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How the West was One: Reuniting urban and rural lives and livelihoods from soil to supper.

A unifying, regenerative and nourishing food future born out of Colorado — the heart of the American West.

Photo of Matthew Barry
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

National Western Center Authority

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.

The National Western Center’s mission is to convene the world to lead, inspire, create, educate and entertain in pursuit of global food solutions. We are a growing partnership that includes CSU’s Spur campus, the National Western Stock Show, the City and County of Denver, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and History Colorado. As a convener we engaged stakeholders across Colorado to craft a collaborative, shared vision for this prize. In developing our submission, we met with more than 100 participants (approx. 2⁄3 urban and 1⁄3 rural). We hosted six in-person focus groups — two urban groups (Denver and Pueblo) and four rural groups (Fort Morgan, La Junta, Alamosa and Grand Junction). We culminated the engagement process with a systems-integration stakeholder meeting focused on synthesizing insights to develop a final vision. Submission Team: National Western Center: Brad Buchanan, Matthew Barry, Andrea Burns with support from Colorado State University

Website of Legally Registered Entity

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

  • 1-3 years

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


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?

Our Colorado region is made up of an urban corridor and four rural production regions, representing 103,434 square kilometers

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The National Western Center is a year-round urban hub for food and agriculture discovery — in the heart of the American West.

The National Western Center is located within the urban core of the Front Range of Colorado, which represents nearly 80 percent of the state’s population and economy, while the four agricultural regions we’ve identified represent 90 percent of the state’s agricultural production value. These urban and rural areas should be mutually supportive and thriving side by side, but there are cracks in our foundation. The urban-rural divide in Colorado has never been deeper and the National Western Center exists to bridge that divide.

The National Western Center is of, by, and for Colorado, and proud to call it home. As an epicenter for food and ag innovation for the next century, the National Western Center will rebuild common ground and renew a sense of interconnectedness across the regions we’ve identified, to forge a new path toward shared prosperity, equity, and community — with food and agriculture at its core.  One of the National Western Center’s key initiatives is to strengthen the food chain in our state by connecting its diverse participants. Our vision herein — How the West was One — guides our work in strengthening Colorado’s food chain.

Construction of the dynamic, 250-acre National Western Center in Denver is underway now. When complete in 2024, the National Western Center campus will convene the best and brightest minds in ag, food and education in pursuit of solutions to address the global challenge of feeding a population of 9 billion people by 2050. With Denver’s first public food market; an ag-tech innovation district; Colorado State University System’s “Spur” campus for learning about food, water and health; and conventions with international reach — the National Western Center is poised to be the global destination for ag heritage and innovation.

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.

Colorado is a headwaters state — the source of many rivers that feed into the western and midwestern United States. With soaring mountains, open plains, rushing rivers, and vibrant cities, the natural areas across Colorado craft unique food-producing regions and incubate a dynamic mosaic of human and food cultures.

This vision is built upon the unique strengths of these Colorado regions:

THE SOUTH PLATTE RIVER BASIN in the northeast produces three quarters of the state’s livestock sales and half its crop sales. Home to the only county in the top ten for ag sales outside of California, this region is a major producer of cattle, grain, corn, wheat, milk, sheep, goats, poultry, vegetables, wheat, hogs and more. This region exemplifies Colorado’s reputation as an engine of industrial innovation and commodity food production for global export.

THE ARKANSAS RIVER BASIN in the southeast is the second largest ag region in Colorado. It employs the full range of production methods that make Colorado unique including rangeland, dryland and irrigated agriculture. Its historic resiliency is a testament to the power of communities banding together to beat the whims of weather and agricultural markets.

THE SAN LUIS VALLEY in south-central Colorado is a prime example of multigenerational family farms, some on their 16th generation, leveraging unique bioregions to develop innovative solutions used around the world (i.e. using irrigated agriculture and long, frigid winters to become the nation's second largest producer of potatoes).

THE WESTERN SLOPE is warmed by a unique mesa at the upper reaches of the Colorado River. It is best known for producing fruit and wine, and for immersive agritourism opportunities.

THE FRONT RANGE of Colorado is the urban core centered in Denver and extending north to Fort Collins, south to Pueblo, west to Boulder, and east to Greeley. While only 12 percent of the landmass of Colorado, the Front Range accounts for 78 percent of its population. Home to six major research universities, 33 federal research labs, and world-class management and scientific talent, the Front Range attracts one of the nation’s highest concentrations of publicly-funded ag R&D.



Colorado is on the map. It’s the birthplace of many national food brands including Coors, Monfort, Leprino and Celestial Seasonings, as well as fast-casual restaurants Chipotle, Noodles & Company, and more. The state is a major player in the rapidly-growing natural foods industry as well, with many brands based in Boulder. Colorado’s reputation on the national food stage is growing, with a pioneering craft beer industry, a slew of award-winning chefs, the permanent home of Slow Food Nations, and the setting for Top Chef season 15. Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford melons and Pueblo green chiles are seasonal favorites, and the National Western Stock Show draws 700,000 visitors each year.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


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


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


It has been said there are two Colorados. Rural farmers and ranchers feel neglected and lack a voice in political decisions that directly affect them. Meanwhile, urbanites have become detached from the sources of their food, resulting in a lack of appreciation for rural communities. Rapid urbanization is exacerbating the divide — shifting financial and political power away from rural priorities (like irrigation) and toward urban priorities (like city water). By 2050, this divide is expected to widen, as the population reaches 8.1 million, with 6.8 million living on the Front Range. 


Population shifts and climate change are driving Colorado toward a water crisis. Colorado’s agricultural regions receive 10 to 15 inches of annual precipitation. However, our water is not just important for Colorado. As the headwaters of 18 other states, we are effectively the lifeblood of the thriving ag economies around the West. Increasingly, water is diverted to the urban core or to southern California. 

At the same time, annual average temperatures have increased by about 2 degrees over the past 30 years and are forecast to increase up to another 5 degrees by 2050. This means more snow in winter but less May to September, which could lead to earlier snowmelt and less water for growing. By 2050, the Colorado Water Plan predicts 700,000 acres of agriculture could come out of production.

These trends have a strong correlation with the booming urban economy. As incomes increase and more people are pulled into the cities, land prices are increasing rapidly as the cost of living in Colorado rises (median home cost is about $384,000; the national average is about $231,000). Higher land prices hinder beginning farmers from accessing prime ag land, and exacerbate challenges in transitioning family farms to younger generations. 


An influx of high-income workers is driving up Colorado’s cost of living, widening health and food-access disparities across urban and rural regions. Close to 1 in 11 Coloradans and 1 in 7 families in Denver are food insecure. Nearly half the low- and moderate-income neighborhoods around the city have no grocery store, and despite having the lowest rate of adult obesity in the country, the rate of increase in obese/overweight people since 2009 has been higher in kids grades 9-12 than in adults. Clearly the benefits of a 2.7 percent unemployment rate and growing economy are not shared equally across families.


Soil health is the heart of the food system. Economic pressures often drive farmers to adopt cost-efficient but soil-unfriendly practices. But rural communities and economies are reliant on healthy, productive soil to sustain successful agricultural businesses over time. Without that economic sustainability, it is difficult to remain responsible stewards of the land, return greater health and productivity to the soil, and properly nourish and feed a growing population.

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

Through collaborative efforts in soil, water, health, technology, agritourism and ag business, the National Western Center will build deeper and stronger connections between — and drive equitable value across — all stakeholders along the food and ag value chain.


We believe food drives connection, connection drives respect, and respect fosters community. By 2050, the National Western Center will have reestablished connections to the people and places from where our food comes, bridging the urban-rural divide.


The National Western Center will drive urban consumer engagement and education through unique, on-campus experiences of rural agriculture (e.g. the Smithsonian of Colorado food and agriculture). By 2050, these food-based experiences will foster an inclusive celebration of our region’s diverse food culture that will lift up the most vulnerable across the urban-rural socio- political continuum. Further, the National Western Center will serve as a convener, bringing the critical voice of agricultural producers to the table.


