Community Agriculture Alliance: What have we learned from 2020? |

Community Agriculture Alliance: What have we learned from 2020?

Todd Hagenbuch
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

We’ve almost made it: in another few weeks, 2020 will be but a memory. While it won’t be one we’re sorry to see go, we know that how we learn from the challenges it threw at us can help us survive future years that throw us curve balls.

So, what were these challenges and what did we learn?

The situation: The 20-year drought we’ve been experiencing isn’t going away. We saw good moisture last fall as we headed into an early winter, and winter rewarded us with good moisture across the region. Fast forward just a few months, and we were in the throes of a very hot, dry summer.

What we learned: Good snowpack heading into spring is great to help fill reservoirs, provide water for our aquifers and springs and allow us to irrigate for the first weeks of summer, but nothing replaces good rain. Pastures grasses, dryland hay and even stock ponds need rain to help keep our animals satiated. As a changing climate throws more variability our way, we need to plan to run fewer animals, have access to more pasture, be prepared to haul water or all of the above.

The situation: The U.S. consumer has unparalleled access to safe, nutritious food at a relatively low cost. This is a result of American-created efficiencies, such as mass processing of food, mass transportation of goods and a distribution system that inspires competition and rewards the lowest-cost retailer with more sales.

What we learned: Those efficient systems are incredibly fragile, as evidenced by massive COVID-related shutdowns at processing plants across the country, including meat processing facilities. Locally-sourced food, in comparison, has fewer players between the producer and the consumer, resulting in fewer opportunities for disruption in the food chain. Consumers realized that knowing your farmer/rancher and having access to local products assures a higher probability that you can put food on your table when trouble strikes. And keeping those dollars in your community helps out your neighbors, too.

The situation: Pandemic-related challenges, including social-distancing measures and business closures, political divides, record-setting wildfires and social unrest threw many economic sectors into chaos. Shortages of many products occurred, but it wasn’t because American agriculture producers stopped working. Crops continued to grow and get harvested, cows continued to get milked and livestock continued to get cared for.

What we learned: While the system we feed our products into may have flaws, the foundation of our agricultural system, based on family farmers and ranchers, continues to be resilient. Our producers and their employees, including family members and guest workers, put themselves in potentially difficult and downright dangerous situations every day to provide the food and fiber of our nation. This year exacerbated those challenges, and still, they persevered.

In this time of reflection and giving thanks, take time to remember those who grow the food that is on your table. They get little in return for the hard work they put into keeping you fed, and like the other frontline workers we often take for granted, risk themselves for us all.

Todd Hagenbuch is county director and agriculture agent with Routt County CSU Extension.

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