flour mill, that was part of the food system. And just as we got bigger and more regionalized, that all disappeared, so we’re slowly trying to bring it back.”
The bottom line for Delaney is re-connecting the dots between food growers, processors and consumers, and doing so on a community level.
“How do we consume food from those we know and trust,” Delaney asks, “to know where food is coming from, how it’s being produced, and what it’s being fed?
And perhaps the greatest health benefit of eating locally grown food is having the power not only to ask these questions, but to learn their answers. It’s a task made difficult when food has passed through ten hands before it lands on your plate, but it’s one made very simple when the farmer is the person handing you your change.
Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.