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Two Colorado locations chosen to be part of nationwide initiative to encourage focus on local food

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Jan. 25 that Greeley was one of 27 locations across the United States chosen to participate in the Local Foods, Local Places initiative.

The national project is aimed to strengthen food security, local economies and childhood wellness, and is spearheaded by several national organizations, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, Centers for Disease Control and more, as part of the White House Rural Council.

Two Colorado locations — Greeley and Denver — were chosen to be part of the project, which is in its second year. More than 300 communities applied to the Local Foods, Local Places initiative this year.

The Greeley proposal, submitted by the University of Northern Colorado, features a partnership between the university and the city, downtown businesses and local organizations and groups like Greeley-Evans School District 6. Members of the partnership will work to promote local food systems and eliminate area food deserts.

“I think sometimes when you live in an area without transportation, the utmost in your mind isn’t locally grown food it’s just fresh food to begin with.”

Vilsack said this project stood out from the hundreds of other proposals in part because of the university involvement and the unique partnerships it involved.

What exactly the project looks like has yet to be decided, though, said Kevin Cody, the UNC instructor who originally submitted the proposal. Sometime this spring, the different groups involved in the project will meet for a day and a half to put together a plan. Being selected for the initiative means the project will receive technical assistance to plan and implement new local food systems, Cody said.

The projected started when Cody realized there were a lot of health initiatives already happening in Greeley, like the Healthy Weld 2020 or city’s Bicycle Master Plan, but UNC wasn’t behind any of them. Then, when he looked at city and county data on obesity and food insecurity, he thought the university needed to do more.

Even though the final project outline isn’t complete yet, there are many ideas for it, he said. Cody teaches in the environmental and sustainability studies program at UNC, which started a student farm last spring. That farm will be integral to the project, no matter how it ends up looking, Cody said. The final project also likely will offer opportunities for other students within the college to get hands-on experience, whether it’s in marketing, dietetics or another field.

The new Farmer’s Pantry store, 931 16th St., Also will play a substantial role, said Pam Bricker, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.

Bricker said the downtown area’s revitalization has three focal points — live, work and play. They’ve done great on the work and play parts, she said, but without a source for fresh food, they can’t be successful on the “live” pillar. That’s where Farmer’s Pantry and this project come in.

The ability to have fresh, locally grown food is critical to the area’s food security.

“I think sometimes when you live in an area without transportation, the utmost in your mind isn’t locally grown food it’s just fresh food to begin with,” Bricker said.

In 2014, a survey found that 90 percent of downtown Greeley residents shopped at the downtown Safeway before it closed. Fifteen percent of those surveyed have to borrow a car or carpool to a grocery store, while another 15 percent walk to get their groceries. With few fresh, locally grown grocery options in the downtown area before Farmer’s Pantry, the area was considered a food desert.

There are also opportunities for other options, including a mobile food pantry, fresh produce in local businesses, or more local produce in food banks, to make their way into the plan. That’s part of what makes this project so viable, Cody said. It has the ability to be shaped to whatever best suits the community and the stakeholders.

Cody also said since Greeley has a rich agricultural history, linking local producers with consumers is not only logical, but necessary. Vilsack said that’s one of the things he hopes the Local Foods, Local Places initiative will do is encourage a new generation of farmers.

“The agrarian history in Weld County is still there,” Cody said. “What we’re trying to do at the university is sort of build off of that, and sort of revitalize that agrarian history.” ❖




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