Eartha Steward: The role of food in sustainable Summit County |

Eartha Steward: The role of food in sustainable Summit County

Eartha Steward

Sustainable and local food is a growing interest of mine. It’s the reason local food keeps popping up in the Ask Eartha column and in workshops and programs at the Conservation Center. Honestly, it’s the connection to food that really intrigues me. There is so much potential for our community to learn the story of food – from growing food in the mountains to alternatives to unhealthy food substitutes like high fructose corn syrup. It’s about education, hands-in-the-dirt experiences, and pulling carrots out of the ground in early fall after planting tiny seeds in the spring.

What I find fascinating is the full circle cycle of food to waste to soil to food. If you want to join the conservation movement and do something about your footprint, hop on the sustainable food train. Learning about where food comes from and the energy involved in growing, harvesting, transporting, refrigerating, storing and landfilling is the key to understanding how you, a single human or a community, impact the planet.

I also love that food, like energy conservation, is a relatively new movement that is gaining fast momentum. Also like energy, food has the potential to bring communities together to create sustainable plans that benefit both humans and earth.

As a joint effort to explore the local food issues, the Summit Prevention Alliance and the High Country Conservation Center created a Summit County Food Policy Council (FPC). Selfishly, I wanted to create a FPC to examine zoning laws. I read about FPCs in other parts of Colorado, Wisconsin, Washington, and even New York and how they were able influence local governments to change zoning laws to permit community gardens, backyard chickens, and bee hives. Beyond reasonable precautions to avoid bear and wildlife encounters, wouldn’t it be cool to have an example of a backyard homestead on Frisco Main Street? Think of all the local farmers we could inspire.

At our first meeting for the FPC in January of this year, several other issues came to light that took precedence over my dreams for a self-sufficient utopia. First, I learned about alarming hunger issues that are currently affecting our community. Hunger in the high country? According to the 2009 Summit County Basic Food Assistance document, “The need for basic food assistance is growing in Summit County as evidenced by an increase in families enrolled in the Food Stamp program and visitors to our local food banks.” Between 2000 and 2009, the number of people fed per year by local food banks increased by over 815 percent for some food banks. This is substantial!

The other top issue is local and healthy food for school cafeterias. There are several opportunities to incorporate sustainable food curriculum and hands-on opportunities in the classroom. For one, there is a national push for Farm to School programs in the school system. In addition, the Conservation Center’s The Living Classroom (TLC) Project is set to roll out in the spring and will focus on bringing kids closer to food production by providing classrooms and school groups with space to grow their own food and get their hands dirty.

Taking Summit County issues into mind, the FPC determined three main focus areas: health and nutrition; local and environmental benefits; and food security, access, and hunger. Through these focus areas, we hope to address and potentially accomplish the following: local and nutritious food for schools including the use of local produce (grown on site or grown locally) in the lunchroom; zoning and planning with an emphasis on acquiring permanent land for local food production (community greenhouses and gardens); and hunger relief through growing and acquiring healthy food to supplement local food banks.

In general, FPC include individuals from the community that have a strong interest in food including how it’s produced, processed, and distributed. A local FPC is a great way to explore food issues and to take action through local policy. If you are interested in learning more about the Summit County FPC, let us know. Please contact to find out more.

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at

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