A year ago three young Delta area residents took an international missions class called Perspectives on the campus of Colorado Mesa University. The students were Meghan Doak, Brian Stewart and David White.
Delta County's abundant annual harvest of agricultural produce will become a direct source of local food bounty for area seniors and others under a program being developed now by the Volunteers of America.
The VoA Harvest Plan project is aiming to place in operation a complete, professional food preparation, processing, and preservation facility in Delta County by mid 2013.
The project has received the enthusiastic support of the national VoA board, and local organizations have been "incredible" in their support of the idea, too, said Deana Sheriff, program director for the VoA Senior CommUnity Meals program locally.
Sheriff is quick to point out that the Harvest Plan concept has been a collaborative project from the beginning and that no one person or group is responsible for its development to date. It has been an effort with shared vision of new and innovative ways to meet a local need with local resources.
The centralized food facility will enable VoA to locally source its produce needs to serve congregate meal sites and Meals on Wheels programs in Delta, Montrose, and San Miguel counties. With its commercial processing facility in operation, VoA will also be able to store local produce for processing and preservation by canning or flash freezing.
The preserved goods will supply the VoA's needs year-round, and may also produce a surplus of canned and frozen foods that can be sold to other institutions inthe region including nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. That would offset the cost of the senior congregate meal programs and provide a source of additional revenue to support the meals program.
The Delta County agricultural harvest usually produces an excess far beyond the needs of retail markets.
Some of this "commercial grade" bounty is bought by food processors, transported to distant processing plants, and then re-transported and re-sold here in the area where it was grown and harvested. The VoA's Harvest Plan will give local growers the option of marketing their non-retail production directly to the VoA program for processing and distribution locally. Therewould be no middle men and no expensive transportation costs out of area and then back again, Sheriff explained.
The system will save costs, increase efficiency, and provide a new source of income to both the VoA's local meals programs and to local ag producers. The program may even benefit from receiving excess production donated by producers, Sheriff explained.
The advantages and benefits of the VoA's Harvest Plan are so obvious and common sense that someone might ask why no one has thought of it before now.
In fact, it was the salt content of a can of tomatoes that became the spark of inspiration for developing the Harvest Plan concept, Sheriff explained. The local meals program found itself stymied by a nutritional regulation governing the amount of salt allowed in canned tomatoes served at local sites. But the program found it difficult or impossible to buy commercially available canned tomatoes that met the guidelines. Thus, the Harvest Plan concept was born.
"We will be able to process our own, locally grown tomatoes and other foods that have the low salt content required by the regulations and by the people we serve," Sheriff explained.
The Harvest Plan's advantages include the following ones:
• It will enable VoA to centralize its meals preparation, cutting both waste and cost.
•VoA will consolidate its six meal site kitchens into one facility. Sheriff says that will enable current staff to extend their hours into full-time jobs, and an estimated ten to 20 new local jobs will be created.
• It will allow VoA to preserve by freezing or canning the local harvest abundance for use at local meal sites throughout the year, and the produce will be taken fresh from local fields.
• It will end the expensive, energy-wasting cycle of transporting local produce to the Front Range for processing, and the equally wasteful purchase and re-transport back to the West Slope for use.
• It will support local agriculture.
• It will provide the VoA senior meals program "a sustainable food source for the people we serve," Sheriff said.
In addition to those benefits, the Harvest Plan program is one that VoA, as a national organization, knows has worked in other areas of the country, and that accounts for some of the enthusiastic support the national VoA board has given the idea here, Sheriff said.
The Harvest Plan concept is innovative and forward looking, and that will help make it attractive to foundation funds for startup capital and sustaining funding. Sheriff said that a federal agency is committed to support for startup financing of some kind.
Finally, the Harvest Plan will give the VoA's Comm-Unity meals program freedom and flexibility to plan and create meals tailored to the needs of local seniors and that are within nutritional requirements.
"And, our seniors will have an additional reason for feeling good about the local foods they are enjoying every day," Sheriff added.
Richard and Terri Brubaker have been learning a lot about western history while portraying a variety of characters based on historical events.
"During shows," Richard said, "we like to portray, as close as we can, what happened at an actual event during the 1870s or 1880s.
Jenny (Marshall) Dziura, the daughter of Chris and Susie Marshall of Delta, flew into New York to run in the New York City marathon Nov. 4, but wound up with a far more rewarding experience helping victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Dziura is executive director of the Chris Klug Foundation (chrisklugfoundation.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting life-saving organ and tissue donation and improving the lives of those touched by donation.