The National Western Center will root ag innovation in rural regional hubs by developing a micropolitan entrepreneurship network that pulls urban tech workers into rural areas for attractive work opportunities. By 2050, the Colorado region will be recognized as a leading global innovation cluster in food and agriculture and will feature a robust portfolio of patents, early-stage venture funding, and R&D. 


We intend to invest in next-gen ag workforce development (e.g., ag drone technicians) and help cultivate new market opportunities for Colorado farmers and ranchers (e.g., expanding the Colorado Proud brand). By 2050, technological efficiency and robust markets will drive on-farm profitability, thanks to our investments in new food infrastructure across the urban-rural continuum.


Leveraging the power of an interconnected regional food system and shared identity, the National Western Center will help drive the equitable production and distribution of nutrient-dense foods through urban and rural communities. By 2050, the trend toward more diet-related-lifestyle diseases will be reversed, and inequity in food access and food security will be a thing of the past.



Our vision has an explicit focus on soil, water, and health. It includes facilitating a new ecosystem service marketplace to pay farmers for carbon sequestration and other environmental regeneration. By 2050, the past decades of degradation to agricultural lands, soil, water, air quality, and native habitat will be reversed and a virtuous cycle of waste reduction and regeneration will bolster our bioregional resilience to climate disruption.

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.

It is 2050, and we have regenerated our common ground. In this remarkable new world, the National Western Center is the nexus of ag innovation and collaboration, radiating regenerative solutions across the state and around the globe. We have achieved the vision of conservationist Aldo Leopold, who said, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

The $1 billion investment that the people of Colorado made into building the National Western Center campus in the early 2000s has proven to be one of the most impactful investments in the state’s history. It led a once-fractured network of urban and rural communities to invest in co-designing solutions, transforming the agricultural and food economy.

The National Western Center led the joint development of new rural economic opportunities and food policies, crafted in unison by urban and rural communities. As a result, soil health and productivity have been restored, following the mass adoption of regenerative agriculture. Rural farmers and ranchers are hailed as heroes for battling climate change by sequestering carbon in soil. Water is plentiful — thanks to healthier soil, smart urban planning, and prioritizing agricultural usage. 

This new food system has created transformational byproducts. Climate has stabilized as carbon and other greenhouse gas levels have declined. Food is richer, tastier, and more nutrient dense. As a result of economic improvements and new, cost-efficient production methods, food is more affordable and farmer prosperity is at an all time high.. Healthy foods are readily accessible and food security is assured for all Colorado families. 

It is a renewable system. It is a resilient system. Through the power of food we linked the complex systems of urban and rural communities into one shared community, building a regenerative and nourishing food system for all. 

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



The National Western Center used the economic dependencies in the value chain to build cultural bridges between rural and urban communities and across diverse industries. For example, in what was once a food desert, the National Western Center’s public food market becomes an internationally-recognized epicenter of healthy, local, fresh food. It reconnects consumers to the source of their food, and creates business-development opportunities for low-income entrepreneurs as well as a vital pathway for Colorado’s ag community to bring their products to urban markets.

Programs at the National Western Center help rebuild connections between Colorado’s rural and urban communities, and reconnect urban consumers with their agricultural resource base. Agritourism and education are just the beginning — creating shared values about the importance of nutritious food and those who produce it — ultimately driving a more equitable and efficient food chain. 

Each year at the National Western Center, the National Western Stock Show now draws more than 1 million visitors from around the state and the world to celebrate agriculture and advance the ag field. Meanwhile, the immersive experiences in Colorado State University’s Spur facilities are a scalable model for educating children and adults around the critical issues of food, water and animal health. In the summer, a new, signature experience — a multi-day festival modeled on South by Southwest — brings together 200,000 thought leaders, artists, innovators and funders. All are united in their commitment to sustainable food and agriculture. 

Gretchen Harris, Farmer:
“I inherited my farm from my parents, but I've also purchased the surrounding lands. I live on the Western Slope, and on the Western Slope the National Western Center has helped finance a processing facility. Now many farmers in the area are bringing their products there. I've also been connected with markets in Colorado and beyond, and I've been provided with technical assistance. I feel proud. I feel respected. I don't always agree with the community members in Denver, but I travel there quite often on business, and I feel that we share a mutual respect.”


Community well-being, health, access to nutrition, and overall happiness have become important metrics for the state as mandated by the Colorado Food Bill of Rights. Driven by a sense of shared destiny and nearly unprecedented bipartisanship, Colorado adopted a statewide Food Bill of Rights and a corresponding Food and Farm Bill to move public, private, and philanthropic work across the food system in both rural and urban communities. This innovative legislation was developed through massive statewide engagement that recognizes the unique role of the public sector in reinforcing the private and philanthropic food system. These policies improved the economic viability of family farms and rural communities while distributing nutrient-dense foods to combat key social determinants of health including inequities in healthy food access, food insecurity and hunger.

Through partnerships and work on its own campus, the National Western Center helped establish Colorado as a center for ag innovation and technology, incubating companies to measure soil carbon, propagate regenerative agriculture, deliver water efficiency, build food incubators, spread urban farming, and create community economic development.

In this remarkable new world, the National Western Center is the mainframe, providing knowledge, resources, programs, and tech to ensure the food system works effectively and produces value for all participants. Through data aggregation and analysis between the National Western Center and its partners, a technological and informational backbone powers the Colorado food ecosystem and is the connector between people, farms, and food. The National Western Center helps the city, state, and its farmers to understand supply/demand trends, operational issues, environmental challenges, and the unique needs of Colorado's diverse regions, etc. It develops new technologies, seed stocks, and farming techniques, then deploys information digitally and through human teams to producers. 

The state grew to house one of the highest concentrations of publicly funded agritech in the nation. Colorado’s 33 federally funded research facilities all actively engaged and supported the work in delivering this vision, helping connect robust research to public and private actors in the food system. 

Siddiq Khan, Tech Entrepreneur:

“I moved to Colorado from California, where I started a tech firm. I felt called to create an impact in the world. Employees of the National Western Center approached me about running an ag incubator fund on the campus to help fund ag tech innovations around Colorado. At first, I wasn't interested. Then, I met the community they had built. They brought me around the state to meet with farmers. I ultimately decided to bring my business here, because Colorado is unique as a lab, a classroom, and an international model for others to learn from. I feel hopeful and inspired, and I believe this is something we need to do across the globe.”


The National Western Center cultivated the power of self-organization in rural communities by establishing rural innovation hubs and urban-rural joint ventures. With greater economic viability, farmers and ranchers adopted new, more efficient technology to further develop their businesses. With more technology on farms, urban communities created new tech businesses to support regional agriculture. These urban tech businesses generated new job opportunities for residents of agricultural areas, as well as for urban tech workers seeking a rural lifestyle. The influx of tech-based workers in small towns spun off more new businesses and jobs, allowing rural communities to further develop and thrive.

Colorado also became the center of the rapidly growing natural foods industry. While industrial agriculture sustained its market share, the natural and organic industry experienced double-digit growth. Consumer spending shifted heavily to supporting brands sourcing regenerative inputs and using sustainable packaging. 


The National Western Center’s on-campus ag innovation district is producing breakthrough solutions that create long-term value for Colorado’s producers. On another part of the campus, the “AGgregator” co-working space is filled with powerful organizations working to advance regenerative farming.

Soil health helped solve the climate emergency. Colorado farms sequester carbon in the soil through regenerative agriculture. In 2020, the UN FAO estimated we had only 60 more harvests remaining. We now have hundreds if not thousands of harvests left. Every 1 percent increase in soil carbon generated by producers equated to roughly five tons of carbon and created new revenue streams. Colorado serves as a global model for rolling climate change backward via farmers and ranchers.

Water conservation is a priority. For Colorado, as the headwaters of 18 states and Mexico, stewarding and enhancing this resource is now critical to the western region. Regenerative agriculture is essential to proper water management. Every 1 percent increase in soil carbon per acre generated by producers increases the water holding capacity of the land by roughly 20,000 gallons per acre. This has created new value streams for Colorado producers through the same ecosystem services marketplace, and has helped to prove a new model for mitigating climate-change-driven drought and extending the growing season in semiarid areas.


