September’s destructive weather greatly devastated many of Durango’s local farmers but has also brought the community together to salvage Durango’s local food supply.
On Wednesday, September 18, heavy hail destroyed many of Durango farmers’ crops, including Adobe House Farm and Linnaea Farms. A lot of these local farms supply the farmer’s market and local restaurants. Linda Illsley of Linda’s Local Food Café, whose mission on their webpage is to use mainly local and Colorado grown organic food, stepped up to help her local farmers. Illsley got a call from Linley Dixon of Adobe House Farm, that their main crash crop, tomatoes, that Illsley was going to buy from Linley, was hit by the hail.
“We didn’t assess the damage until about Thursday
morning, and it was about 9:30 when I called Linda and said it’s all gone,” said Dixon.
It was not all gone and there was still some hope. Illsely contacted Beth LaShell, coordinator of the Old Fort, to spread the word that at least a 1,000 pounds of tomatoes needed to be harvested, and they needed urgent help. LaShell sent out an e-mail to Fort Lewis Students and that e-mail was forwarded by Rachel Landis, coordinator of the Fort Lewis Environmental Center. The e-mail recruited students to help both Adobe House Farm and Linnaea Farms.
“Adobe House Farm’s crops were destroyed by hail and they are gleaning as much produce as possible today. Linley Dixon (owner) estimates at least 1,000 pounds of tomatoes need to be harvested today,” said LaShell’s e-mail.
About 50 people came out that Thursday to help harvest tomatoes at Adobe House Farms, and about 25 people came on Friday to help some more. They got all of the tomatoes out of the field before they would have started rotting and saved about 5,000 pounds of tomatoes. A majority of the tomatoes were green with holes in them and would have begun to ripen in the next couple of weeks. A buyer of Adobe House’s tomatoes and the restaurant Zia Taqueria helped support the farm and lent out their walk-in cooler to help preserve the tomatoes.
They then had three or four days to run the tomatoes from the cooler and into the freezer before the tomatoes would begin to rot. Illsley lent out her restaurant to be used as a place to chop up the tomatoes and save them in her freezer. Each day about 10 people, who Illsley had contacted on Facebook and through LaShell, helped out in the kitchen chopping tomatoes for that whole weekend.
“It was amazing. I think the take home lesson for me was to ask for help more often. I think a lot of people, even when the farm was ripped to shreds when they got there, were blown away at how pretty it still was. I think people still want access to farms. I think finding a way to give them access is a goal for the future,” said Dixon.
Daniel Amermam, a Fort Lewis Student, was one of the volunteers that responded to the call for help. He volunteered for two hours with other students and volunteers, picking tomatoes and other leafy crops at Adobe House Farms. Amermam did not personally receive the e-mail but was told by a friend what had happened, so he decided to lend a helping hand.
“I wish I would have known about it sooner. I probably would have gone earlier,” said Amermam.
He plans to do what he can to help again in the future.
“It was great to see the smiles on their faces and the gratitude they were giving us. I got a free meal at Linda’s afterwards,” said Amermam.
Fellow students had similar experiences and students of the Fort Lewis Environmental Center have decided to form a response team that will keep helping local farms and communities in a crisis.
“Based off some of the folks’ experiences going to help clean up the farms that were destroyed by our last hail and mudslide event, they saw how necessary it is to be able to mobilize a large amount of people quickly to help support our community. So they want to get a whole group of folks together at the click of an e-mail,” said Landis.
The experience of the community coming out to help their local farms shows that people want local foods and want to support their farmers and keep them in business. Local restaurants collaborating with the farms and the relationship between Linda’s Local Foods and Adobe House Farm, demonstrates how the community can work together to recover from a devastating event.
Adobe House Farm didn’t know what to do with their unripened tomatoes they gleaned.
“We will make chutneys. We will make salsas. We will figure something out,” said Illsley.
With the help of volunteers and local restaurants, none of the damaged tomatoes of Adobe House Farm was gone to waste.
“It was just one of those magical moments, when the community came together to support somebody that needed the help. It also triggered a conversation about food waste and lack of access by certain populations, like students at the Fort Lewis College. And, how we really did have the capacity to create abundance if we just organized,” said Illsley.
An example of an organization that tries to provide free food is the Grub Hub, a food bank that gets donations to give free food to Fort Lewis College students. They get most of their donations from Manna Soup Kitchen. Colin Clausen, volunteer at the Grub Hub, said that their amount of fresh produce has decreased compared to last year. This may be accounted for by the weather and the farms hit by the weather.
“Last year we were still getting produce into November, and we’ve already stopped, and it’s October,” said Clausen.
Even with the devastating weather that hit Durango, it was shown that food could be salvaged and supplied to the community. With more organization and help from volunteers to local farms, abundance could be created to provide for the town of Durango and the Fort Lewis College community. Farmers struggle to stay in business in Durango, and with the community’s help and the farmers willing to ask for help, more local food can be provided to the whole town.
“Financially it is a struggle. You are lucky to make a couple thousand at the end of the summer of really hard work. We had some savings also, but we all worked a couple jobs in the winter just so we could farm and do what we love,” said Dixon.
By Madison Chamberlain, Reporter at “The Independent,” Fort Lewis College’s student newspaper