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Come Together Right Now, Over Food.

A mindful and connected foodshed, where all enjoy access to protective foods and the market values farmers as a cornerstone of our society.

Photo of Sarah Ditton
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Uproot Colorado

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Slow Food Boulder County (Small NGO); Boulder County Farmers Markets (Small NGO)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.uprootcolorado.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Boulder, Colorado

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Boulder County, a county in Colorado, covers an area of 1,900 km^s.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I bite into a massive, yellow and biodynamically grown tomato—as big as a small acorn squash—with streaks of orange marking its sides. Sweetness, coldness and a bit of tang fill my mouth. Yellow tomato juice runs down my chin and threatens to fall to the parched ground. Slipping off, my palm saves the juice from gravity's influence and I lick it off my hand. Tomatoes are precious here. They represent fertility, nourishment, abundance, water and a cash crop for local farmers. 

Boulder County is now inhabited by more people who didn’t grow up here than by those who did. Although it’s more common to bump into someone from California, Texas or Illinois than someone born in Colorado, the county is a dais that brings together people and possibility. 

This place is a push-pull of old and new. Step on just about any square inch of the county and mountains gaze at you with wisdom and age. Golden grasslands, rivers, pines and prairie dogs continue on their ageless mission to persevere. In the arms of this majesty, we are shaping and reshaping the land by preserving it as open space and farms while also erecting mixed-use structures, tech centers, parks and shopping hubs as the county’s boundaries accommodate more and more people. 

Although our team has roots in the lush-green, humid and rolling lands to the east, this arid terrain with its windswept vistas and hues of gold is a soulmate. We remain a bit sheepish that we’ve added to the population boom, but we are dedicated to bringing our talents to bear to strengthen our disconnected food system, sharing our hearts to reimagine and mindfully reshape the dense, clay soils of the backyard of our adulthood.

We love this land.

This place and its people are important to us because it is home. We work here. We study here. We’ve formed new friendships here. We want this place to thrive in perpetuity so that generations now and generations to come can revel and revive like we do.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Beauty is food for the soul. It’s something we all need and a certain thing, if we pause to look, that we can usually find. Drive north-westward from Denver on Route 36 and, in 30 minutes, you’ll crest a ridge overlooking Boulder Valley. A place with snow-capped peaks half-circling—embracing with a paternal-like spirit, really—tree-sprouting foothills and patchworked-colored flatlands. A hippy-like spirit, an environmentalism spirit, an entrepreneurship spirit, a farm-to-table spirit, a work-life balance spirit and a spirit of possibility are all alive and well here. 

It’s a place where beauty spends most of its time looking for you—there are ~300 days of annual sunshine in Boulder County and easy access to world-class skiing, climbing, hiking and cycling; it’s possible that on your Sunday morning bike ride, you’ll be passed by Olympic hopefuls putting in their mileage. 

Nearly 40,000 new jobs have been added, here, in the past decade and full-day, free kindergarten was made available consistently across the county for the first time in 2019 providing a stronger start for students and economic relief for parents. Of the 474,000 acres in Boulder County, ~315,000 acres are public or protected lands. 

To fully enjoy your surroundings, though, it’s necessary to have your basic needs met. In Boulder County (BoCo), that is becoming harder to do. 

Since 2000, all BoCo towns—except Boulder and Jamestown—have experienced double-digit growth. The average cost of a new home in BoCo is ~$600,000 and, while many restaurants focus on farm-to-table experiences, local farmers struggle to make ends meet: there are 1,012 farms in BoCo and the average net income in 2017 was $80.00. Not surprisingly, 80% of our farmers and ranchers have off-farm income because their agricultural operations alone do not provide a living wage.

Poverty has a home here: 13% of residents live in poverty and more than a quarter of the population doesn’t earn enough to cover their basic needs. Subsequently, food insecurity is 11.2% among adults and 12.6% among children. From a mental health perspective, the suicide rate is solidly above the national average. 

Our charitable giving rates are well below the national average. This is partly driven by residents—78% of whom are non-Hispanic white—not seeing the needs around them and not knowing enough about what local nonprofits are doing to address those needs. Surveys also indicate that a portion of the population feels disconnected and lonely. They are yearning for the sorts of relationships with one another that might increase awareness of our community’s needs.

A healthy food system has gravitas because it connects us while reducing the burden on our healthcare system. Individuals who eat local, seasonal, and protective foods are healthier, happier and more productive people. 

It’s estimated that 33% of calories consumed in BoCo could be grown here with local farmers and ranchers producing 15-20% of the food we need to thrive. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

322698

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Boulder County is dependent on a global food system to feed its people, but efforts to build local-food infrastructure are disjointed, independent and not addressing the systemic forces creating our dependence. 

