Colorado Proud Promotes the Future of Farming and Agriculture
In its 20th year, the program is shifting focus to the next-generation of farmers
Photo by: Luke Trautwein
While the nationwide trend of consuming local and organic products has really taken off the last couple of years, Coloradans have been on this trend for over two decades. The state Department of Agriculture started the Colorado Proud program in 1999 to promote the food and agricultural products that are grown, raised and processed here.
“I think there's a desire to have a connection with their community and what's being grown and produced in Colorado,” says Wendy White, the marketing specialist for the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA). “A lot of people are generations removed to having any connection to a family farm so they no longer have a grandparent, or an aunt, or an uncle that have a farm or ranch they can visit, but there's this desire to know where their food comes from, and have that connection, and I think that's really developed over the years.”
Since its founding, Colorado Proud has grown from 65 members to well over 2,700, including everyone from growers, food manufacturers, retailers and schools. Now in its 20th year, the program is shifting its focus to the future of food and agriculture.
This focus is directly aligned with the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg’s three goals for the CDA. This includes supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers; investing more heavily in new and diverse market opportunities such as helping Colorado food and ag businesses grow and expand; and promoting climate, water and soil stewardship.
Agriculture is one of Colorado’s largest economic drivers. Each year, ag businesses contributed more than $40 billion the state economy and contribute over 170,000 jobs. “We're really lucky to have such a wonderful food and agriculture industry in Colorado,” White says. “And Colorado Proud really has been the connector in a lot of different ways; it's really about sharing the story of our producers and our members to the public and educate them about local local products.”
Over two decades, Colorado Proud has watched the agriculture and food movement shift. “We’re always seeing changes,” White says. “Farmers and ranchers are always on the cutting edge of technology — whether it's GPS and tractors or the efficient use of water or other resources — farmers and ranchers, especially, are now growing more food with less inputs and less resources.”
This includes farmers and ranchers utilizing greenhouses to extend the growing season of certain products to meet customer demand for local goods.
In addition to the trend toward sustainable production, White says that there has been a rapid increase in the number of farmers markets, of which Coloradans have had about 115 in the past few years. “That interest in those local markets has drawn consumers to local products,” White says.
And, the new generation of farmers is an integral part of Colorado Proud’s forward-looking mission. While this generation certainly includes those farmers taking over their multi-generational farm, it also includes the up-and-coming urban farmers (also supported by greenhouses) and the expansion of smaller ranches and farms. These are the farmers (and producers) that are supporting the surge in local food interest.
Photo courtesy of Colorado Proud
Colorado Proud Hits the Road
Each year, Colorado Proud hits the road with a number of events in August to educate the public not only about local products, but about some of the resources that the organization provides.
Aside from sharing the stories of the people behind Colorado’s food, the group also has a produce calendar sharing when local food is in season; recipes; produce-picking tips; programs for helping Colorado ag businesses grow and expand both nationally and globally; and educational resources on how supporting local foods is important to the climate and to the economy.
And on Sept.18, which is denoted as Colorado Proud School Meal Day, schools across the state will incorporate Colorado-grown ingredients into their menus to showcase what eating local is all about. According to White, schools have really taken to this program over the past few years by having farmers come in and speak to students, performing chef demos and more. Each of these programs and initiatives are driving change toward meeting Commissioner Greenberg’s goals.
Connecting Past, Present and Future
Just as the history of agriculture and farming has been important to Colorado, the future will be just as important. Buying local products affects Colorado’s economy, the quality of life of its residents, the protection of open spaces and wildlife habitat, the environment and more, White says.
“The importance of agriculture as an industry to Colorado certainly has historic roots for the entire life of the state and before, and it continues to be one of the top industries in Colorado today,” she says.