Ranching and farming are an economic driver and a way of life in Colorado, and food systems have a major impact on economic health, fresh food access, and land and water usage statewide. Colorado’s agricultural industry has been under strain due to shifting commodity markets, competition for land and water resources, and intensifying weather patterns. Demographic data indicates that many generational transfers of land and wealth will take place in the coming decade as older farmers and ranchers retire, with a potential loss of farm and ranch land in productive use. To confront these challenges, some farmers and ranchers are transitioning to local food production strategies with more efficient aggregation, processing, and distribution models, such as food hubs, cooperatives, profitable supply chain analysis, and developing new institutional markets (i.e. local school districts and hospitals). Another major trend in Colorado agriculture is a growing understanding of the connections between community health, local agriculture, and fresh food in both urban and rural areas. For example, farm to school purchasing agreements have been expanding across the state (from 22 school districts in 2010 to 75 participating in 2014), improving the supply of locally grown, fresh food for institutional markets.
This program area invests in programs that create value for producers and their communities, build economic opportunity throughout the supply chain, conserve agricultural livelihoods and places, and increase access to fresh, healthy food options for all Coloradans. Specific strategies include value-added local processing, distribution innovations that increase efficiency and profits for small and mid-size farmers, new market development in urban and rural areas, efforts to address food deserts and food insecurity, sustainable business model development, land and water access initiatives, and strategies for generational land transfer in farming and ranching