In a major shift in their commercial market, the owners of Homegrown Farm in Bayfield are selling their wholesale produce this summer to Pine River Shares for distribution to local residents.
The farm previously was selling wholesale to restaurants in Telluride.
“We hated that our food was going so far away,” said Emily Jensen, who has run the farm with her husband, Mike, for 15 years.
They knew their produce was being eaten predominantly by wealthier clients they were never going to meet, but the restaurants were able to offer more money for their produce than they could make locally.
Enter Pine River Shares, which distributed food to 31,000 clients last year and wanted to start providing healthier food to residents who might not be able to afford it. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge spike in the number of people who use the group’s food pantry.
“We want to feed hungry people good food,” said Pam Wilhoite, director of Pine River Shares.
As part of the group’s work on food security and local production, they facilitated the Field to Fork program, which examined how residents of the Pine River Valley could return to the area’s historic ranching and farming roots to raise food, instead of importing it from wholesalers several states away.
As part of the research for the Field to Fork program, local farmers explained they didn’t sell much produce locally because they couldn’t charge a price that covered their costs and provided a profit.
Last year, Pine River Shares purchased a share of Homegrown Farm’s community supported agriculture program, then distributed the veggies and fruits.
To expand on the effort, Wilhoite collected donations from local supporters and focused on paying Homegrown a higher price for produce, and Pine River Shares volunteers separate and prepare the produce for distribution.
Pine River Shares is buying produce from other farms, as well, in addition to $1,500 in locally produced eggs, and it purchased and processed three steers for distribution this year.
The group also provides expertise for using grow domes and has applied for funding to be able to distribute them, but the group has not yet received funding.
“If everyone grows food at home, and we share the means of production, there will be enough food for everybody,” Wilhoite said.
The Field to Fork program focuses on the full cycle of food production, including growing and raising local produce and meat, processing, distribution, marketing, markets and purchasing, preparation and consumption, and waste recovery and nutrient cycling.
Ideas for more sustainable local food production include purchasing a portable apple cider mill, commercial kitchen facilities, a mill to produce fiber from local sheep and llamas, and meat lockers and creameries for storing food. This summer, the group will plant 100 fruit trees in the valley, in partnership with the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project.
With more people interested in growing and purchasing locally-raised food, a local food distribution project is “way more possible” than when Homegrown Farm started growing produce in past decades, Emily Jensen said. “We’re trying to grow a valleywide food system.”
In addition to providing food to Pine River Shares, Homegrown Farm also offers community supported agriculture shares to farm clients, and the owners sell produce at the Durango Farmers Market.
Growing sustainable, artisanal vegetables takes a lot of labor and time, Jensen said, hence the farm’s previous reliance on high-end customers.
“I didn’t realize I could shift that for other people,” she said, with the help of groups like Pine River Shares and their volunteers. “That’s a revelation for us. All across our regions, we have the option to choose where our produce goes.”
The Field to Fork plan is available online at www.pinerivershares.org.
An earlier version of this story erred in saying Pine River Shares provides growing domes. The nonprofit is seeking funding to make domes available, but has not yet received funding to do so.