Researchers at the National Western Center and across Colorado created new technologies that allow residents to use data to determine the foods and nutrients that are best based on growing season/availability, and which foods can prevent or counteract health conditions, as well as satisfy our individual flavor preferences. These new technologies also radically transformed the efficiency of the hunger relief network and made just-in-time delivery a reality for youth and seniors experiencing hunger. Together with new innovation in public policy, the prevalence of obesity has been cut in half and less than 1 in 100 kids and seniors experience hunger. 

Vianney Brito, Third-Grader
“I live in north Denver, a few blocks from the National Western Center. My parents both work two jobs to support our family. I go to after-school programs at the National Western Center, where I learn about science and the environment. One day a week, I go with my mother to the public food market on the campus to buy fresh produce, grains and meats sourced from Colorado. I love to eat Palisade peaches and apples. My family is in good health. My grandmother told me that our neighborhood was once a food desert before I was born, and there were few educational opportunities after school. I’m glad things are better now.”


It was in Colorado, the heart of the American West, where the National Western Center established How the West was One — a template for food systems thinking. 

The best part is, it’s real. The National Western Center is already pursuing this vision, powered by the people of Colorado who in 2015 agreed to support our mission, and who committed nearly $1 billion to build a campus that would establish Colorado as a global epicenter for agricultural heritage and innovation. We will pursue this vision with a passionate focus on cultivating a sense of oneness across Colorado and the West. 

We would love to partner with the other applicants in the Food System Vision Prize to refine our work and to be of service to the greater community of food-systems change agents. We foresee this vision being scalable across the American West, and ultimately the nation and the world.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Conference/event
  • Prize partners

Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.

“How the West Was One” is a stakeholder-driven vision of the future of food in Colorado. During the first phase, we traveled to five agricultural regions of the state to learn from more than 100 food system actors. Their perspectives gave shape to our regenerative, nourishing vision for reuniting people from soil to supper.

During refinement, we renewed that commitment to co-creation and invited 56 additional partners to help us put “meat on the bones” of the vision, including crafting the systems map and implementation plan. As a result of their deep engagement, these technical advisors informed key leverage points in the system (see the “leverage loops” in our systems map) and recommended more inclusive language throughout the vision. For example, when advisors raised concerns about the vision’s treatment of producers’ role in soil degradation, we edited this section to better reflect shared ownership over the current state and shared commitment to the solution.

Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).

We invited diverse food system stakeholders to join us in refining our vision as technical advisors. The following groups each spent more than 10 hours during refinement: Colorado State University, Mad Agriculture, Pueblo Food Project, Natural Capitalism Solutions, Greater Colorado Venture Fund, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, Real Value Group, and Bio-Logical Capital.

We also want to acknowledge those technical advisors who contributed at least 5 hours. (A full list can be found in the “Attachments” section.) Given the impact of the pandemic on our food system and the consequent demands on many of our advisors who work within it, we chose to make this our benchmark for commitment during refinement. 

Each advisor joined one of four thematic working groups and participated in two workshops via Zoom. Our team also scheduled follow-up conversations with many of them. These advisors are sincerely committed to serving as both mentors and partners to advance the vision.

Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.

Community co-design was central to both sketching our vision during the first round and refining it in the second one. In this way, the National Western Center was living out its mission to convene the world in pursuit of global food solutions. We created a platform for people to come together and develop ideas; and we’ll support these partners in implementing them (and vice versa).

Regional Visioning Sessions

First, we hosted six two-hour “visioning” focus groups in key agricultural regions and urban centers. More than 100 participants futurecasted with us! 

Systems Integration

We then analyzed the rich data from our focus groups, synthesized it into a proposed vision, and presented it to a smaller group of 20 for feedback and finalization. This group included varied perspectives — from producers, economists and chefs to consumers, funders and food-access experts — and seeded our corps of technical advisors. We submitted this vision in round one.

Technical Advisors

For round two, we expanded and diversified our group of technical advisors to 56 people and invited them to join us in building a systems map and implementation plan. Each advisor joined one of four themed working groups and attended two virtual workshops. 

Stakeholder Interviews

Finally, we interviewed 11 people from across the state in-depth; they shared profound and personal insights about the challenges they face, and what a day in the life will look like in 2050 amid a more nourishing and resilient future of food. Insights from these partners are included in the final vision; we’ve also provided a full sunrise-to-sunset sketch from Roberto Meza, a beginning farmer committed to knitting together urban and rural from his sustainable greenhouse in Bennet, Colorado.

A complete list of these stakeholders, including descriptions, is included in the “Attachments” section.

What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.

We surfaced 12 signals across our 4 solution areas and focused on ones emanating from Colorado as indications of what might lie ahead. See the “Attachments” section for more detail.

Environmental Regeneration

(1) Water For Ag: On April 20, 2020, a coalition of 150 organizations representing water and ag interests in the western U.S. urged Congress and President Trump to address aging water infrastructure.

(2) Changing Environment, Changing Crops: White Mountain Farm in the San Luis Valley has been growing and working with many selections of quinoa to develop a new product — Rocky Mountain Quinoa.

(3) Grassland Restoration Through Livestock: West Bijou Ranch in the South Platte River Basin, run by Savory Institute, is integrating the American bison back into American West grasslands.

(4) Carbon Sequestration as Revenue Stream: The Nature Conservancy's 2017 reports found that avoiding the conversion of all grasslands, forests, and wetlands in Colorado over 40 years would increase carbon stocks by 32 million metric tons (MMT) CO2eq (carbon dioxide equivalent), 1,053 MMT CO2eq, and 36 MMT CO2eq, respectively.

Economic Stability and Redistribution

(1) Rural Broadband: Governor Jared Polis instituted a plan to provide broadband Internet access to 92 percent of rural residents by June 2020.

(2) Easements for Farm Viability: Federal Farm Bill investments in conservation easements in Colorado added up to about $80 million in 2018 inflation-adjusted dollars for 2009-2017 and 37 percent of easement participants changed agricultural practices (e.g. irrigation).

(3) Loans for Regeneration: Mad Agriculture, startup nonprofit in Boulder, has launched the “Perennial Fund” to provide low-cost operating loans to farmers transitioning to organic and/or regenerative practices.

(4) Renewable Energy on the Farm: In Boulder County, more than 3,200 solar panels will create a 1.2-megawatt community solar garden – enough to power more than 300 homes. Jack’s Solar Garden will be an agrovoltaics model for farmers along the Front Range on how to produce renewable energy while improving agricultural production.

Nutritional Equity and Abundance

(1) Alternative Products: Colorado companies Emergy Foods (brand name "Meati") and MycoTechnology are using fungi to develop alternative meat products, plant proteins, and alternative sweeteners.

(2) The Year of Local Food: In May 2020, Governor Jared Polis issued a proclamation that 2020 be "The Year of Local Food," saying “Every person ... should have access to safe, healthy, abundant food and local food systems can help meet this need."

Cultural Interdependence and Integration

(1) Right-Sized Food Production: Food Corridor, built in Colorado, enables food businesses to connect with the commercial food assets they need (e.g., kitchen space, equipment, storage and processors).

(2) Urban Ag Efficiency: Gotham Greens will be opening its Mountain West flagship, a 30,000 square foot greenhouse, in the Denver area in 2020.

Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).

Roberto Meza
Emerald Gardens

6 AM I wake up on a 35-acre farm between Denver’s eastern suburbs and the South Platte River Basin prairie. 

8 AM I check the electric delivery trucks that are charging off solar power. Our farmers bring food so we can aggregate it for wholesale and retail. 

8:15 AM In the greenhouse, the controlled environment automation is working. I check an analysis of our crops from the day before and cross-reference it with our weather station so we can make tiny changes to optimize crop quality. 

9 AM I join a call with the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council about providing local food for schools. 

