Back to School is an August series covering some of Colorado’s most interesting advocates and educators in the food space — stay tuned for more features all month long.
If you pay attention the next time you’re browsing the produce aisle at the grocery store, you’ll notice a small yellow and purple “Colorado Proud” sticker on local produce. This is part of the Colorado Proud program — created in 1999 by the Department of Agriculture to promote food products that are grown, produced or processed in our state. It’s a program that started with 65 members and has now grown to more than 2,400 growers, restaurants and retailers statewide.
As declared by Governor John Hickenlooper and the Department of Agriculture, August is officially “Colorado Proud Month.” This year’s campaign — Faces and Stories of Colorado Agriculture – was created in response to a survey that found a majority of Colorado residents would like to feel more connected to local producers of their food. It has included an array of educational outreach programs including in-person panels, farmers market meetings, digital video content and more.
“Farmers are so good at their jobs that the disconnect between consumer and producer has become so deep that people don’t always understand what goes into producing all this food,” explained third-generation farmer and the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown. “We did such a good job of raising it, we forgot to share how we do it with the public.”
Colorado Agriculture At A Glance
While Denver may be known for beer, Colorado is known for agriculture. We’re ranked fourth in the United States for generating income by agritourism, and agriculture consistently ranks as one of our state’s top three leading industries — providing more than 173,000 jobs and contributing more than $40 billion to the state’s economy annually. The state has 34,000 farms and ranches spanning nearly 32 million acres — with 56 percent for livestock and the remaining 44 percent for crops. The global demand for Colorado products spans 115 countries.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, our state’s top agricultural product is cattle — representing more than half of all cash receipts. We rank second nationally for market sheep and lamb, but that isn’t all. Colorado’s varied terrain and weather conditions provide a palette for many fruits and vegetables. At a glance, each year we grow 1.2 million watermelons, 9 million pounds of apples, 26 million pounds of peaches, 56 million pounds of cabbage, 97 million ears of corn, 200 million pounds of onions — and this increased 10 percent from last year.
“The survey results confirm that Colorado consumers crave a personal connection with growers and producers. More than ever, they want to know where food comes from,” said Wendy White, Colorado Proud spokesperson.
So how do we put a face to the numbers?
Colorado Proud Month
All month the Faces and Stories of Colorado’s Agriculture program has tackled this challenge by hosting industry panels and a Colorado Proud booth at farmers’ markets across the state. They’ve extended their reach digitally by mailing GoPro cameras to local farmers, asking them to film a “day in the life” to share on the Colorado Proud Facebook page and website. Consumers can browse videos covering everything from pruning and growing peaches at Talbott’s Mountain Gold farm, to family ranching at Ralston Valley beef. You can see more on social media by exploring the hashtag #FacesofCoAg.
The biggest takeaway from Colorado Proud Month is the desire for the Colorado consumer stay invested in where their food comes from. The team hopes that the desire to seek out local food will be less of a trend and more of a lasting community-held value. The Colorado farmers we spoke to are just as invested in preserving this “local first” wave as the Department of Agriculture.
“We get calls all the time at the farm from people wanting to know if we’re a ‘real farm’ or if they can take a tour,” Kate Petrocco of Petrocco Farms said. “It’s great that people are taking an interest. Now they need to take action. If you want to see more local produce, all you have to do is show your grocery store manager that there’s a demand for it.”
All photos courtesy of Colorado Proud.