Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Closing loops and local food production |

Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Closing loops and local food production

Mark Berkley
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Mushrooms grow at Innovative Ag Colorado in Steamboat Springs.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In 2010, I was working a graveyard shift as a sheriff’s deputy when I was intrigued by a news story on aquaponics. That was the beginning of my journey to discover how nature closes loops and regenerates itself.

I built a small aquaponics set in the living room of our 850-square-foot townhome, much to my wife’s dismay. When we moved to Steamboat Springs, I was told you couldn’t grow year-round in Routt County, and I took that as a challenge to build my first aquaponics greenhouse.   

Built from recycled, repurposed materials and partially funded by Livewell Colorado, I intended from the start to integrate with the community. After inquiring about needs in the restaurant community, I started growing microgreens — super nutritious, fast growing greens like sprouts, but better. That was the creation of Innovative Ag Colorado.

Shortly after mastering microgreens and edible flowers, I was introduced to mushrooms. Equipment for commercial mushroom cultivation is nonexistent or prohibitively expensive in the U.S., so once again, I built what I needed from recycled/repurposed materials. I was really getting adept at finding alternative uses for things and how careful one needs to be when altering systems. 

I had an epiphany that the death of one organism is the beginning of new life for countless others. When we had a cottonwood fall on our site, I looked up what mushrooms could be grown on this tree. I found several of the oyster mushroom strains we were growing also love cottonwood.

I continued down this rabbit hole and started experimenting with different waste streams. I have successfully grown using — though not exclusively — cardboard, paper and coffee grounds as well as wood waste. It became a mission of Innovative Ag to close loops and aim to be a completely self-sufficient, hyper local, community integrated farm. 

This goal led to the creation of Innovative Regeneration Colorado, a waste conversion company. All the organic waste from our company was not wasted by nature. Organisms would be feasting, and the power these organisms generate is immense.

All we have to do is harness their power and focus it to convert our waste into regenerative outputs like numerous types of fertilizer, mushroom substrate, animal feed, biogas and many other products. We are trying to harmonize with nature and close all loops. 

We are an employee-owned, socially/environmentally focused, local company built from recycled repurposed materials selling to dozens of restaurants in three counties and in Steamboat at the We’re growing on soil we recycled, mushroom substrate acquired regionally (often waste products) and turning waste into resources.

We host interns from Colorado Mountain College and Steamboat Springs High School and are an approved work site work site for the Yampa Valley Autism Program. We don’t just cultivate mushrooms and microgreens, we pride ourselves in cultivating people and ideas. Positive change comes from action not activism. I invite anyone who has an interest in grassroots regenerative agriculture, waste conversion or research and development (calling this the “Gorilla Maker Space”) to come play with us. 

Mark Berkley founded Innovative Ag Colorado.

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