In this increasingly affluent area with high ideals:

  • Not everyone has access to protective foods

  • Farmers can’t make ends meet as land is expensive, labor shortages are increasing, food is undervalued and marketplaces emphasize “perfect” food 

  • Only 4% of what’s grown here is eaten here

  • Policy is disjointed due to a lack of i.) communications between branches of local government and ii.) community engagement and collaboration 

  • New ag-tech tends to serve the highest bidder to the detriment of small local farmers and ranchers

  • Water resources are becoming scarce due to population growth, global warming, water rights and agricultural needs

Many in the population are blind to these issues though it's likely that, if they knew, many would also push for change. 

Overall, we lack the infrastructure and collaboration necessary to support food-systems innovation that will improve equity and resilience in a time where global systems are eroding both. 

Vignettes:

The local government official is tasked with determining her department’s actions regarding the food system. She opens her email to write a note to a county open-space official for recommendations but, before she finishes her draft, an urgent call on energy resources derails her. 

The CU Boulder sophomore sat tiredly in class, not having eaten in more than a day.

The night-shift worker at a local CPG company finished his shift. “Adiós Julia. Tenga una buena noche.” On his 50-minute commute home, his stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten. His rent payment was due soon and his kids were in daycare. Even with him working six nights a week, and Camila working at the grocery store, they barely scrape by. 

The Army veteran is a skilled aircraft mechanic and chemical engineer but she incurred head trauma in Afghanistan and carried home PTSD stateside. The combination makes it difficult to secure a full-time job.  

The food-pantry volunteer entered the gallery. She put her head down and said a prayer of thanks: "Thank you for this space and for the ability to help those that can’t easily get to the closest grocery store, 15-miles away."

The ag-tech entrepreneur sighed. “Rough day?” her partner asked. “The βeta testing is going well but the VCs are pushing for us to go public sooner. They want to jack up the price.” 

The farmer knows that most of his customers don't understand the trials and tribulations of growing food—it seems like fewer, still, even know him by name—but a combination of grocery-store sales, restaurant orders, and CSA orders are the current way to make ends meet. Each year it gets more difficult to find laborers and affordable parcels of land to expand production and, in the West, there’s constant worry about water reserves and increasingly frequent hail storms that can wipe out a crop in five minutes.  

On our current trajectory, these problems will only expand as we head towards 2050. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The vision addresses the Challenges through three main pillars:

  • Universal Basic Food (UBF)

  • A farmer-worker cooperative

  • The Boulder County Food Council (BCFC)

These pillars work together to establish and uphold an equitable and resilient food system by providing a source of demand, supply and collaboration around local, healthy and nourishing food. 

BCFC will be formed around addressing the county’s food issues while holding a central focus on equity and resilience. The council will have representatives from a range of sectors, privilege levels and areas. It will be a nexus for cross-sector and cross-system collaboration. The council will represent those that require equal access to food, advocate for farmers and regenerative agriculture policies (i.e., setting up a market for carbon credits) and the environment, connect governments and stakeholders, help ag-tech entrepreneurs understand local issues and bring about the UBF policy.

The council will decide upon initiatives that benefit large swaths of the population. To tackle systemic issues, it will constantly engage the public and build resources and infrastructure. 

By 2050, the people of Boulder County will enjoy a UBF policy. This policy will implement a county-wide, everyone-can-participate community-shared agriculture (CShA) program. Local farmers will opt-in to participate and they will be paid a fixed price per-acre of food production, with bonuses for organic, native and protective foods. All citizens of Boulder County opting to participate will have a share of this agricultural production. The county will work with grocery stores—which, by 2050, will double as stores and distribution hubs—to help distribute the CShA shares. 

UBF will increase demand for local food and guarantee a market for participating farmers. This more-stable market will allow farming to become a profitable vocation. Profits from UBF will allow farmers to pursue environmentally beneficial practices that will increase water-use efficiency and land health. Furthermore, the policy provides food—a basic human need—to everyone. It reduces the burdens of high-living costs. It is a policy that supports local agriculture, a healthier environment and all of the people of Boulder County.

Additionally, a cooperative model including farmers, ranchers and skilled labor will address the growing labor shortages faced by local producers and reduce on-farm surplus, create living-wage jobs and careers in agriculture for anyone with a calling to feed people—including veterans, refugees, individuals re-assimilating into society after incarceration and community members with or without prior agricultural experience—and establish organizational purchasing power to increase production efficiencies by leveraging new technologies and equipment. 

The cooperative will increase access to locally grown foods and fiber, incentivize and support local-food distribution systems and introduce a holistic model of surplus-market development.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Happy New Year 2050! 

Boulder County is flush with produce. We have ushered in new generations of successful farms and ranches. These agricultural stewards care deeply for the land and can take risks because they're part of the Universal Basic Food (UBF) policy and are partners with the farm-worker cooperative (FWC). These entities, nourished by the Boulder County Food Council (BCFC), have provided stability and support for farmers/ranchers.

