The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.
Ringed by 14,000-foot peaks, San Luis Valley, Colorado is the largest high mountain valley in North America, clocking in at an astonishing 122 miles long, 74 miles wide, and an elevation of 7,664 feet above sea level. The high altitude setting has provided residents with an incredible opportunity to foster its agricultural roots in a naturally diverse setting.
In a community far removed from consumer culture – thanks to its isolated location – San Luis Valley residents of pride themselves on the sweat culture of their community. They are a working community that makes up for what they may lack in economic resources with a wide variety of skill sets ranging from farmers and ranch hands to teachers and potato warehouse workers.
In 2007, San Luis Valley Food Coalition (known at the time as LiveWell Alamosa) received funding from LiveWell Colorado – a nonprofit working toward reducing obesity and promoting healthy food access in Colorado. The Coalition focused largely on improving healthy food access and nutrition education within the Alamosa School District. Over time, the group transitioned to a more broadly-focused effort to foster sustainability and self-sufficiency in the community which faced persistent poverty and food insecurity.
After receiving funding from Live Well Colorado, the group sent a representative to the 2008 Community Food Security Conference in Philadelphia to absorb information and return to San Luis Valley to educate others. In an effort to do just that, the group hosted a local food potluck with the expectation of a small turnout of the usual faces. When the room overflowed with more than 50 people from all walks of life, eager to talk about community and food security, the group sought to capitalize on the community energy to create a more sustainable way of life.
THE BRIGHT SPOT
For years, pride in the community was quiet and understated. Now, however, the relationships built through the San Luis Valley Food Coalition have created a community ethos that runs deep. In an area built by generations of agriculture, the need to plant and harvest is nothing new, but the passion behind it has grown exponentially. The farm-to-table aspect of the San Luis Valley Food Coalition has helped to create a soil-health revolution in the community, one that has abandoned pesticides, decreased the need for water for irrigation and fostered aspiring farmers. The people of San Luis Valley are proud of where their roots have brought them and where they’ll go from here.
“People are hungry to be reconnected with the soil and the seed. I think there is hope in the soil.” – Liza Marron, Executive Director at San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition
The Rio Grande runs through the San Luis Valley surrounded in part by private land and dirt dykes, but the majority of its banks are undeveloped. The future of San Luis Valley involves a new look at the vitalization of the Rio, including exploring plans that set up the river as a touchstone for the community. In what was previously an area fraught with prejudice and abuse, now there is healing. Through a farm-to-table frame, San Luis Valley Food Coalition is reconnecting people with whole, healthy food that has been profoundly cared for in a local, living economy.