Land stewardship addresses local food insecurity
By Kendra Walker
This spring when the coronavirus hit our valley and the nation hard, the Crested Butte Land Trust approached Mountain Roots Food Project with an idea to create a farming project that would help address food insecurities in the valley. This week, folks in need in the community will benefit from the project’s first harvest.
Enter Glacier Community Farm, located on a ranching homestead at the corner of Cement Creek Road and Highway 135 owned by the Crested Butte Land Trust. “The timing, the need for local food and the pertinence of being good land stewards at the land trust really hit us,” said CBLT’s previous executive director Noel Durant. “It challenged us to think about how our conserved lands can address the community’s needs in this uncertain time.”
COVID-19 prompted the land trust to consider the property’s potential again, said Durant, who admits that the team had not put in time or attention into the property over the past few years. “When we started looking at the ramifications of coronavirus, it really hit home that this could be a timely opportunity to address community needs through open space stewardship.”
CBLT teamed up with Mountain Roots to get the farm up and running. “It was a really easy partnership,” said Durant. “The goal for this year was to harvest food on the property and give it to those who need it most.”
“Food insecurity is something Mountain Roots has been working on for 10 years, but the pandemic brought it to the front of everyone’s mind,” said Mountain Roots executive director Holly Conn. “People realized community food insecurity is not just related to poverty—it affects all aspects of our community based on our access, and we found that out during COVID when our shelves were empty, our farmers were in crisis and batches of factory food were getting thrown out.”
With the help of volunteers and funding support, including from the Gates Family Foundation and private donors, the team worked to prepare the property with irrigation and soil amendment, build garden beds and plant a round of crops for the 2020 growing season. Mountain Roots will distribute the food grown to those facing food insecurities through its various programs, including its free neighborhood markets and home-box delivery program. According to Durant and Conn, this week marks the first harvest that will be given out.
Currently, the garden is growing radishes, lettuce, red mustard greens, kale, spinach and arugula. “We chose short season, cold-weather crops for this frost season because the early season was spent working on the infrastructure so planting was later than a typical year,” said Conn. The rest of the space will be prepared for next year’s growing season.
Durant said the land trust took inspiration from the Montezuma Land Conservancy’s Fozzie’s Farm in Lewis, Colo., an example of a similar community farm project. “We took a trip there and saw what they’re doing and the light bulb clicked with our staff,” he said. “It’s been really exciting for the land trust to step into this role. The land trust aren’t farmers, but we are open space stewards.”
“We are trying to demonstrate that when you’re working in active conservation you can have interactions with the land that not only produces food but also end up contributing to the health of the soil and the water and the habitat,” said Conn. “It’s a regenerative approach, not extractive.”
In the coming months, the team will plan and look into more investments for the farm, such as structures that could extend growing opportunities into the winter months, such as frost cloths, hoops and a high tunnel. “Working on season extension is essential to growing in our cold climate,” said Conn. The team has also awarded a fellowship to Kara Williard, a Western Colorado University student in the Master in Environmental Management program, to design a long-term strategy and plan for the farm.
CBLT and Mountain Roots will also be looking into more funding and grant opportunities. “We, Mountain Roots, and the land trust are definitely in this for the long hall,” said Conn. “This is a forever project for us and we are really excited to do it right.”
Currently, the community is invited to volunteer at Glacier Community Farm’s Tuesday workdays. “We’ll try to keep those volunteer days going through mid-October depending on frost and snow, to help winterize the space,” said Conn.
“There’s significant room for increasing the scale of that impact and increasing community engagement,” said Durant.
“So much of our community connects to open space through recreation,” said Durant, explaining how the complexities of land conservation are often difficult to understand. “Having a working farm and potentially looking at how our community can connect to our ranching through this space is really exciting.”
If interested in volunteering at the Glacier Community Farm, contact the Crested Butte Land Trust at (970) 349-1206.