UBF has provided nourishing food to the county’s citizens for years—people of all income-levels have the opportunity to thrive here. The county collaborates with hyper-local distribution hubs (i.e., grocery stores) to distribute the CShA throughout the county. 

The cooperative started as a mobile workforce but now provides for many agricultural needs: equipment rental, marketing, transportation, HR and more. Since the cooperative includes many farms/ranches, it can push for ag-tech innovations cost-benefiting smallholder farms/ranches. The cooperative is a place for chances and second-chances, co-owned by veterans, immigrants, refugees, citizenry called to work the soil and the post-incarcerated.

Together, the UBF and FWC have allowed Boulder County farmland to reach its potential, and more than a third of the food eaten here is grown here. Farmers have leveraged affordable tech to maximize water efficiencies and the county is the most water-efficient agricultural county in the state. 

This was all possible due to the work of the BCFC, whose rotating membership generates new ideas. After supporting the creation of UBF and FWC, BCFC went on to build a food-innovation hub. They have longstanding partnerships with local CPG companies, ag-tech companies, and nonprofits to build food-processing, storage and distribution infrastructure. Other achievements include: coordinating cities to expand the circular economy, connecting the tech companies that created biodegradable plastics from hemp byproducts and celebrating cultural learning.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Here’s an update on the seven individuals (a local government official, a college sophomore, a night-shift worker, an Army veteran, a food-pantry volunteer, an ag-tech entrepreneur and a farmer) that we briefly highlighted in the Challenges section and how their lives have changed thanks to a community coming together to blueprint then realize the potential of a holistic food system:

Alisha Radditz was reelected to the Boulder County Commissioners for a fifth term last November. The meal around the table at Thanksgiving was dotted with her fingerprints, actual and metaphorical. The firsts, seconds and thirds her family enjoyed before fighting off the urge to nap were mostly locally produced. Nutrient-dense foods that her neighbors, their neighbors and their neighbors were enjoying, too. In fact, when she started out 30 years ago, the obesity rate in Boulder County was 47% with 1-in-4 kids also either overweight or obese. 

As Alisha watches two of her nieces negotiate who gets the sole remaining sliver of pumpkin pie, she is proud of the new stats in her county: Only 10% of Boulder County residents are either obese or overweight and, on average, Boulder County residents eat 11 servings of fruits and vegetables per day thanks to the Universal Basic Food (UBF) policy. While she’s on the subject of reminiscing, she recalls her gratitude when the county passed a ban on grocery stores landfilling surplus food (i.e., they have to donate it) as well as an initiative where grocery-store chains operating in the county must make whole-crop purchases from local producers. And then there’s the most recently passed carbon credit that is now available to homeowners who use regenerative agriculture practices in their backyard gardens. 

Food wisdom, or an inherent appreciation for your food and where it originates, is on the rise in Boulder County and so is physical, emotional and mental health.

Ben took his regular turn at the 25-foot palm-tree-lined walk to the mailbox. Saturday is the day when he can greet the robot delivery driver, which initiates an unsuppressable chuckle. Today the droid hands him an envelope with his alma mater’s logo lasered onto the parchment. He’s been expecting this formality but the nostalgia of opening an envelope with authentically personalized contents remains a simple joy. He’s been invited to speak at the 100th convening of the Conference of World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder, his alma mater.

As an undergrad, he held an average of 17 credit hours per semester from his freshman through his junior year. Heaped onto his plate was the food insecurity Ben experienced. Which is why, after graduation, he entered grad school to pursue a Master’s in food systems. With the help of his advisor, he secured a scholarship and a TA position at the university, and also worked a few hours a week at the cafe on the Sustainability, Energy and Environment Community (SEEC) campus where he could take food home after his shift. Upon graduation, he was one of the inaugural members elected to the Boulder County Food Council (BCFC) where he was integral in laying the foundation for the Universal Basic Food (UBF) program.


Javier, a general manager at a local CPG company, stood meditating as the sun slowly lowered behind the Flatirons. The 6’ x 6’ westward-facing pane of glass in his Boulder County office provided a steadfast line-of-sight to the regular pillows of clouds hovering over the horizon at dusk, chosen canvases for the hues that the stylist Mother Nature βeta tests and in full view of her audience. 

He’s seen thousands of sunsets from his office but this one, with this one he’s choking on both nostalgia and melancholy. His ascent to a good-paying job makes his heart puff up and his lips tense up. It was only yesterday when he was choosing between paying rent and eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. Food is so potent, it’s a language all its own; one of necessity, of love, of nourishment for the mind, body and soul and of what’s entirely possible when you have it.