10 AM The Denver Housing Authority confirms logistics for our mobile market to provide underserved residents access to local food.

11 AM Through blockchain, I identify a delivery truck coming from west Denver to our area, and request that it pick up tilapia from our aquaponics greenhouse to take back to west Denver. 

Noon. I join our farmers as they gather for lunch. Farm workers have a livable wage, and labor laws that protect immigrant workers.

2 PM I work on the finances -- our local chapter of Slow Money has created a pool of no-interest loans. 

4 PM I welcome 20 visitors for an agritourism experience. They arrive via commuter rail. 

5 PM I lead our visitors in an experiment using mealworms to compost plastics. The worms are the final piece in a financially stable, permaculture operation. 

6 PM Our visitors enjoy a seasonal dinner with foods grown on the farm or bartered from neighboring farms: root veggies, asparagus, edible flowers, microgreens, edible insects, and tortillas from heritage grains. 

10 PM I get in bed. To the west, DEN is sending flights overhead. To the east, there’s a herd of domestic bison helping to reestablish the grasslands. 

As I drift off to sleep I think: We take care of the plants, the plants take care of us, we take care of the community, the community takes care of us. Everything has come down to this.

Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?

As of 2020, Colorado’s annual average temperatures had increased by about 2 degrees over the past 30 years, with four of the six warmest years on record (since 1895) occurring from 2012 to 2017. Looking ahead, statewide average annual temperatures were projected to warm by 2.5 to 5 degrees by 2050, relative to a 1971–2000 baseline under a medium-low emissions scenario. Thankfully, stakeholders across the system came together to create shifts in the food system and in other sectors, to help address these climate issues before 2050. Nonetheless, changes in weather predictability and severity and shifts in precipitation patterns (e.g., less precipitation during the growing season but more precipitation during the winter months) still have an impact on the food system in our place. 

By 2050, our place will have invested significant time, capital, and policy effort into better management and balance of water needs between urban and rural areas. Agriculture remains a significant user of water, but farmers are now compensated for water efficiency and incentivized to conserve water. New water leasing rights have become available and created an attractive, high-margin revenue stream for farmers who can lease unused water rights to urban users or others in need of water. Foundations and impact investors built a new investment fund  prior to 2050 focused on buying water rights and transferring those rights to agricultural use over time (e.g., from oil and gas to agriculture). The transfer of those water rights included incentives for farmers to select and cultivate drought-tolerant crops that require less water. Not only has this balanced water demand and use, but it has enhanced farmer wealth and driven investment in new on-farm and off-farm infrastructure to more efficiently manage water needs in both urban and rural areas. 

Stakeholders in our food system came together and recognized the important role agriculture plays in providing solutions to climate change. It is now well known that a 1 percent increase in soil organic matter (SOM) results in about five tons of carbon sequestration per acre, and increases water holding capacity of soil by about 20,000 gallons per acre. A fund similar to the water fund has been developed to help secure and preserve land for agricultural uses, and has used innovative financing structures to transfer ownership back to farmers and rural owners over time, restoring economic vibrancy and land ownership in rural communities.

Through an ecosystem services marketplace, farmers now spend just as much time and make as much money storing carbon and maintaining wildlife and clean water as they do producing food. Farmers have become the heroes of environmentalism and are compensated accordingly. Shifts in weather patterns have led to more adaptive styles of farm management and cultivation, such as regenerative agriculture. Financiers and insurance companies have recognized and accepted this increased variability and have developed new risk assessment and investment approaches that leverage true cost accounting methods and indicators (e.g., water infiltration of soil) to inform capital allocations and investments.These changes have influenced land-use planning and zoning regulations, which now capture “true cost” accounting principles as well. 

The combination of the above has helped facilitate a new type of “environmental efficiency” where best practices from industry are leveraged in a way that drives cost efficiency and helps drive down the presence of externalities in the system. In a sense, the food system has adopted a “best of both worlds” approach that marries regenerative, resilient principles with industrial principles. Land grant universities and their extension services help farmers embrace this new model and integrate new practices, crops, and other dynamics into their operations while enhancing farm profitability and externalized benefits. Meanwhile, as a part of broader economic development approach, new, more distributed, scaled, flexible food processing and manufacturing hubs better connect the various stakeholders in our region’s food system and are able to pivot and absorb shocks based on unexpected disruptions in the system (thus avoiding the issues faced during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic).

These various efforts have helped create a new paradigm of ecosystem stewardship underpinned by landscape-level management and development approaches that focus on the health and vibrancy of the prairie, forest, mountain, and plateau ecosystems of Colorado.

Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?

Back in 2020, 5 percent of low-income Colorado residents did not live within 10 miles of a grocery store. In addition, one in 11 were food-insecure, and 148,000 children had experienced food insecurity between 2015 and 2017. One in 30 older adults were facing hunger daily. 

Researchers affiliated with the National Western Center created new technologies that allow consumers to determine the foods that are best based on growing season and availability, source, nutrients, and ability to prevent or counteract health conditions. Advances in marketing and technology cultivated more values-based purchasing behavior. Through point-of-purchase platforms and social media, grocers and brands provide in-depth information on the health and environmental impacts of food products. The concept of a “normal” diet has shifted — and branding, store layouts, merchandising, packaging, design, and selling now prioritize a lens of health and well being across people, animals and the planet. 

Armed with accessible nutritional and environmental information, as well as reliable traceability technology, it is now easier than ever for consumers to make well-informed, values-aligned decisions about the food they buy. Across the economic spectrum, consumers can now “vote with their dollar.” They have transparent information on nutrient composition and they can access a full “food history” to ensure that what they are buying aligns with their expectations on source, production methods, environmental impact, treatment of workers and more.

Traceability technology has fostered a networked, connected food environment where actors across channels (i.e., charitable food, grocery stores, schools, institutions, and restaurants/hospitality) can easily connect, collaborate, and share in a way that is mutually beneficial and supportive of a resilient system and eliminates food waste. This thriving public/private network is dramatically improving food security. With the help of new public policies, this network has cut the prevalence of obesity in half, and now fewer than 1 in 100 kids and seniors experience hunger.

Public-private partnerships drove more equitable and community-aligned investment into low-income communities. These investments were largely focused on public transportation, mobility and affordable housing options — infrastructure enhancements that gave people greater access to job opportunities while saving them money on housing, thus increasing their disposable income for food. These investments led to a revival of low-income communities. Retail outlets for fresh, healthful foods were built where they had not existed before, and diverse food cultures are now celebrated more broadly. Healthy food has become more accessible and culturally relevant, especially for low-income communities across the region. 

Meanwhile, on-campus experiences at the National Western Center’s public food market (in what was once a food desert) and CSU Spur’s sensory taste lab engage everyday consumers and inspire greater demand for nutrient-dense foods. Coloradans have gained a new appreciation for regional producers and alternative production methods. Consumers now recognize and value the “terroir” of our regional produce as much as the “terroir” of wines or the regional uniqueness of Colorado craft beers. This cultural shift in demand for regional, whole foods forced a shift in production, as farmers aligned their practices with consumer demand. Through adaptive, regionally-appropriate crop selections and production methods, the nutrient density of whole foods increased as a result of a greater presence of nutrients in the soil. 

As the demand for regional, healthful whole foods increased, the makers of processed and packaged foods adapted in order to remain relevant and competitive. Rather than engineering food for low-cost through additives, sugars and unhealthy fats, food manufacturers now prioritize healthy macro- and micro-nutrients. They leverage alternative ingredients such as fungus-derived proteins and sweeteners. A positive feedback loop emerged between whole foods and processed/packaged foods, where both are pushing toward higher nutrient density. Fortunately, Colorado was already a leader in the natural and organic food industry back in 2020. Through continued investment Colorado is now leading the way in the development of high-nutrient whole foods and packaged/processed foods.

Through community engagement, a number of organizations ensure that the voices and perspectives of lower-income and marginalized community members are  represented more broadly. These efforts have led to more systemic equity and inclusion in our region. Civic representation is more balanced and diverse, income inequality has contracted, and there is more fair and equal access to education and jobs. These efforts underpin community dynamics that ultimately impact nutrition and food access.

Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?

Following the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the need for more resilient food system infrastructure and regional market development became paramount. The supply chain from farm to fork was revamped into a more distributed and resilient structure through public-private partnerships; joint ventures between urban and rural businesses and organizations; new workforce development programs; and an increase in innovative, community-aligned capital providers. 

As of 2020, 42 percent of producers in Colorado were female. While a sizable share of the overall workforce, women have consistently earned lower farm sales and income than men. Gender income inequality was an issue throughout the region, especially in STEM fields. Through new workforce development and educational programs, and the expansion of science and technology in the food system, girls and women were empowered to pursue higher paying careers in ag. Gender-based incomes were brought into balance by 2050 across sectors represented in the food system.

In rural communities in 2050, you can now find scale-appropriate, value-added processing and manufacturing infrastructure supporting small- and mid-sized farmers and ranchers as well as cottage foods entrepreneurs. Innovations such as mobile meat processing units were developed to provide flexible, affordable solutions to smaller ranchers in the region. 

Cold-storage hubs powered by renewables are scattered across the region, some with corresponding small-scale individual quick freeze (IQF) systems to extend seasons for produce farmers. Shareable, distributed, flexible commercial kitchen space is now available across the region, helping support a robust cottage food industry and cultivation of a variety of locally/regionally branded products (similar to how craft beer emerged in the early 2000s). Also, new truck stops and depots were built to support autonomous, electric-powered, long-haul trucking, which helps move products around the region more efficiently. Farmers integrated solar power into their productive ag land (known as “agrovoltaics”). Most of these assets are now owned and operated by farmers and/or farm cooperatives around the region.

On-farm, farmers and ranchers have embraced the appropriate integration of digital technology. Building on the value demonstrated by the rise of precision agriculture in 2020-2030, farmers now leverage drones to scan fields and identify problems, robotics and automation to help with formerly repetitive and arduous tasks, and GPS-guided, electrically-powered farm equipment and farm vehicles. This was a tenuous transition as it was at odds with on-farm human labor, and many workers felt their economic futures were uncertain. However, the integration of this technology ultimately improved farm viability, which helped stabilize rural communities economically, and created new, higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs there. To support this transition, workforce-development programs were developed to train workers, and investments were made in rural schools to better prepare children and young adults for the jobs of the future in their own communities. 

In cities, urban agriculture has proliferated, but only for specific crops that made economic sense and are suited to urban growing environments (e.g., microgreens and cherry tomatoes). At first, urban agriculture was perceived to be in competition with rural agriculture. However, as the system shifted and farmers were able to make money beyond the cultivation of crops (e.g. carbon sequestration), urban ag was seen as complementary. Cultivating certain crops in urban areas alleviated pressure on rural farmland to simply increase yield per acre, and helped avoid over-intensification of agricultural land across the region. Greenhouses and vertical farms in warehouses, shipping containers and even skyscrapers are now commonplace. In addition, startups emerged in the smaller cities and suburbs to facilitate community gardening in backyards. In an ode to the “victory gardens” of World War II, community members now cultivate food at home to share with their communities.

Much like solar installers became the fastest growing job sector with the rise of distributed renewable energy, new jobs have developed to support this new system. Examples of new jobs in this food system include:


-Urban farm worker

-Greenhouse supervisor

-Community farming lead facilitator

-Part-time harvester

-Digital CSA sales/delivery manager 


-Farm drone flight technician

-Electric farm machinery/vehicle mechanic

-Farm robotics manager

-Agrovoltaics system engineer

-Local infrastructure network technology consultant

-Cottage food brand commercial kitchen support staff

Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?

In 2050, the population in Colorado has grown to meet the forecasts set back in 2020. A total of 8.1 million people now occupy the state. However, many have made the decision to move to small towns and rural communities — what are now being called “micropolitan” hubs. The 2020 forecast anticipated 6.8 million would be living along the Front Range in 2050 (84 percent of the total population, up from 78 percent  in 2020); but the balance is actually closer to 70 percent along the Front Range and 30 percent in rural areas, representing a near doubling of the population in rural areas.

This trend of “ruralization” is the byproduct of a variety of developments in the food system. Rural economic development and the emergence of new, interesting, high-skilled and high-tech jobs has lured new people from urban areas, with the promise of an exciting job, economic opportunity and a coveted lifestyle. Young people growing up in rural communities want to stay and learn from their family and neighbors, and many young people that had left their communities are returning. The generational knowledge transfer is preserved. Cultural, spiritual and community traditions are preserved — including for discovery and embrace by new audiences. 

Agritourism and education are key to creating shared values about the importance of nutritious food and those who produce it. National Western Center programs and events on-campus and in rural destinations help rebuild connections between Colorado’s communities, and reconnect urban consumers with their agricultural resource base. The 143-year-old tradition of the National Western Stock Show plays a big role, as does immersive learning at the CSU Spur campus. 

The National Western Center built cultural bridges between rural and urban communities and across diverse industries. For example, in what was once a food desert, the National Western Center’s public food market became an internationally-recognized epicenter of healthy, local, fresh food. It reconnects consumers to the source of their food, and creates business-development opportunities for low-income entrepreneurs as well as a vital pathway for Colorado’s ag community to bring their products to urban markets. Residents of the culturally-diverse neighborhoods that surround the campus find a home for their promising food businesses there, introducing local consumers to new flavors and cultures through food. 

Through agritourism’s celebration of various food cultures, and new learning experiences through K-12 curriculums and CSU Spur offerings, culturally-relevant and regionally-driven food products and experiences flourish (e.g., the cottage food industry). Farmers markets across the region now resemble bazaars. New commissary kitchens around the state make it possible for small and diverse food startups to flourish, expanding the population’s access to foods from diverse cultures (that are often powered by ingredients grown locally). 

The infrastructure, capital, and policy support exist to drive this cultural integration and appreciation. As scaled, flexible infrastructure was developed it created more access for a more diverse population of farmers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs. Flexible, community-aligned and non-extractive capital was leveraged to invest in these burgeoning rural communities and food enterprises, helping foster a more balanced economic spectrum and shared prosperity. In a back-to-the-future move, an electrically-powered public train was (re)introduced to the rail system, with voter support. Now it easily connects the micropolitan hubs and rural communities to the cities along the Front Range, shortening travel times for people and for food distribution from the eastern plains to the Western Slope and back again.   

Urban perceptions of rural citizens and rural perceptions of urban citizens have shifted. A new trust has formed, grounded in an appreciation for the other's way of life and a recognition of the mutual dependence between the urban and rural places.

Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?

Prior to and leading up to 2020, technology — particularly digital technology — was viewed as an end in and of itself. It was the ultimate solution to all problems. Technology was developed for global application, and if technology companies did not have a viable path to scale to “unicorn” status they were often not considered worthy of investment. 

In 2050, however, this perception has shifted. Significant time and investment has cultivated “place-based” innovation and investment with important local, hyper-local, and regional applications. New rural innovation ecosystems have been developed by harnessing farmers’ and ranchers’ historical knowledge of their land and their communities, combined with their innate innovation and intuition. New technologies are now seen as a tool to drive a social or environmental outcome (e.g., supporting soil health or crop diversity) rather than as the ultimate solution. Any integration of on-farm technology is now done within the context of the history, traditions, and values of that farm or that community. This innovation is led by local or regional entrepreneurs, many of whom grew up in these rural communities and decided to stay and build their technology business there. Local and regional farmers, ranchers, and rural entrepreneurs are now celebrated and idolized in the way tech entrepreneurs of the 2000s and the 2010s were. 

