Ask Eartha: Community supported agriculture at altitude? It can be done (column) |

Ask Eartha: Community supported agriculture at altitude? It can be done (column)

Organic vegetables on a stand at a farmers market
Getty Images/Wavebreak Media | Wavebreak Media

Dear Eartha,

My friend from Denver recently joined a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and got some amazing local produce all summer long. Can you tell me more about CSAs and any local programs we have here in Summit County? — Kate, Frisco

Dear Kate,

The CSA movement has been happening now for over 25 years, but only recently has it gotten a lot of mainstream buzz. The reason being many people are fed up with the industrial food system and want to reconnect with local farmers and local food. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program initiative called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2), which seeks to strengthen the critical connection between farmers and their communities.

Whether you choose to engage in a CSA, buy local produce in grocery stores, frequent the farmer’s markets or grow your own food, you probably recognize the importance of knowing what you’re eating, where it comes from and how it gets to your plate. These are important questions when it comes to improving our food system — but, somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of the connection between farm and plate.

So what is a CSA exactly? CSAs are a partnership between a farmer and the community. The farmer provides a certain number of produce shares each season, and residents buy those shares in the beginning, providing much needed income for the farm upfront. The farmer then agrees to provide those shares throughout the growing season.

Now, there are several CSAs in operation in Colorado and even a few that have drop offs in Summit County. But, if you’re truly concerned about how far your food has to travel to reach your plate, even these CSAs can be a little too far (and a little too expensive) to make it reasonable for you. So, you’re probably wondering what Summit County has to offer.

Living at 9,000 feet doesn’t give us a leg up when it comes to local food. Many people say it can’t even be done. But, for those still living in Summit County who remember the pre-Dillon Dam era, you might remember a time when the Blue River valley was full of ranches and dairy farms. In fact, Luke Smith, one of the early owners of the Keystone Ranch, capitalized on lettuce after the Great Depression as a way out of financial trouble. During the 1940s, lettuce grown at high altitude in Summit County was surpassing the quality of California lettuce! Likewise, the miners had huge success with root crops (potatoes, beets, radishes) and subsisted with them when other food sources were scarce.

So, it can be done! The really good news is that there is already a CSA in Summit County, and it’s expanding to serve the community in 2016. The Summit CSA is a small farm-share program operating in Frisco. To provide all the advantages possible, the farm operates in three greenhouses and currently provides 25 community shares. Interns from Colorado Mountain College participate in the program during the summer months, assisting the farmer and earning scholarships towards their college education. The student-run CSA is a model operation and is a key to the success of the program.

Crops at the Summit CSA include peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, arugula and Swiss chard. Shareholders receive produce for 15 weeks throughout the summer, and the variety depends on the seasonality of the crop. Prices in 2015 ranged from $180 for a supplemental share (2 people) to $375 for a family share (4 people). To break it down further, that’s roughly $6 per person per week for awesome, locally-grown veggies!

Operated by the High Country Conservation Center, the Summit CSA is the only option for truly local produce in Summit County. HC3 will be hosting a community barn raising in September to build three additional greenhouses at the Frisco Transfer Center by Whole Foods. This will allow the program to grow nearly four times the current production and serve our community’s demand for local food! To get involved in your local farm, you can visit or call (970) 668-5703. Keep an eye out in April when applications for shares come out, and you, too, can join the Summit CSA.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable food, waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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