Today he has it and, as he readies himself for retirement from his workplace of thirty-plus years, will have it as long as he lives here. 

With the nutritional and sustenance needs of residents provided for, people living in Boulder County leverage the monthly costs that they would have spent on food in other ways: rent; mortgage payments; education; savings; health and well-being.


Eran Jankowski served three tours in combat zones in the early part of the 21st century. When she returned home, she worked all of the normal angles to secure a full-time job—friends, informational interviews; online job sites—but her PTSD trumped her degree in chemical engineering at every turn. One day, while flipping through a magazine in the waiting area prior to yet another interview, Eran reads how Mycobacterium vaccae, a common bacteria in soil, is proving to work as an antidepressant that’s pound-for-pound an equivalent to some pharmaceutical solutions. Her synapses connect and bring to mind a news story she recently saw about a mobile farm workforce pilot project taking place in Boulder County, with a goal to provide much-needed on-demand and efficient labor to farmers and ranchers. She always liked digging in the dirt she thought while searching the browser on her phone for the news story. 

Fast-forward a few decades and Eran heads up the outreach and apprenticeship program at the cooperative, helping to onboard anyone with a desire to take part in agricultural work or anyone—veterans, refugees, people leaving incarceration—wanting a second chance. There’s support here: a team of social workers and therapists help create a culture of healing, success and positive change; hope, really. 


“What’s grandma doing putting boxes of food on shelves, mom?” asked Dorothy, a seven-going-on-thirty-seven-year-old who had spent the better part of her Sunday afternoon perusing family photos both analog and digital. Jenna’s face was starting to feel like it was going to cramp from smiling. Certainly, no chores were going to get done today so she glided in next to her daughter to offer her a more transparent connection to her roots.

“Grandma used to volunteer at a food pantry.”

“What’s a food pantry?”

“It was a place where people could go who didn’t have enough—or anything—to eat.”

Dorothy paused. “What do you mean, mom? What about the food program for everyone, and what about all the food forests that grow here?”

“It wasn’t always this way, Dorothy. When your grandma volunteered, people sometimes had to choose between buying food or paying for medicine. Sometimes they didn’t have enough to pay for either.”


biito’owu’ means earth in Arapahoe, the tribe that once called Boulder County home. Before settlers set up base camps at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to search for silver and gold, the Southern Arapahoe peoples paid homage to their resources—to the land, the sky, the animals, to each other and the Great Spirit that holds all together.  

Mimi Wentz has indigenous blood in her DNA to the tune of one-thirty-second, but she’s spent proportionally more time studying the native peoples of the US, including the lives of the tribal nation that once called her backyard theirs.

She feels their footsteps on the land. 

Needless to say, protecting her idealism in the start-up world always became thornier when it came time to exit. Dollars are necessary but so is balance. So when she and her sorority sister decided to untether their dreams of starting their own tech firm, they didn’t forget culture. biito’owu’ leverages tech to serve the spirit of the land and its modern-day peoples, creating awareness, economic opportunity and resilience. Mimi’s company was responsible for developing a device that accurately measures carbon sequestration in soils; local government officials capitalized on it by initiating a carbon-tax which created a new revenue stream for farmers. biito’owu’ also developed tech that increased the efficiency and ease of regenerative agriculture by helping farmers pinpoint which areas of their crop require more water, which are satiated and when crops are ready for harvest and market delivery. 


Farmers are stewards of the land, water and the health of communities. They’re called to nourish both planet and people but, for years, they were ignored. Sidelined. Forgotten. The very souls responsible for feeding us were invisible. Many toed the poverty line, and many suffered under the weight of losing generational farms. Some did. Some lost more. Collective carelessness had a visible cost: global warming, obesity, poor human health, poor soil health, food insecurity, mental illness, detachment from the land. Loneliness.

Seth Brassica’s need to farm kept him in motion through the storms: meteorological, emotional, financial. Maybe it was his love for the land, how much it gave to him, to his family and his community. And how much potential it offered to make amends for our mistakes. How the soil held healing, health, ecological balance, renewed intimacy with food—life—and a chance for farmers to become the cornerstone of our communities. Again. 


Culture shifted. Reimagining what mattered didn't require too much effort. Ironically, it was convenient. Love. Of yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, strangers. Of your surroundings, the wind, water and land, and everything that relied on them for life, which was every living thing. Protective foods—and those who grew them—that strengthened the fabric of our community. Politicians who returned to public service. Technology that fostered resilience. Economics that honored equity.  

Food is the first step.

kooho-noohóót (Do you see it?)

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Conference/event

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Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff
Team

Really interesting approach and since we are both in CO it is good to find other visionary allies in food system development work.

Spam
Photo of Sarah Ditton
Team

Hi Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff. Thank you for your feedback and, yes, connection makes collaboration possible! Let us know if you'd like to chat sometime.

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