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Colorado Farms Reinvent To Meet Communities' Needs

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Farmers have seen a drop in business from restaurants as that industry cuts down on expenses in a takeout and delivery only model because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Growers in Colorado say they are adjusting to a new approach as well that sells directly to the consumer.

"Well farming's not cancelled. Right? People still need to eat," Marcus McCauley told CBS4 on Tuesday. "They're ready to source more locally."

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McCauley Family Farm outside of Longmont is a regenerative farm where they raise chickens with the help of sheep. The sheep also help to maintain the pasture. The farm also grows certain fermented vegetable products. They sell directly to the consumer, work with restaurants, and participate in farmers markets.

Some of their products are also in grocery stores. But they're accommodating an increase in demand from customers who want to cook from scratch. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model was already helping their business, and now it is a larger source of income.

"Folks just really just started to reach out to us and we were, I think, in a good position to meet that need," McCauley said.

(credit: CBS)

He says the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic highlight the supply chain infrastructure in the country. Not just for quality, but now safety as well, people are looking for a closer connection to the food they consume and building a relationship with farmers.

He also points out that in Boulder County they are growing produce on prairie land so the approach he uses with animals grazing is important to sustaining this process.

"There's a lot of great farms around, we're blessed with a lot of great farmers in this area," he said.

Mark DeRespinis owns Esoterra Culinary Garden, which is located at McCauley Family Farm. He started the business in 2018 to grow vegetables for chefs in Denver and Boulder. He specializes in heirloom varieties, edible flowers, and produce specific to each season. But he also grows spinach that anyone could use at home.

While restaurants made up 100 percent of his business in 2019, he was already moving to the CSA model himself this year.

"People really had a desire to have fresh food delivered to their doorstep," DeRespinis told CBS4. "Their tapping into a local food system that is thriving right now."

The commitment that comes with a CSA gives consumers a portion of that farm's harvest for the whole season. They receive produce every week, giving them a chance to try new meals or change the way they cook at home. He has already maxed out on his CSA, a sign of the growing interest locally to get food from the source.

"Despite this pandemic, our local food system is strong and we want to feed and nourish people," he said.  "A lot of the farmers in this area are trying to figure out how to adapt to this situation."

(credit: CBS)

The year ahead can still be successful for these farmers as long as they can adapt to the changes that come with COVID-19. There are some uncertainties ahead but they plan to focus on providing food with limited contact that is healthy all year.

"My commitment first of all is to food safety so we're refining and revisiting all of our food protocols." DeRespinis said. "My outlook for 2020 is we're going to feed people and we're going to feed people maybe in a more meaningful way than ever before."

While these two farms have already seen strong support from their community, others could still use the help of customers looking to buy local and bring farm fresh food to their table. Mad Agriculture is one resource for people living in Colorado.

Rebel Farm reached out to its community on their own to help get customers buying produce that they would normally sell to restaurants in Denver. They created a form online for customers to order directly.

"Hopefully a silver lining that we can take from these challenges is how we're all connected," McCauley said. "We're connected with each other, we're connected with the land and we have a great opportunity to increase that."


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