Grants help local farmers harvest for food assistance programs

Joe Frankovitch, farm manager at Bee Grateful Farm, harvests arugula in June 2021 at the agricultural operation located south of Steamboat Springs.
Bee Grateful Farm/Courtesy photo

Having fresh, local produce and foods available at the farmers market and on menus at local restaurants is wonderful for the community, but not all local consumers can afford those options.

Grant-funded connections that match local farmers with nonprofit food assistance programs are increasingly beneficial in Routt County both for those receiving the healthy options and for farmers and ranchers planting crops and managing herds.

“We are just really excited about working with these programs that will get our produce into the hands of a wider range of the population,” said Sydney Ellbogen, co-owner of Mountain Bluebird Farm, located west of Hayden.

Grant funding is matching producers such as Mountain Bluebird and Bee Grateful Farm south of Steamboat Springs with LiftUp of Routt County, Routt County Council on Aging and, new this summer, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.

Northwest Colorado Health, which manages WIC, received funding from the statewide nonprofit Nourish Colorado to purchase fresh foods from farmers this summer. Clients will be able to pick up produce at the Steamboat Springs WIC Clinic on Central Park Drive.

Nourish Colorado Managing Director Wendy Peters Moschetti said the grant program offers a variety of ancillary benefits, ranging from keeping food dollars local, to supporting local agriculture and helping preserve agricultural open space.

“It’s contributing to the health and vitality of your community,” Moschetti said. “Knowing where your food comes from tends to be way more conducive to lifelong, nutritious eating habits. If it comes from ‘down the street,’ it tends to be fresher, tastier and higher quality. Everybody deserves high integrity, fresh quality food.”

April Sigman, executive director at Routt County Council on Aging, said various grants, such as those from Nourish Colorado, have boosted the nonprofit’s annual nutrition budget by 10% and increased the purchase of fresh foods, including local meats and eggs purchased year-round through the Community Agriculture Alliance market.

Many Routt County seniors grew up eating local foods, Sigman said, so they are happy about the farm-fresh options, ranging from pork chops to fresh salads. Locally grown foods are used to prepare senior center weekly lunches, used in Meals on Wheels lunches and are sometimes available for seniors to take home during plentiful harvests.

“It’s an amazing community connection where the producers are benefiting and our clients are benefiting,” Sigman said. “Seniors know its local. The quality is amazing. I definitely get feedback that they eat a lot more veggies.”

The Community Agriculture Alliance has brokered connections between producers and agencies for several years, largely through the purchase of Community Supported Agriculture shares, said Michele Meyer, CAA executive director. Sugar Creek Farm in Steamboat, Elkstone Farm in the Strawberry Park area and other local producers have participated in past years, Meyer said.

“That’s a huge economic benefit and a planning benefit back to the farmer for produce growing,” Meyer said.

Since late 2020, CAA has helped with local food purchases of about $10,000 for LiftUp and almost $12,500 for Council on Aging, Meyer said.

Farmer Ellbogen said guaranteed sales are helpful so that producers don’t have to spend time searching for more sales outlets. She said the CSA format also is less labor intensive compared to manning farmers market booths.

Mountain Bluebird Farm west of Hayden participates in several regional farmers markets.
Mountain Bluebird Farm/Courtesy photo

“Our produce when it’s distributed locally means that it is picked one, or a maximum five days, before,” said Ellbogen. “When you get produce out of a grocery store, it can be much older than ours, and it loses nutrition as it ages.”

Joe Frankovitch, farm manager at Bee Grateful, said its cool knowing he’s supplying local food to people who normally wouldn’t have access. He added that locally distributed food has a smaller carbon footprint for transportation. Bee Grateful Farm, which operates with orgnanic methods, provides baby lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, root vegetables, squash and cabbage to the Routt County Council on Aging.

Bee Grateful Farm south of Steamboat Springs operates a booth at a local farmers market.
Bee Grateful Farm/Courtesy photo

CAA may have the opportunity to expand the food match-making in the future by applying for funds via the new Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Human Services that was announced in mid-April.

The connection between producers, grants and nonprofits also was assisted by the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition, which meets quarterly sponsored by the Routt County CSU Extension office.

The next virtual meeting of the Food Coalition will focus on food security gaps in Northwest Colorado. The meeting is set for 12:30 p.m. Thursday, June 9, and interested individuals can contact

Staff at Mountain Bluebird Farm west of Hayden work in the field.
Mountain Bluebird Farm/Courtesy photo
Co-owner Noah Price harvests lettuce at Mountain Bluebird Farm near Hayden.
Mountain Bluebird Farm/Courtesy photo

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