It’s not always easy to associate Coloradans with locally grown produce

Visitors peruse the produce at one of the Market on Seventh retailers in downtown Glenwood on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Farming is a big part of Colorado, and many residents look for locally grown produce when they head to the store.

Colorado’s agribusiness contributes $47 billion annually to the state’s economy and employs 195,000, said Tom Lipetzky, director of marketing programs and strategic initiatives for the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

But all that economic clout doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to find a Palisade peach or Olathe corn in the produce aisle of your local grocery store. And additional barriers may mean that farmers are forced to sell out of state even if they want to focus on the local market, a Garfield County grower said.

Fresh produce for sale at the market at the 7th Farmers’ Market in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

“We export more produce outside of Colorado than we sell within Colorado, and that’s strange,” said Charles Barr, president and CEO of Spring Born, a lettuce grower in Silt. “The whole purpose of this greenhouse here is to have local food for the local people.”

Collectively, greenhouses and nurseries in Colorado contribute over $2 billion to the Colorado economy—roughly the same amount generated by agricultural exports nationwide.

“We have a lot of our products that move across these different markets – whether they’re general local, regional, national or international markets – but then there are times when we can’t find our local products in our own supermarkets, said Lipetzky.

Spring Born employees carry cases of fresh produce to a refrigerated storage area while state officials speak with Spring Born CEO Charles Barr and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis during a tour of the greenhouse and packaging facility Tuesday morning.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Because Colorado agriculture is part of the public and private sectors, data showing the overall impact and opportunity — through sales, export data and more — often paints an incomplete picture. Private companies usually consider such information protected and privileged.

“I know sometimes that’s a distribution issue, in terms of the purchasing policy of these retail stores, distributing from Canada, their central distribution points,” Lipetzky said. “And that can be very frustrating for consumers at times, but we know there are all kinds of Colorado products out there.”

Barr said most of his produce is exported to California and he’s had a hard time breaking into Colorado markets.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis holds freshly packaged fresh produce during a tour in Spring Born near Silt on August 23, 2022.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

“We don’t really keep a lot of statistics on what’s staying in the state and what’s moving out of the state,” Lipetzky said. “We have great data on what’s moving out of the country because they all have different requirements for these types of trades; but you know, trade between states is practically impossible to trace.”

In his persistence, Barr has had some reliable successes.

“If you’re eating in the Roaring Fork Valley or even Denver, there’s a good chance you’re eating Spring Blend,” he said. “We’re struggling with the retailers, and we’re having trouble getting into the retailers to get the product to consumers.”

He said he appreciates Whole Foods’ work to ensure their products are sourced as locally as possible.

“Whole Foods is a great partner; They’re putting us in their Rocky Mountain Division,” he said. “That’s part of Whole Foods’ mission, they want local food — and they mean it — and they bend over backwards to get it, so that’s really appreciated.”

Barr was able to get funding from the US Department of Agriculture and Colorado Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy to grow his lettuce because the facility is indoors and uses much less water than growing outdoors.

gov. Jared Polis recently signed House Bill 22-1301, which will use indoor hydroponic farming for year-round controlled environment cultivation in Colorado and use less water than traditional farming methods.

“It’s easier to change Colorado tax laws than it is to break into Colorado grocery stores,” Barr said.

Reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at [email protected] or 970-384-9131.


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