In March of 2020 when something called the Coronavirus disease brought life to a halt, and local restaurants across the San Luis Valley began to shut down, the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition was sitting with a warehouse of food and suddenly nowhere to distribute it.
At the time, the SLV Foods Coalition and its distribution arm, Valley Roots Food Hub, were delivering most of the food they aggregated from local farms and ranches to wholesale commercial accounts like restaurants. With those doors now closed, a new distribution point emerged and the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition suddenly found itself delivering more to moms than eateries.
“We went from 90 percent wholesale to 90 percent retail families,” said Liza Marron, executive director of the SLV Local Foods Coalition. Rather than its drivers bringing boxes of fresh food to the backdoors of restaurants, they now were driving up dusty roads across the Valley delivering food to local families.
The transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. When opportunity knocked in the form of a crushing pandemic, Marron and her allies pivoted and found a new customer waiting with open arms.
“We had all these families come on who really wanted door-delivery of food,” Marron said during a recent taping of The Valley Pod, a podcast by AlamosaCitizen.com. “They’d go to the grocery store and they would find empty shelves. We had an abundance and plethora of product because we were working with local producers here who were still producing and still had their products available.”
The work Marron and others started in 2008 by bringing together farmers and healthy food aficionados through potluck suppers to express appreciation for locally-grown food, has mushroomed into a full-fledged fresh food operation and distribution organization with 24 employees and a network of farms and ranches supplying everything from potatoes, beans and carrots to beef, yak and lamb.
Valley Roots Food Hub operates out of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse and kitchen in Mosca, and functions as the aggregation and distribution service to family farmers and ranchers. A normal, pre-COVID cycle, said Marron, was Monday farmers told the food coalition what it had available, orders to farmers were placed on Tuesday, Wednesday farmers saw and fulfilled the orders, Valley Roots Food Hub picked up orders from farmers on Thursday and delivered on Friday.
“We put a whole other cycle in there because we had so much business,” Marron said of the transition. It also meant the need for more drivers and warehouse workers. “Valley Roots Food Hub was really working hard during COVID to provide that food to families.”
The Valley Roots Hub warehouse in Mosca is the hive for packing and distribution.
Marron said operations have normalized to some degree. Now that people are seeing the variety of food produced by local farms and that they can order and get delivered directly to them, there’s a sense the SLV Local Foods Coalition and the whole farm-to-table movement is heading into a new orbit.
“Demand for this is happening across the planet. It’s not just in the San Luis Valley,” Marron said. “People are not liking the industrial food system that really is the bottom line and shareholders are what’s important.
“In the local food movement, it’s the human beings that make up the food system that’s really important.”
As part of its next steps, the SLV Local Foods Coalition wants to conduct a food assessment in each of the six counties to foster a larger strategy around a Valley-wide food plan.
“COVID was a wake up call for us when it comes to food,” Marron said. “What could that look like to be more proactive and less reactive in the future?”
To listen to the full podcast episode with Liza Marron click here.
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