Out of these communities, leveraging the place-based data and research generated over the years, entrepreneurs have developed affordable, mobile, and highly reliable soil sensing technology to track soil health and water retention easily over time. Low-cost, highly sensitive sensors and high definition spectral imagery have been integrated into farm operations small and large, tracking soil and water metrics and alerting farmers to water needs, pest infestations, the presence of disease, and overall crop health. Ranchers leverage GPS-guided, mobile electric fencing to more easily move livestock across their land in a rotational grazing pattern as part of holistic management. Farmers now have access to affordable, customizable robotics that they can tweak to their specific needs and deploy on their farms to perform more arduous, repetitive tasks like harvesting. Farmers and ranchers leverage site-specific satellite imagery and microclimate weather data to better plan their seasons and manage their land. Wireless mesh networks connect and share this data and information easily and affordably so that it can be aggregated and mapped at a regional level, to better assess overall ecosystem health and help direct the corresponding landscape-level infrastructure and capital investments to maintain a thriving, resilient regional ecosystem. 

At a product level, these same sensors are leveraged to track land-management and livestock-management practices over time. Each crop and each animal is tracked from planting/breeding to the time it leaves the farm. All the information is stored in a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip and verified and protected on a blockchain. As these products make their way through the supply chain, more sensors in the trucks, manufacturing and processing facilities, and storage facilities along the way track key metrics such as temperature, humidity, light exposure, gas exposure, if and when the product was commingled with other products, and so on. New, organic compounds are used to preserve freshness during transport without chemical applications or toxic gases. All of this information is ultimately integrated into a scannable code on the package of the product. In-store, consumers can now easily scan and pull up the entire food history of what they are about to buy. Was this beef grass-fed? Were these eggs pasture-raised? Is this tomato organic? Was it cultivated on a till or no-till farm operation? What types of inputs and pest management practices were used? These can be answered in seconds through a simple scan of the product before making a purchase. 

Lastly, as AI became more affordable, and direct-current microgrid technology became more efficient, the economics shifted to make distributed, localized systems the more economical and resilient choice for food supply chains. Localized manufacturing and processing facilities run by AI; mobile, USDA-compliant, community-owned processing units; scale-appropriate, renewable energy powered cold storage hubs; and high efficiency (low energy use), less input-intensive, circular system indoor growing operations in urban areas are among some of the infrastructure technology innovations supporting this system. 

Hundreds of thousands of new jobs have been created as a result of these myriad technologies.

Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?

Following the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, regional food systems became integral to the vibrancy and security of Colorado’s regional economy. Back in May 2020, Governor Jared Polis proclaimed the year 2020 “The Year of Local Food in Colorado.” In April of that same year, a coalition of 150 organizations representing water and ag interests in the western United States urged Congress and the president to address aging water infrastructure in the region. These proclamations drew attention to the gaps and issues facing the regional food system, ultimately serving as a call to action to all stakeholders to work together toward a brighter future. Through an unprecedented statewide, stakeholder-led effort, new, long-term-oriented policies were crafted to support this new vision for the food system. Some of the most important included:

Colorado Food Bill of Rights: Community well-being, health, access to nutrition, and overall happiness have become important metrics for the state as mandated by the Colorado Food Bill of Rights

Colorado Food & Farm Bill: Colorado also adopted a Food and Farm Bill to move public, private, and philanthropic work and capital across the food system in both rural and urban communities. This innovative legislation recognizes the unique role of the public sector in reinforcing the private and philanthropic food system. The bill ensures that farmers and food workers have clear pathways to earn a living wage in safe, healthy workplace conditions.

Water Policy Interventions: Alternative transfer methods and water-rights leasing programs were developed at the state level and adopted by local municipalities. These take a landscape-level look at the watershed and balance the varied needs between urban and rural usage and downstream demand. While the priority is to preserve water rights for agricultural use, they also incentivize on-farm water conservation methods (e.g. drip irrigation) and create markets for underused allocations so farmers can lease those excess rights to other users for a new revenue stream. 

Ecosystem Services Marketplace: The Colorado Climate Action plan was amended to include soil health and carbon sequestration in soil as a primary objective. This led to further development of a carbon marketplace to compensate farmers for sequestration. An expansion of the program over time led to a variety of ecosystem benefits including water conservation, biodiversity gains, and other positive ecological outcomes. This has been underpinned by a new reporting mandate across the region that requires true cost accounting and reporting for all institutions.

Land Use Planning/Zoning: A study in 2020 found that past conservation easement investments in Colorado generated more than $174 million in economic activity in the state, led to the creation of about 1,100 jobs, and for every $1 invested, $2.19 of economic activity was generated due to direct, indirect and induced spending in the state. This spurred an expansion of the easement program to preserve land in agriculture. Guided by true cost accounting methods and ecosystems services market incentives, land use planning and zoning requirements were amended to spur the adoption of best practices in bioregional land management. 

Institutional Procurement Policies/Subsidies: Outside of public policy, anchor institutions and private organizations recognized their important role in supporting regional economic stability, and shifted food service and food procurement policies to be more local, regional, regenerative and nourishing. These efforts were supported by local and regional subsidies intended to cultivate profitable farm-to-institution programs across the state. 

SNAP Improvements: In 2019, Colorado ranked 43rd among all states for access to food stamps. Only 60 percent of people eligible for the program were able to get the nutritious food they needed. (The national average was 73%). Through a focused policy effort and with the support of local community organizations, Colorado now ranks in the top 10 in the nation for SNAP participant access and program participation.

Blockchain in Food Supply Chains: Building on the work conducted by the Colorado Council for the Advancement of Blockchain Technology Use in 2018 and 2019, the state went on to mandate the integration of blockchain technology into food supply chains to support verification and tracking and make food supply chains more transparent, trusted, and useful for businesses and consumers.

Statewide Cooperative Ownership Effort: Building on the work of the Colorado Employee Ownership Commission in April 2019, the state went on to develop new incentives and programs to accelerate and remove barriers to the advancement of cooperative ownership, creating new economic opportunities for workers and other food system stakeholders.

Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.

The themes of environment, diets, economics, culture, technology, and policy are inherently interwoven in How The West Was One, our 2050 food system vision. At the most zoomed-in level, certain elements of the system may exist within a standalone theme or be bounded by a narrow scope, but they can all be traced to other elements and are ultimately linked to other dynamics within the system. 

Zooming further out in the system reveals clusters of elements, dynamics, and feedback loops that fit within four solutions we’ve identified: (1) Cultural Interdependence & Integration, (2) Economic Stability & Redistribution, (3) Environmental Regeneration, and (4) Nutritional Equity & Abundance. Within each solution is a mix of elements from each theme. Some solution areas may be more influenced by a particular theme (e.g., Economic Stability and Redistribution is largely economics and policy-driven) but they all generally contain elements of every theme as they are inextricably linked. 

At its core, however, the system is anchored by a “vision deep structure.” This is the core feedback loop of the future food system. It is a singular feedback loop with six elements, one for each theme, and it is the primary driver of the four solutions. This ultimately influences the various discrete dynamics and elements within each solution. 

This deep vision structure loop begins with a Connected Culture (culture) between stakeholders (particularly urban-rural relationships) which drives more Holistic Policy (policy) development. Holistic Policy helps drive a food system that cultivates Shared Prosperity (economics) across all stakeholders. This Shared Prosperity helps cultivate diverse innovators, cultivating and deploying Leading Technology (technology) throughout the food system. This Leading Technology, however, is not just developed for technology’s sake; it is developed within the context of this place and this ecosystem, helping foster and accelerate a more Regenerative Environment (environment) throughout the prairies, forests, mountains, and plateaus. A more Regenerative Environment, grounded in healthier soils, cleaner air, and cleaner and more abundant water, helps establish the important foundation for more Nourishing Diets (diets). With the expansion of more Nourishing Diets for all, food cultures and connections begin to form anew, helping drive an even more Connected Culture, and the cycle continues. 

Ultimately, leveraging this deep structure loop and highlighting the interdependencies in the system will drive a paradigm shift in how the system and its stakeholders operate. The more stakeholders that embrace the interconnectedness of these themes and look for linkages and shared dynamics, the better. Similar to how natural ecosystems thrive via the diverse connections and relationships within them, the 2050 food system of Colorado will thrive in much the same way, and could be scalable across the American West, the nation and the world.

Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.

