Bayfield’s Pine River Shares organization has been selected by La Plata County commissioners to receive $390,000 through the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will go toward the organization’s Field to Fork Project Plan, which aspires to build an independent food system in the Pine River Valley area, helping to feed about 16,000 residents.
“The Field to Fork Plan will be all about reworking how we manage our food systems,” said Pine River Shares Executive Director Pam Wilhoite. “We’re working toward a self-sustaining food production system. Every community will be participating in food production, food processing and storing food. It’s going to bring more food to the community.”
Pine River Shares, along with the Pine River Garden Club, have been developing the Field to Fork plan for the last eight years with input gathered from more than 200 Pine River Valley residents during numerous community conversations.
“Every community has participated in Field to Fork’s development,” Wilhoite said. “We all want to be healthy and thriving.”
The major components of Field to Fork’s plan include teaching residents how to grow food at home, community food production, and sharing labor and resources for other food systems, including food processing, preservation and storage. Wilhoite said the plan reflects the past agricultural practices of the Pine River Valley area, when residents used to grow their own food, farm their land, and operate dairy farms and grain mills.
“The money we’re receiving from the ARPA is for legacy investments,” Wilhoite said. “We’re rebuilding our food infrastructure.”
Also assisting in Field to Fork Project Plan will be the new geodesic grow dome Pine River Shares built on its property in 2021, season extension high tunnels, a tractor and trailer, and compost shredders.
“We have to be able to continue growing food during the winter months,” Wilhoite said. “The dome is a big part of that.”
The money from the American Rescue Plan Act will also help fund community kitchens equipped with food dehydrators, food processors, freeze dryers, refrigerators and a walk-in freezer. The kitchen will help residents process and store food they are growing at home, as well as help store the food being produced in the geodesic dome, the high tunnels, and the outside gardens by PRS employees and volunteers, Wilhoite said.
Starting in 2023, Pine River Shares will host meetings in various Pine River Valley communities to break down the ARPA funding and its impact on local food production and processing in the coming years.
“I want to eventually make it so that no one in these rural communities has to drive all the way to Durango for their groceries, especially those in need,” Wilhoite said. “I want us to become a self-sustaining region.”