Western Colorado Congress (WCC) organizes people in order to create healthy, sustainable communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship and a truly democratic society. With support from Farm Aid, WCC has been hard at work in the Colorado state legislature improving and expanding the state’s Cottage Foods Act.
Three Cottage Foods bills passed – in 2012, 2013, and 2015 – marking major victories for WCC and the communities they support. These bills specifically increase value-added market opportunities for family farmers. For example, the most recent bill adds pickled vegetables to the list of foods that producers can make in their home kitchens, along with flour, empanadas and tortillas. WCC estimates that these Cottage Foods bills have impacted the bottom line of at least 1,000 small farmers and food entrepreneurs around the state.
One such farmer is Monica Wiitanen of Small Potatoes Farm & Bakery in Paonia, Colorado. A decade ago Wiitanen decided that it was time to address the unsold garlic, chili peppers and other left over produce come end of season. So she started turning this excess into value-added products. “That’s how farms used to survive,” she notes, “they could make use of all these foods and then they could sell them in the off season.”
Wiitanen, who has now expanded her operation to include baking traditional breads in an outdoor wood-fired oven, says she is pleased that the Cottage Foods Act is getting stronger. “When we were working on the bill the first time, I was thinking maybe I would make a couple thousand dollars a year. Well, now I’m making that every month.” The extra income enables her to employ two workers, whose wages recirculate in the local economy.
Farm Aid’s grants have helped build WCC’s grassroots organizing program on local foods and sustainable agriculture. While they’ve primarily focused on the statewide Cottage Foods Act, they have also begun rallying farmers, ranchers, orchardists and consumers around a statewide genetically modified foods labeling initiative. WCC is meeting the needs of the Colorado community by translating factsheets and other information into Spanish so that Hispanic farmers and organizations can make use of these materials. Nationally, WCC has worked to preserve mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, and lobbies to make sure that implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act will work for family farmers. WCC says, “Farm Aid’s grants have clearly made a difference on the ground in western Colorado and around the nation.”