Rio Grande Farm Parks hosts Exploring Co-ops workshop


MONTE VISTA — The Rio Grande Farm Park hosted the Exploring Co-ops workshop at the Outcalt Event and Conference at SLV Ski Hi Complex on Saturday, March 25.

About 40 people attended the four-hour event. Breakfast was served by MoKi — fresh scrambled eggs, from Yoder farms, hashbrowns, sausage and gravy over baked biscuits along with pico de gallo and cream of wheat, with the wheat grown by one of the keynote speakers for the event, Dan Hobbs.

San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition Education Coordinator Armando Vigil gave an introduction, introducing everyone from MoKi. Vigil also spoke of his job and what he did for the Farm Park.

He said he was a producer at the park and helped raise goats, chickens, pigs and produce. Vigil said the reason for the meeting was because they had been asked how co-ops could help solve problems, and how they could work together. Vigil explained that having co-ops provides many opportunities including applying for grants together, buyers’ clubs, and purchasing insurance together, which could potentially save money.

Larry Brown of the Colorado State University San Luis Valley Area Extension spoke about the importance of education.

“Our belief is all of us would be better off if we engage in lifelong education,” Brown said. “Everything we do is designed to help youth and families be more prosperous, in helping farmers, ranchers and businesses. We want to see stronger and healthier communities.”

CFAA Coordinator Jae Sanders then led everyone through a series of poll questions to generate a word cloud. Sanders asked everyone to send their responses to a text number. The first question she asked was what type of co-ops everyone was interested in. As attendees answered the question, everyone in the room was given the microphone and asked to introduce themselves and let everyone know why they were attending the meeting. People said they were interested in co-ops and how they ran. Other people said that they were there because they were already part of a co-op and were looking for more local information.

After the introductions, Liza Marron, co-director of the San Luis Valley Food Coalition, said she was excited to partner with the CSU Extension, and to also partner with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. She thanked everyone for attending the workshop and explained the coalition.

“We exist to foster an equitable local food system in the San Luis Valley,” Marron said. “We started back in 2008, when we had a food security meeting, and we had all kinds of people show up. We were really concerned about how we have all of this agricultural production, but we have no access to it. How we are eating out of big box stores and experiencing obesity and diabetes. It all surrounds poor nutrition. We have been working really hard since then to develop a local food system where we have access to the food we grow. We support farmers and ranchers who are making their food available locally.”

Marron explained how the coalition was achieving their mission through big co-op projects, including the Valley Roots Food Hub, and the Rio Grande Farm Park.

Hobbs then spoke about the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and how it had many cooperatives. Hobbs said he wanted to speak of cooperatives and how they function. Hobbs acknowledged the cooperative history in the San Luis Valley.

“This is a very unique history here,” he said. “Farmers Union was instrumental in setting up the electric coops. Electric co-ops are a unique part of our history here. Something very interesting here is this was one of the last places in the state, down in Conejos County, to get electricity. Co-ops exist to bring services to their members. In the case of the question why co-ops and not corporations. What corporation would find a financial incentive to run an electrical line to La Jara, or Antonito or some of these remote places, none. So, people just took this into their own hands, and created member owned electric co-ops. This was in the early 1920s and 1930s, but co-ops exist in every sector of the economy now.”

Hobbs said groups of people get together to form different co-ops by utilizing their ideas and putting them together to solve problems with different community perspectives.

Hobbs explained that was why the workshop was taking place to allow everyone at the workshop to give their input and ideas on co-ops.

Everyone who attended the workshop was then asked to branch off and give their specific ideas on how co-ops operate and also give ideas on opportunities for more co-ops.

For more information on the workshop or the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition, visit their website