Three years ago Ciara Low and David Laskarzewski founded UpRoot Colorado. The nonprofit organization started up at the end of 2016, and is now in their third growing season.
“I came into this because I was excited about the potential to reduce food waste and our environmental foot print. And then the more and more I got involved I think a really important aspect of this I hadn’t figured from the start is the community building aspect. People really enjoy getting outside, especially when we are working with farms and seeing where their food comes from,” Low said.
“Its been really fun in particular with kids, as well as people who haven’t grown up in an agricultural families.”
While Laskarzewski gleans crops on the Front Range, Low is based on the Western Slope directing glean coordinators in the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County.
“I’ve been overseeing efforts out here for the last three years,” UpRoot Colorado Co-Founder and Director, Western Slope Region Ciara Low said.
“Basically we work right now from Rifle to Aspen, working with local farmers and backyard gardeners to harvest surplus fruits and vegetables for hunger relief.”
Low said by helping glean the crops they are helping avoid what they call food loss instead of food waste.
“When it’s left on farms it’s not going in the trash, but it’s not going to people,” Low said.
“In the farming world there is always surplus, that surplus has been increased with our modern food system because of the aesthetic standards we have for food, and the way contracted supermarkets kind of disadvantaged farmers so there tends to be a lot of surplus. We really want to work with farmers to take away the labor requirements for them to harvest that food and also transportation to get it to food pantries.”
Low said if farmers and gardeners are unable to sell their crops, UpRoot Colorado will come in, harvest and transport it and get the farmer a tax receipt, and that way they can donate their food without costs to food pantries.
“We partner really closely with LIFT-UP, and we try to where ever possible work with the closest food pantry to where we are gleaning so its localized. Working on really hyper-local food securities,” Low said.
“When you’re dealing with fresh food it can only be on the shelf for so long, so we want to make sure first we get it to the closest place, but then also that it gets to people and doesn’t rot on the shelves,”
Low said they also work with Stepping Stones in Carbondale, Feed My Sheep in Glenwood.
“Mostly we work with LIFT-Up because they work with those guys as well,” Low said.
According to Low around western Garfield County they mainly harvest a lot of fruit trees. Most of the small farms UpRoot Colorado works with are in the Roaring Fork Valley.
UpRoot provides the service for many people that have fruit trees in their yards that have more fruit than they know what to do with.
Low said last year they brought on Helen Rogers as the Gleaning Coordinator for Grafield County.
“She is based out of Rifle and has her finger on the pulse when it comes to the fruit trees being ripe and recruiting volunteers,” Low said.
Rogers is in her second year with UpRoot Colorado and just finished gleaning grapes in Rifle this week.
“We are providing all this nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that were just picked out from the trees and the gardens to people that may not be able to afford them,” she said.
“It’s a very rewarding endeavor in that you get to meet volunteers you wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to meet and the owners of the fruit trees and vegetable gardens are very generous for allowing us to go into their properties and glean their fruit and veggies.”
Low said volunteers put in 446 hours and they recovered 10,426 pounds in 2017 & 2018 combined, and volunteers have gleaned 2,020 pounds so far this year.
With gleaning season well under way Low said they are always looking for volunteers to help collect the crops.
“October is usually the time of the season when farmers are going to have that excess,” Low said.
“We would love to have more volunteers, we are open to everyone.”
UpRoot Colorado and LIFT-UP have partnered together recently trying to support the farming community instead of just asking for donating from a community that is working so hard.
“Farming in this day and age is a really tuff profession, and one thing we have transitioned into this year as well as asking farmers to donate whatever they are not going to sell, we setup a farm to food pantry program. We have a grant through the state, which was matched through a private donation to purchase produce and meat from local farmers,” Low said.
“We’re working really closely with five local farmers and a rancher who are supplying us with fresh local produce and meat we are purchasing. UpRoot Colorado and LIFT-Up are really excited about how the new partnership with farmers deepens the relationship.”