Going local to grow jobs


The end is coming. Famine, war, the horsemen and their antiquated and inefficient means of transportation — whatever you believe in, there’s an apparent solution. United Way, trees, not eating shellfish.

But what about the unromantic catastrophes like blizzards, floods and the occasional E. coli outbreak? What can we do about those?

Local non-profit group Transition Colorado has an answer.

“The area we currently depend on for our food stretches around the world,” says Michael Brownlee, a catalyst for Transition Colorado. “That’s unsustainable. If we have a blizzard here, grocery stores are out of food for two days.”

The organization is trying to shrink the local foodshed down as much as possible. The group is pushing for Boulder County to source at least 25 percent of its total food from local sources by 2020. Right now, Brownlee says Boulder County uses about 3 percent local.

Transition has been around since 2005, according to Brownlee, but used to focus on a variety of go-local campaigns.

“In 2007, when we were known as Boulder County Going Local, we introduced a campaign with several ‘memes,’ as we called them: grow local, eat local, buy local, local energy and local currency,” says Brownlee.

Confused about that last one?

Brownlee’s group was, for a time, advocating for a local currency, one which could only be spent in the region. The idea is modeled after Berkshares, a local currency in Massachusetts that has nearly three million notes in circulation, according to berkshares.org. The idea is, the money stays in the community.

“But, over the years, we’ve come to focus our primary efforts on food localization,” he says.

This is one way to mitigate a possible economic collapse, Brownlee says. But it’s also a means of being in control of our food and a source for local jobs.

“It’s a significant amount of new economic activity that gets created and feeds the local economy,” he says.

According to a joint press release, issued by Transition and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, localizing 25 percent of food on the Front Range could result in the creation of 24,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in revenue.

But there are more than a few hurdles. The region has very little infrastructure in place to process and distribute food. And, for now, that’s one of the primary issues Transition is working on.

“The infrastructure has been stripped away,” says Brownlee. “That’s a fairly daunting task. But there’s the demand side as well.”

There have been plenty of signs that the demand for local food has increased, especially in the restaurant industry, Brownlee says.

“Four years ago, when we started tracking these things, we could only find eight restaurants in the county that were sourcing locally,” says Brownlee. “Now, we’ve lost track at about 80.”

However, before restaurants and grocery stores can be packed with delicious, local ingredients, people around here have to grow it.

To pursue its goal on this front, Transition Colorado is leading classes about growing food, raising chickens and bees, canning food and storing food.

The group is also working with local groups to spur investments in the local food infrastructure.

Transition received a private donation of $1.5 million, and created a joint venture with RecycOil called LFS Enterprises that will be building a distribution food hub in Boulder County.

RecycOil has previously been in the biofuels business, but will operate the distribution hub when it is completed.

“It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation right now,” says Brownlee. “It’s about building demand and building capacity. We ask farmers all the time, ‘Can you increase production?’ and they say, ‘Sure, but we’re not going to do that unless we know the demand is going to be there.’ So it’s challenging.”

For information on upcoming courses offered by Transition Colorado, Brownlee suggests signing up for the group’s newsletter via the website, www.transitioncolorado.org.

Theo Romeo is executive editor of CleanEnergyAuthority.com.

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