DENVER — “Once you’ve tasted a locally grown or locally raised product you can definitely tell the difference," said Katie Belle Miller.
Miller is the co-owner and operator of Heritage Belle Farms in Calhan, Colorado. She describes her family’s farm as a mix of a farm and a ranch. They raise beef, goats and poultry, and also grow vegetables.
A passion of Miller’s is getting farm fresh ingredients to local consumers, but it’s a lot of work. “There’s a lot of responsibility and weight on the farmers and ranchers to do everything — from growing and raising the crops and the livestock, to transporting it to the centers, to actually having to do farmers’ markets and try and market your products,” she explained. “So having an outlet that would allow us to kind of alleviate some of those demands helps us to focus on the things that we’re really good at, like raising the crops and the livestock.
That outlet Miller referred to is the Rocky Mountain Food Collaborative, a group of farmers and ranchers from Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas and Utah with a goal to “reinvent the old school farm/ranch market model with a public marketplace to re-establish a direct-to-consumer relationship,” according to its website.
Bringing sustainable, local foods to an urban setting
“Reaching out, this is just a consensus … many farmers and ranchers are struggling to find a place where they can sell their product for the price that they need to that covers cost of production and living,” Margaret S. McRoberts said. “And there’s also just a lack of local food in Denver and other parts of our region.”
McRoberts, the project manager for Rocky Mountain Food Collaborative, said the organization wants to bring sustainable farmers’ goods to an urban setting. Part of that mission includes the creation of a grocery store co-op located in the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood of Denver.
McRoberts and her colleague Alicia Boyd, the special strategic advisor for the collaborative, said they chose the historically Black neighborhood of Northeast Park Hill because it is one of the city’s largest food deserts.
Boyd knows a thing or two about what Northeast Park Hill neighborhood residents need, as she has lived in the area for over three decades. She also knows about farming: Her son, Terrance, is a rancher running Wild Boyd Farm, a Black-owned farm in Matheson, Colorado. Alicia Boyd expressed how gentrification in Northeast Park Hill over the years has not benefited the long-term residents.
“You cannot visit or live in this neighborhood and not know what’s going on and what’s not here,” Boyd explained, adding that her friends and neighbors have spoken to her about the need for somewhere to purchase food.
McRoberts and Boyd believe a co-op filled with locally grown produce and meats will not only help create a healthier Park Hill community, but also foster a sense of pride. “Our idea is that we could have a neighborhood public market that we can just kind of help start, and then it could be owned by the community and provide economic opportunities, provide access to local food, and just really just start to be a source of pride for the community,” McRoberts said.
Along with the grocery store, McRoberts said the collaborative wants to create a butcher counter and deli.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Are you bringing value to this neighborhood, or are you just bringing your vision to this neighborhood?’” Boyd said. “We can go anywhere to start this market, but this is a special neighborhood that we care about and have passion for.”
Rocky Mountain Food Collaborative hopes to open a co-op store in the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood by July 2023.
In order to help best understand the needs of residents of Park Hill, the Rocky Mountain Food Collaborative invites the residents to fill out this survey.
Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.