In a cold, high-elevation Colorado valley, a food renaissance is taking place. The Mountain Roots Food Project aims to create a resilient local food system through which a diverse community can learn, participate—and be fed.
People all over are taking a new interest in good food, but the Gunnison basin supports a mixed population of old-school ranchers, low-income families, and young ski bums, none of whom have much access to pricey organic produce shipped from elsewhere. The organizers of the Mountain Roots project believe that growing your own local food is the least expensive, most nutritious way to participate in the food revolution. And they believe that everyone should have access.
Historically, the Gunnison basin produced most of the food its inhabitants needed. This volunteer-powered organization taps into that history through community gardens, farmers’ markets, and donations of produce to the needy. For kids, farm-to-school programs, agricultural summer camps, and school gardens provide hands-on education and healthy meals.
But it’s not easy. The valley, situated between 7,500 and 8,500 feet, sees an average of only 62 frost-free days a year.
“So, we teach people how to extend the season, to grow cold-weather crops, like broccoli, salad greens and peas,” says organizer Rose Tocke, who admits to seeing a rare pumpkin produced in the valley last summer. For those swamped with kolhrabi and cabbages, Mountain Roots offers food preservation and storage classes.
Together, those participating are coaxing more local produce from Gunnison’s native soils than has been the case for many decades.