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All together now: Farm Collaborative feeds thousands with annual community meal share

Community members participate in The Farm Collaborative’s 2021 “Farm-to-Fridge” community meal giveaway at Cozy Point Ranch. The nonprofit will distribute about 3,600 pounds of food for the 2022 iteration of the event.
Britta Gustafson
The Farm Collaborative
Community members participate in The Farm Collaborative’s 2021 Farm-to-Fridge community meal giveaway at Cozy Point Ranch. The nonprofit will distribute about 3,600 pounds of food for the 2022 iteration of the event.

Thousands of pounds of locally grown food are on the menu for The Farm Collaborative’s annual Farm-to-Fridge meal giveaway — enough to feed hundreds of families in our community just in time for Thanksgiving.

Distribution takes place Wednesday afternoon at the nonprofit’s “FarmPark” at Cozy Point Ranch, which is just downvalley from the Brush Creek Park and Ride near Snowmass Village.

As of midday Monday, more than 400 people had already signed up to pick up a free CSA-style share of ingredients, Farm Collaborative executive director Eden Vardy said. Each share contains enough ingredients to cook a dinner for four to five people.

According to agriculture director Cooper Means, this year's bounty from farms throughout the region weighs about 3,600 pounds.

Vardy said there’s enough food to feed about 450 families, or 2,000 individuals.

Registration for the meal share was available in Spanish and English, and the Farm Collaborative partnered with other organizations such as LIFT-UP to spread the word about the giveaway.

Vardy said The Farm Collaborative will still keep “a few extra” slots available “for people that could really use the extra food.”

The event has expanded and evolved over its 15-year history.

It started as a shared farm-to-table meal at Aspen High School for about 450 people and later grew to include nearly 1,500 people at the Hotel Jerome, according to Vardy.

Farm-to-Fridge launched in 2019 and continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, feeding thousands of community members with a take-home, CSA-style ingredient haul.

“It was something that people that have lived here came to, (people who are) coming for the season came to — you know, people that could really use the extra food that time of year came to and people that didn't need the food but wanted it and enjoyed it and want it to be with the greater community at large (came to),” Vardy said.

The event fosters a sense of community that reminds Vardy of the Aspen of yesteryear.

“This kind of socioeconomic breakdown that happened was reminiscent of older times when I was growing up in the valley and kind of bringing that energy back — that, you know, we're all in this community together,” he said.

Supporting local farmers has long been part of the ethos of the event. And this year, just about all of the ingredients grew in the Roaring Fork and North Fork Valley region.

Vardy said there has been a “steady and significant” increase in the amount of locally sourced food used for the program since the event began.

“I think it's just a testament to our community’s will of standing behind our local and regional farmers and, of course, more than anything, of the farmers themselves doing the hard work that it takes to grow food at our high altitude, cold climates for the community,” Vardy said.

The love goes both ways.

Local farmers, nearing the very end of their harvest season, get to share their remaining bounty, and The Farm Collaborative will pay them for doing it.

And community members — no matter their income — can share in the joy and sustenance of a free, locally grown meal at Thanksgiving.

Vardy said the in-person farm-to-table meals could return next year.

“I do want to bring it back to a community meal,” Vardy said.

“The experience of sitting together and enjoying a meal as a community in person is one of the highlights of the event, and so we are excited to bring that back,” he said. “And we plan to do so in 2023.”

It costs The Farm Collaborative about $20,000 to purchase the ingredients for the Farm-to-Fridge meal share, and the in-person dinners of the past cost nearly $100,000, Vardy said.

Sponsorships and donations to the nonprofit help cover those costs, and volunteers help supply the manpower needed to produce the event.

“We’re able to do it because of both the incredibly generous support of our supporters, as well as the volunteers that helped to put it on,” Vardy said. “If folks want to get behind it, you know, the more support we get, the more people we can feed."

The Farm Collaborative is still looking for about a dozen volunteers to help with distribution at Wednesday's Farm-to-Fridge event. To contact the organization, call 970-900-3276.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering the vibrant creative and cultural scene in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. She studied journalism and history at Boston University, where she also worked for WBUR, WGBH, The Boston Globe and her beloved college newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Williams joins the team after a stint at The Aspen Times, where she reported on Snowmass Village, education, mental health, food, the ski industry, arts and culture and other general assignment stories.