The trade-offs below are presented within each solution identified for the 2050 food system. These represent only a small subset overall, but they are key considerations as the system evolves. 

Environmental Regeneration

(1) Adaptive Management vs. Yield or Profit: While adjusting farm practices and methods to sequester carbon and restore soil health should pay off in the long-term, there is often a short-term loss in yield and/or profit for farmers and ranchers.

(2) Preserving Water for Ag vs. Water Use in Ag: Water is essential to agriculture and it is necessary to preserve water rights for ag, but agricultural operations are also one of the largest users of water. A focus on water conservation across the board is key.

(3) Environmental Efficiency vs. Upfront Technology Cost: In the long term, on-farm technology can play an important role in driving efficiency and positive social and environmental outcomes, but the up-front cost of technology could limit its adoption and slow the transition.

Economic Stability and Redistribution

(1) On-Farm Technology vs. Rural Workforce: On-farm technology can be critical to driving on-farm efficiency and managing previously difficult tasks, but in the short term this could displace workers in dire need of income and job security in rural areas.

(2) Infrastructure Resiliency vs. Economies of Scale: A distributed food supply chain can enhance resiliency and overall flexibility, but it could also diminish the positive economic impacts garnered through economies of scale and perhaps push food prices higher.

(3) Cooperative Ownership vs. Ease of Coordination: Cooperative ownership of ag resources is important to balancing power dynamics and wealth-creation opportunities, but it does add complexity to governance, and an additional layer of shared decision-making that requires more coordination.

Cultural Interdependence and Integration

(1) Ruralization vs. Urban Densification: While ruralization could restore economic vibrancy in rural communities, it could also exacerbate the displacement of ag land if new development results in greater sprawl. Urban densification may be preferred.

(2) Urban Relocation vs. Rural Culture/Norms: While building deeper interconnected communities is important, a growing presence or formerly urban citizens in rural areas could threaten the strong community ties and cultural values that define rural living today. 

Nutritional Equity and Abundance

(1) Premium for Production Methods vs. Healthy Food Affordability: A shift in consumer preference for production methods and regional products could be a boon to adaptive management, but it could also mean higher prices for healthful food.

(2) Values-Based Buying vs. Buying Power: If the “values” products are designed for and driven by wealthy consumers, it could further entrench bias in food products and favor those with the greatest buying power.

3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?

It’s 2023. We have a growing vision ecosystems and here are the three key milestones we have achieved in order to ensure our vision is on track:

Milestone 1 — Measurement Systems: Early work in 2021 developed standard measurement systems and critical baseline data in areas like soil health. These efforts were participatory, combining public data with citizen science on an open source platform. This real-time data is deepening economic and cultural connections across Colorado -- when persistent drought conditions threaten the state’s agricultural water supply, urban and rural stakeholders are informed and responsive.

Milestone 2 — Proven Pilots: How the West Was One is rapidly becoming a reality — gathering momentum, statewide engagement and national attention. The pilot programs launched in communities around the state have been improved through iterative feedback from hundreds of participants. A multi-generational curriculum now spans 20 different programs for youth, families and business. Initial analysis of these pilot programs demonstrates positive changes in participants’ interest in food and ag and appreciation for the state’s urban-rural issues.

Milestone 3 — Committed Stakeholders: The community, businesses, industry, and government partners that shaped this vision from the beginning have deepened their engagement and commitment. Thirty organizations have committed staff to quarterly steering committee meetings, reinforcing the vision as a stakeholder-led process. An initial culture assessment created shared language and values, and resulted in the creation of 10 subcommittees made up of 200 partners that meet monthly to shape and oversee detailed implementation action plans for our 10-year milestones.

10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?

It’s 2030. Here is the progress we have made in each solution area in order for our vision to be realized in 2050:

Cultural Integration & Interdependence

Experiential learning programs reach thousands of youth and families each year. Inspired, families spend millions on regional “staycations,” experiencing Colorado’s regional food brands and food events. Biannual statewide policy roundtables and the urban-rural food and ag caucus culminate in the Food and Farm Bill. Another decade of these interactions will create a true sense of urban-rural interdependence.

Economic Stability & Redistribution

Multiple rural areas are attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce, bolstered and connected by a rural and urban leadership development program and workforce development apprenticeships. A joint venture accelerator graduated hundreds of companies including three that have raised $1 billion after initial funding from the $100 million revolving rural innovation fund. These rural innovation ecosystems are inspiring other communities to adopt this model for strong rural communities and economies.


Nutritional Equity and Abundance

Food insecurity in the neighborhoods surrounding the National Western Center is eliminated because diverse actors in the local foodshed are now networked for collaboration, supporting a resilient and efficient system. Furthermore, public and private stakeholders from across the state, nation, and globe visit campus to spread the place-based, equitable food security model.

Environmental Regeneration

An ecosystem services marketplace is established with ecological incentives that pay producers a living wage for the full value they create. University-industry partnerships accelerate the rapid adoption of bioregional best practices in land management. As a result, undesired farm transitions in Colorado are eliminated through models of perpetual land and water preservation.

For more details, see the implementation plan in the “Attachments” section.

If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?

The implementation plan we co-developed with our technical advisors will guide our use of the funds. (See the “Attachments” section.) At this time, we envision leveraging 40 percent of the prize to support our team at the National Western Center in activating partners that have committed to the vision and stewarding the solutions identified in it. The remaining 60 percent will be used to directly support those partners, so we can quickly and collectively act on systems interventions. (These interventions are identified in our systems map and dovetail with our implementation plan.)

The types of immediate activities we plan to fund include: statewide community-based pilots designed to increase interest in and appreciation for food and ag and rural and urban issues; an open-source monitoring and evaluation tool to provide real time data on needs and opportunities; and an ever-expanding network of organizations and individuals who convene regularly to ensure short-term milestones are realized.

We also plan to build off of the Rockefeller Foundation’s initial investment and raise additional funds from local and national sources in order to fully implement our vision between now and 2050. 

A key advantage of funding the National Western Center’s unifying vision is its capacity to be a long-term steward of the state’s food future. Both Denver and Colorado voters have made a commitment to funding the physical construction of the National Western Center as a future place and platform for global food solutions. Though a newly minted institution, we now have a responsibility to strengthen the food chain and connect its diverse stakeholders for the next century. We are thus intent upon raising the necessary resources to sustain our vision, so that come 2050, a more resilient, regenerative and nourishing food future is a reality in Colorado. The $200,000 seed fund for top visionaries is a perfect start, and for our team and implementation partners, it’s only the beginning.

If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?

Through conversations with more than 150 Coloradans over the last six months, we’ve learned that systems change will only be possible when those growing our food and those consuming it are tightly woven together. That’s why the vision we’ve put forward starts and ends with people. (The process of creating it does too.) If we can connect stakeholders across the food chain and help us all find common ground, then we can stand shoulder to shoulder in achieving a more positive food future for generations to come.

Food is a marvelous vehicle for rebuilding these connections, for strengthening the human fabric that can uphold — or upend! — our system. Its production is a shared endeavor, as is its consumption. If food can sustain each person along the way from soil to supper — economically, nutritionally, spiritually — and if those fruits are reinvested into the system, then we will have achieved our goal: a regenerative and nourishing food future.

With communities around the world fighting for health, for food access, for their very futures, the choice to focus on a powerful, positive vision of the world in 2050 is more critical now than ever. The opportunity to build equitable, resilient systems is more ripe now than ever. Refining this food system vision for Colorado has been a buoy during the pandemic and we expect it will continue to lift us up in the years and decades to come.

We invite people in Colorado and beyond to learn more and join us at

Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.

We created our 2050 food system map with help from our technical advisors: 

The map is organized according to our 4 solution areas and identifies key interventions for transforming vicious cycles into virtuous ones by 2050. We call these leverage loops.

We've also outlined the system stakeholders and cross-system actors here:

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Team (3)

Matthew's profile
Grace's profile
Grace Hanover

Role added on team:

"Grace is the Associate Director of Programming for the National Western Center Authority and played a critical role in producing this vision."

