Phil Castle, The Business Times
Wendy White serves as a guide of sorts on a journey that starts on the growing number of farms and ranches in Mesa County and ends in consumers’ mouths.
White, a marketing specialist with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, is among those making the connections from fields, orchards and pastures to plates in the latest tour promoting the purchase of food and other agricultural products grown and raised in the state. By several measures, such efforts are succeeding, she said.
The tour, branded as the Follow Your Fruits & Veggies Journey, started Aug. 1 in Denver and is set to end Aug. 28 in Fort Collins. The tour is scheduled to come to Grand Junction on Aug. 11 with stops from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Safeway store at 681 Horizon Drive and from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the farmers’ market downtown.
Tour stops include a corn hole game and a display in which participants can have their photographs taken as melons and sweet corn. Seed packets, recipe cards and information also will be given away, White said.
Now in its fourth year, the tour is part of the Colorado Proud program promoting food and other agricultural products produced in Colorado in part by labeling those products with the Colorado Proud logo.
The results of a survey conducted last year found that 86 percent of those who responded were familiar with the Colorado Proud logo. The same proportion reported buying Colorado Proud products, White said.
Those numbers reflect an increasing interest in and demand for locally grown and raised foods, White said, whether they’re purchased at grocery stores, farmers’ markets or restaurants. While most people are several generations removed from farms and ranches, they want to reconnect, she said.
That trend adds to what’s a growing industry in every sense of the word, White said.
According to an agricultural census conducted in 2012, the latest year for which results are available, there were 2,264 farms in Mesa County. That’s a 28 percent increase over the previous census conducted in 2007. The total area farmed in Mesa County increased
4 percent to nearly 387,000 acres. The collective market value of crops and livestock sold in the county jumped 38 percent to almost $84.6 million.
Mesa County ranks 21st among the 64 counties in Colorado for the market value of its agricultural products. But those products are among the most diverse in the state in including cattle and sheep as well as hay, grains, fruit and nursery plants, White said.
Statewide, agriculture ranks among the top three industries with 36,000 farms encompassing nearly 32 million acres. The ag industry contributes more than $40 billion to the state economy annually and provides more than 173,000 jobs. The ag industry also exports $2 billion worth of products a year.
Producers play an important role not only in the state economy, but also individual lives, White said. And that’s why the journey from farms and ranches to mouths is important, she said. “If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.”
For more information about the Follow Your Fruits & Veggies Journey, visit the Web sites at www.coloradoproud.org or www.facebook.com/COProud.