Up and down the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys, farmers and ranchers raise local produce — from meats to fresh vegetables — yet there are still many residents who are regularly concerned about keeping enough food on their family’s table.
Several entities, both governmental and nongovernmental, from Parachute to Aspen, are interested in the possibility of installing a food hub somewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley. Mashing two potatoes with one fork, so to speak, the food hub would purchase goods from farmers and ranchers who need to sell their harvests, and that food would in turn be distributed to community members undergoing food insecurity.
Lift Up, an organization that already has experience connecting producers with families in need of nutritious food, initiated the conversation when it began looking for space for a facility in the Valley. In 2021, Lift Up served over 46,000 people experiencing food insecurity between Aspen and Parachute.
Lift Up already has a warehouse in Parachute. “We were looking to get something further up-valley, just to better serve the community,” Ivan Jackson, the executive director of Lift Up, explained to The Sopris Sun. He conferred with other food security and human services programs which shared an interest in the potential of a food-hub.
The nonprofit currently has six fixed pantries and about 10 mobile distribution sites between Parachute and Aspen. “But, that is Lift Up,” Jackson clarified. “The regional food hub is a concept — if it comes to fruition — that will be something combining Lift Up and multiple other community partners.
“Distributing food is not just a question of someone turning up and you hand them food. It’s ‘How do you grow food? Who grows the food? Where do you get the food from? How do you distribute that food?’” Jackson expounded. “We’re working on a concept of having a regional food hub that would support the entire community: farmers, growers, ranchers, distribution organizations and, obviously, the people dealing with food insecurity.”
Currently, Lift Up purchases food for a wholesale price from 30 growers. A couple of years ago, the organization started its “Farm to Food” program, where Lift Up enters into contracts with farmers and pays them in advance for growing crops.
Should a food hub come into being, Jackson said he’d love to see even more farmers supported.
“Regional food hubs exist throughout the county, it’s not a unique situation,” he explained, and then offered various food hubs in Denver as examples. “They all operate slightly differently, but the concept is to get good, healthy, nutritious foods to people who need it.”
Pitkin County Open Space and Trails (PCOST), Pitkin County Human Services and the Aspen Community Foundation partnered with Lift Up on a feasibility study for a food hub with two potential facilities in mind: the Emma townsite buildings on Highway 82 and the former City Market space in Carbondale. Either or both locations are potential options, but not exclusively. Other locations may be considered in the long run. The Emma townsite is owned by Pitkin County.
A consultant firm, New Ventures Advisors, began conducting the feasibility study over the summer and is expected to have final recommendations by the spring.
As part of the study, producers and business owners were recently invited to complete a survey to help gauge the local industry’s interest in having a food hub and how its leaders might want to see that look. According to Jackson, they had roughly 60 or 70 total responses.
According to PCOST’s website, “New Ventures is currently completing a market analysis, which includes gathering input from potential project beneficiaries to understand the issues they face, and from other food system stakeholders to understand how a new food facility might be part of a regional solution to address these challenges and other opportunities.”
“We are still going through the evaluation process [to see] if it is the right option,” Jackson stated.
“Based on the number of people that we are serving within the community that are dealing with food insecurity, having a regional food hub will benefit those people,” he continued. “I also believe that to benefit the community as a whole … assisting farmers is good for the community.”