Andrea's profile
Andrea Burns

Role added on team:

"Andrea is the Chief Marketing Officer for the National Western Center Authority and played a critical role in producing this vision."

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Attachments (5)

Full Refined Vision_How the West Was One.pdf

This is our full refined vision for the future of the food system in Colorado.

Technical Advisor List_How the West Was One.pdf

This list includes details about the 56 technical advisors who contributed at least 5 hours to our vision during the refinement phase.

Stakeholder Interview List_How the West Was One.pdf

This list offers descriptions of the eleven food system stakeholders we interviewed to create our "day in the life" snapshot and to add quotes from real people throughout the vision.

Signals Brief_How the West Was One.pdf

This data brief showcases the insights we derived from and possibilities we imagine for twelve signals across our four solution areas.

Implementation Plan_How the West Was One.pdf

This plan provides additional detail on our 3- and 10-year milestones and outlines the network of partners we envision helping us bring "How the West Was One" to life.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Marian Stuiver

Dear Matthew, thank you for this beautiful vision. Maybe we can exchange ideas how to enrich each others vision? kind regards, Marian Stuiver

Photo of Matthew Barry

Would be happy to connect! Do you want to find a time for a call? Similar to you we're in COVID-response mode and engaged in a rapid response fund for farmers and ranchers in CO that has us pretty buried, but I'd love to find even a few minutes to connect.

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Matthew Barry congratulations on an extremely comprehensive, inspiring and compelling Vision. For refinement, how might you detail out your Vision to bring in more involvement and stories from the stakeholder communities in tandem with what the institute hopes to do for them?

Photo of Matthew Barry

Thank you Itika Gupta ! We'll share this as an attachment but our entire vision has been informed directly through engagement from communities. We've engaged over 150 people and held meetings in each of the ag regions. Now we're working on our "day in the life stories" and have assembled an awesome advisory group help us with systems mapping . Here's a snap from our call today -

Photo of Itika Gupta

Reading through the Refinement Visions, I came across other Visionary teams from various parts of the United States. Incase you havn't already, connecting you all Jonathan Lundgren Marian Stuiver Matthew Barry Ron Weiss @Jason Clay so you can provide some feedback on one another’s Vision submissions from the context of your region's most pressing challenges in the present and future. Happy connecting!

Photo of Itika Gupta

Dear Matthew Barry  , Congratulations on being shortlisted as a Semi-Finalist. Welcome to Refinement!

Through refinement, we'd like to see the details in the broad strokes of the Vision you painted for your region.
How might you bring your Vision into sharper focus through:
1. Building partnerships and forming a systemic and multi-disciplinary Vision Team
2. Visualising your future food system to help people see and feel the future of their food system
3. Assessing the feasibility of your future food system to better anticipate its needs and challenges

We invite you to take full advantage of the open platform here – to tag in team members into your Vision, connect with other Refinement teams, and solicit feedback from participants around the world.

It’s great to continue with you into this next phase. Consider me your support for questions you might have while on this platform.

Looking forward to seeing a detailed and Refined Vision for your region in the coming weeks.

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Matthew Barry we're in the process of collecting all the feedback from the team. Will share it with you the moment we have it all ready.

Photo of Benjamin Fahrer

@How the West was One:
Reuniting urban and rural lives and livelihoods from soil to supper.
 Very much love the concept and would love to collaborate in how this can be carried to the western shores of California in the work we are doing here in the bay area. One aspect of our project is how to bring Argiculture into cities to make the connection for people and strengthen the connection and relationships with the rural farms that are supplying the cities with food.
So excited at how your project will make this connection and also the potential of promoting new regenerative techniques.
Curious if you are addressing land ownership, access and the approach you are taking in the transition away from pesticides and petro-chemical inputs.

Photo of Matthew Barry

Hi Benjamin, sorry for the delayed response. I'd be happy to lear more about your efforts and - YES - I hope to see our vision spread beyond Colorado's borders. If you let me know when you're in CO this month, I'd be happy to try to find a time to connect. Feel free to shoot an email to m..barry (at) nationalwesterncenter dot com.

Photo of Jennifer White

CONGRATULATIONS!!! It's thrilling to see the possibility of the work that is already being done in pockets have the potential to grow on a statewide scale and create a brighter, healthier, food secure future for Colorado!

Photo of Matthew Barry

Thank you Jennifer! We're excited too. We have a lot of work to do but it's well worth the effort.

Photo of Benjamin Fahrer

Amazing project with great vision of scale and scope. I think often of this divide and urban to rural connection and am curious at the demographic and approach you are employing to reach your desired effect.

I would love your insights, comments or perspective on our project The Farm Clinic We are approaching this from a public health component and the soil being a foundation key to unlocking the challenges that we face in breaking through misconception.

Also curious what role indigenous people have played in your process and their input on such a center.
Keep up the amazing work. I will be out in Denver in later March and it would be amazing to meet up if possible.

Photo of Pratyoosh Kashyap

This looks great and very comprehensively done. Going ahead, it is very important to tie all linkages together as we work and this felt well highlighted here! Good luck with the work ahead!

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi Matthew Barry . Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!

Thank you for this inspiring Vision of One West 2050! Please make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Here is the link to the pocket guide:

I hope you will find other like-minded Visionaries throughout the platform. Not on the West but maybe of interest:

All the very best for the Prize!

Warm regards,


Photo of Matthew Barry

Hi Constanza - quick question - is there a way to see who "applauded" our submission? I'd like to see who's excited about our idea to make new connections.

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, Matthew Barry ,
I already shared your question with our team coordinator Itika Gupta . I will answer you as soon as I have news.

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hey Matthew Barry thank you for your question. We do not record the profile details of people who like your submission. Sorry, we won't be able to help you with these details. For everyone who comments on your submission however you can just click on their names, go to their profile and drop them a personalised message.

Photo of Kevin Lambert

Excellent work and vision - tying together Colorado's: 1. Ranching, agriculture, and technology heritage, 2. The unifying needs of our rural and urban regions, 3. The growth, water, and health challenges of our communities. As the grandson of a Buena Vista area rancher (failed but valiant effort), son of an outdoorsman and food-health enthusiast, and as a technologist, business leader and non-profit enthusiast, the National Western Center's vision is exactly what we need. Not just for the betterment of our state citizenry, but as a model and beacon across the country and globe. We must aspire to such high impact change and innovation across all the topics covered, all the better to be done with such a solid foundation.

Photo of Joe Matta

Congratulations and great work Matt Barry, National Western Center Authority, and team! Certainly an important and powerful vision for Colorado, the American West, and the world! Hope we can continue to help with next steps and helping make this Vision a reality!

Photo of Drew Domoto

Congratulations to The National Western Center for presenting a truly inspiring, inclusive, and aspirational vision for a flourishing food future! It's wonderful to know that your work is already underway and that Colorado's communities, the West, and the world will benefit from your efforts.

Photo of Jennifer White

I'm excited to see the work already being done by The National Western Center as well as proposed in How the West was One. Our organization is doing very closely aligned work with students in Pueblo and Huerfano Counties, and it's thrilling to see the possibility of similar efforts to be utilized on a statewide scale.

Photo of Matthew Barry

Thank you Jennifer - We were so inspired to learn about the work underway in greater Pueblo and look forward to finding ways to partner!

Photo of Jennifer White


Photo of Kerri Wright Platais

Excellent contribution NWC/CSU Spur campus and partners! Great to see the process unfolding and know the platform and our shared work in Colorado and for global food security is indeed a reality!

Photo of Blake Angelo

Great work Matthew Barry and team! Let me know how we can help with the next step - we'd love to be a partner on the state policy side of implementation too!

Photo of Mark Williams

Dear National Western Center Team:  Your vision for the National Western Center and how it will be so inclusive of our Western and agricultural history and future is truly remarkable. This is epic work you are doing.  Congratulations and thank you for letting us travel with you on this wonderful journey. 

Photo of Matthew Barry

Thank you, Mark. We're lucky to have talented people like you turning the NWC into reality. We appreciate the support