Starting a food business can be difficult if one doesn’t know where to begin. That is doubly so for someone starting a food business in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar tax codes, unfamiliar health regulations and language barriers.
The La Plata Food Equity Coalition, a project by The Good Food Collective, has created a Food Business Work Group with partners such as the city of Durango, In the Weeds and the Rocky Mountain Financing Institute to put together a food resource network for minority business entrepreneurs hoping to establish themselves in Durango and La Plata County.
Over two years, the group has worked with area organizations such as San Juan Basin Public Health, Durango Fire Protection District and language justice specialists within the food equity coalition to establish English and Spanish resource directories for food businesses, a commissary kitchen database and a mentorship program of sorts to guide entrepreneurs through the process of establishing their businesses.
The work all started with a survey of Black, indigenous and other people of color-, rural, women- and immigrant-owned businesses across the county. That survey found those businesses need that resource list, local grants and networking opportunities.
The top three resources businesses said they need are commercial kitchen space, dry and cold food storage space and reliable food sourcing or procurement options, the survey says. But businesses need information about everything from tax assistance to food health regulations and fire codes.
La Plata Food Equity Coalition Facilitator Erin Jolley said the work group’s ultimate goal is to address food insecurity by supporting economic development and identifying economic opportunities for food businesses.
“All of the resources that one needs in our county to start and/or scale a food business, it’s all right here, all in one place,” she said. “This tells you the organization name, where to find them and what they offer just at a glance.”
The coalition aims to make a meaningful social impact on the community by educating businesses about resources, but also educating fire and health departments about the barriers minority food business entrepreneurs must navigate.
She said the group is pushing for systemic change “by each organization, each community member, each business, each nonprofit all working toward the same goal of health and equity.”
The difference between “equity” and “equality” is also important to distinguish. Equality means everyone has the same access to everything, but striving for equity provides equal access by tearing down hurdles like language barriers.
“Are your materials in English and in Spanish? Do you have an interpreter available if you go and do an inspection (of) a kitchen? We want all of our service providers to be thinking about that,” Jolley said. “To not just make things have equality where everybody gets the same service, but how do we form our services around needs? That’s equity.”
Priscilla Newbold, owner of the Love N’ Juice food truck and The Coffee Shop at 11th Street Station, has been down the path of a new and struggling business entrepreneur, and she wants other entrepreneurs to know they don’t have to walk that path alone thanks to the Food Business Work Group.
In addition to running her business, Newbold mentors new food entrepreneurs she connects with through the work group.
When Newbold started her business at Durango Farmers Market about five years ago, she didn’t entirely know what she was doing. Where would she find a kitchen to prepare her food? Where would she procure her food in the first place? There wasn’t a strong network in place to easily answer those basic, but essential, questions.
“I needed a lot of guidance and I still need a lot of guidance,” she said. “Mentoring other businesses, other people, I’d like them to not make the same mistakes that I made. I can guide them.”
While in search of a place to station her food truck, Newbold initially didn’t realize the city of Durango only issued food truck permits for six months at a time. That was a problem. It’s hard to relocate every six months – to find a suitable new location, to tell customers where that is, and to make sure utilities can connect to the truck once it’s there.
She shared her concerns with Durango Economic Opportunity Manager Tommy Crosby, who championed the cause for allowing business owners to renew six-month food truck permits before applying for long-term permits, at which he succeeded back in February.
“(This) now allows them to be renewed twice, giving food trucks 18-months at a given location before they apply for a long-term permit,” he said in an email. “That way they have time to see if their product and location are generating enough revenue to apply for a longer-term permit.”
In addition, City Council also approved food truck pods, or locations where food trucks can operate on a long-term basis as agreed to with property owners leasing space for the food trucks.
“That helped a lot of other people,” Newbold said. “It’s not just moving your truck. It’s having water. It’s having all these other things around you that you (need) for your truck and for your permit.”
Crosby said when people think about food security, their minds go straight to “not enough food to eat.” But the root causes of that problem are deep and diverse.
Livable wages, child care and housing costs, and generational wealth and its impact on a person’s life and business success are just several factors that determine one’s ability to make a successful living, he said.
“We're trying to create that opportunity through people finding entrepreneurship as a viable pathway for them individually for their families, to try to make their own living in Durango and L Plata County in Southwest Colorado,” he said.
The Food Business Work Group has been busy over the course of the last year. It organized language justice training for 43 people and organizations, hosted two food business funding events that 52 people attended and have sourced several commissary kitchen spaces that have since been used by two entrepreneurs, Crosby said.
By his count, 112 businesses and business support organizations have benefited from the work group’s efforts.
“That’s the only thing that can really change our systems, is all of them coming together and deciding that this is important,” Jolley said. “We’re trying to have influence over … folks who haven’t joined the cause. But we found that once our community understands the barriers, that they’re more welcome to change, not to do ‘business as usual’ all the time.”
Jolley also said the whole goal of coalitions is to unite and “wreak havoc on all of the systems so that everybody’s understood, everybody’s valued and everybody has access to a healthy life.”
All of the resources compiled by the Food Business Work Group are available online at goodfoodcollective.org.
A previous version of this article incorrectly said the city of Durango eliminated short-term food truck permits. The city does still require short-term (six month) permits, but it now allows food truck owners to renew their permits ahead of seeking long-term operation in locations where property owners allow it.