There may be no better way to build a resilient, sustainable community than to develop its local food systems. But this may not be as simple as it sounds. Different communities have different conditions, needs, and resources. The biggest challenge we face in Nederland is growing food at elevation—a challenge that can be overcome by using certain growing techniques and strategies. On the plus side, Nederland provides enough market opportunities for food systems to have a place in the local economy.
Primary Objective: Food Security
The primary objective, of course, is food security: the ability of a community to feed itself. To maximize this capability, a number of pieces have to be in place: farmers, growing infrastructure, know-how, partnerships, and support from the community. The more robust its local food systems, the more a community enjoys food autonomy: local control of the mechanisms and policies related to food production and distribution. Presently, Nederland has virtually no food security; the food grown in Nederland is nowhere near enough to feed its citizens. But this problem is not unique to us, it is a national problem. Consider this fact: if the food Denver imports to feed its citizens were to be suddenly cut off, there would be enough food in the city to feed its population for a total of two days.
Fortunately, we know how to grow food on scale in Nederland. Every year, local residents successfully grow a variety of vegetables and grains. Ranchers and small dairy farmers live here as well. Moreover, our close proximity to the farms of Boulder Valley allows easy access to a broader selection of foods, expanding the range and capacity of our foodshed. As for distribution, Nederland has a number of key pieces in place: the Food Pantry, the Farmers Market, the Mountain People’s Co-Op, restaurants that feature locally-produced foods, and schools that provide market opportunities for growers.
Local Food = Local Economy
Local food systems contribute to the local economy. Studies have shown that for every $100 spent at locally-owned businesses, $68 stays in the community. If the same $100 is spent at national chains, only $43 stays in the community. Local food systems provide economic opportunities not only in farming and construction, but also in a range of cottage industries related to food distribution, soil and compost, value-added products, etc.
But Wait! There’s More!
There are other benefits to local food systems: emergency preparedness, combating climate change, health and wellness. Anyone remembering the 2013 flood can appreciate how food security increases emergency preparedness. Growing and eating delicious, nutritious food adds to a community’s health and wellness.
Locally-grown organic food also plays a part in combating climate change, inasmuch as it results in fewer greenhouse gasses and promotes healthy soil—a key resource for carbon sequestration. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) attributes 30% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to our modern industrial agricultural system. When you begin to think about all the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, monocultures, packaging, machinery, and transportation that underpin this industrial system, it is easy to see that it’s harmful, destructive, and ultimately unsustainable.
Even if only for personal consumption, growing food provides the satisfaction of doing something good for oneself, the community, and the planet.