From March 30-31, Western hosted the Gunnison Valley Farm-to-Table Conference, bringing together students, farmers, legislators and activists in a discussion about healthy local economies.
Now in its fifth year, this event is supported by Western’s Borick School of Business, the Colorado State University Exension and the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. This time, turnout exceeded expectations and generated hope for future growth.
“We averaged about 30 to 40 students in each workshop,” said Michael Vierrege, Ph.D., a Business professor who took part in organizing the event. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback and things to build on.”
The Farm-to-Table dialogue is designed to connect all local food system stakeholders. Producers, distributors and consumers interact in a new space, gaining different perspectives on today’s biggest food issues.
This year’s lineup included an address from food systems extension economist Becca Jablonski, Ph.D., of the Colorado State University Extension. She delivered an engaging presentation on the growth of direct-to-consumer markets, with a focus on farmers’ markets and local sales.
“There are actually some very successful farmers’ markets in low income areas - better than I would have thought before seeing studies,” she remarked in her presentation.
As agriculture is not only a large part of Gunnison’s economy but also a key part of environmental studies, Vieregge says he hopes to pursue further collaboration with the Environment & Sustainability and Master in Environmental Management programs.
Additionally, organizers of the event would like to increase inclusivity for other rural Colorado areas, including Salida and Montrose.
While growth has been a challenge, Vieregge is now very optimistic about the future of the Farm-to-Table gathering and the opportunities it provides for community connectedness and local economic development. The next conference will build on the success of this year’s dialogue.
Story by Anna Lhuillier.
Photo by Morgan Aragon.