By Mckenzie Moore

Staff Writer

The West Elk Community Fund (WECF) recently announced that it will be partnering with the Valley Organic Growers AssociatIon (VOGA) to provide funds to address food insecurity and support local farmers.

“First, we want to respond to some immediate needs for families and our elder population who may be having a hard time accessing healthy food,” said Elaine Brett, who is helping to spearhead the effort. “Second, we are supporting our local farmers whose markets are questionable this year. Third, we hope to help people see the value of local, nutritious food that will help them stay healthy and strong.”

The program will take place primarily in the North Fork Valley and will partner with multiple other programs to make sure that everyone, especially those at a high risk who must stay at home during the pandemic, has access to locally-grown food.

“WECF will be working with VOGA to support community food programs that promote a healthy community and local economy, provide farm-fresh food through a Farm Direct CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, and support local farms and farm markets and the North Fork Senior Lunch program,” stated the West Elk Community Fund in a news release. “A total of $8,500 will be distributed at this time.”

WECF agreed to accelerate its annual grant cycle in order to distribute resources to immediate needs in the community. The funds will support the CSA and Senior Lunch Program, as well as an upcoming “Buy Local” campaign that informs Delta County residents about the benefits of purchasing and consuming local food. The coalition for the campaign is made up of the Valley Organic Growers Association, Slow Food, The Learning Council, Viva La Vida Foundation, Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, and Citizens for a Healthy Community.

“We are so grateful to the West Elk Community Fund for supporting local farmers and for assisting us in implementing programs that will give our North Fork Valley community access to healthy, organic, local food,” said Emily Hartnett, program director for VOGA. “This fund will [also] give farmers security in an uncertain and challenging time. We are so excited to support the Senior Lunch Program, the CSA program for families in need, and to continue our ‘Buy Local’ campaign in collaboration with other local nonprofits.”

In addition to providing food for local families in need, the partnership makes sure that farmers have financial support during the pandemic when much of their revenue is on unstable ground due to uncertain market conditions.

“CSAs are a wonderful way to access local fresh food but may be financially out of reach for those with limited income. WECF and VOGA will work with local farmers to identify families in need who will appreciate weekly boxes of local produce,” WECF stated. “The plan will provide healthy food during the peak growing season. Funding will ensure that farmers are fairly compensated for their products.”

Brett encouraged the community to support local farmers — and in turn, needy families — by shopping local and supporting nonprofits such as food banks.

“People can help by buying from local farms and markets. They can use the VOGA Directory to identify where they might shop or find CSAs,” Brett said. “They can also look for several programs through churches and food banks that will have supplies. There is no reason for someone to go hungry in the North Fork Valley!”

The program is set to start during the first week of June. In the coming months, the partnership will be ready to adapt to whatever changes take place and what needs arise in the North Fork community as a result.

“As we move into the summer months and navigate through these uncertain times, WECF would like to stay flexible, anticipating there will be other kinds of assistance needed for North Fork Valley nonprofits.”

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