The local food blockchain

As a curious person who likes to keep up with trends, I have been reading about the blockchain. While I still have no idea how this thing works, I realized that the concept of “creating incorruptible trust with a distributed system” mirrors our local food community.

We are privileged to live in a community that has the resources, infrastructure, and markets to support a thriving and diverse local-food economy, built on trust and mutual benefit. We are neighbors with farmers and ranchers of all shapes and sizes. We reside next to and sometimes within the infrastructure that supports an ag economy. In fact, it’s easy to overlook this blockchain because it is so tightly woven into our rural way of life.

The foundation of our blockchain is “a share of water.” The term itself explains why it is so important to our local food community. We share water, the most precious resource in our high-desert location. The physical and legal infrastructure that collects, stores, and distributes water to our farms, ranches, and homes is fundamental to our food network.

When I sat in Dolores River Dialogue meetings listening to water managers speak passionately about the importance of local control of water resources, I thought they were being overly-dramatic and greedy. But in our local food blockchain analogy, local control of “our” water resources enables the blockchain (incorruptible trust) to form. While it seems that the federal government controls our water, local water districts and irrigation companies make the decisions about how it is stored and allocated. Similarly, a diverse network of independent businesses and cooperatives supports the production, processing, and distribution of our food products. These include dry bean and wheat processing and storage at Midland Bean and Cortez Milling company, which produces high-quality flour from locally grown winter wheat. It is all too easy to overlook the myriad of metal buildings across Montezuma County that house agricultural-equipment repair and sales outlets as well as numerous meat-processing and storage facilities.

We ignore the maintenance and growth of this infrastructure at our peril. The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project just completed a feasibility study about the investment that would be required to revive the once-thriving fruit economy in the Montezuma Valley. Recent fads have created new demand for the heritage apple varieties that still grow on our century-old trees. It wasn’t that long ago that the Mountain Sun juice plant in Dolores supported local fruit harvest and processing. When the plant was sold and closed in 2002, many of the orchards and supporting infrastructure were left in disrepair.

In less than 20 years, lack of investment in orchard maintenance, as well as fruit harvest, sorting, storage, and transport have made Grade A apple production for outside markets infeasible, even with premium pricing and insatiable demand. Now, wooden apple crates are more valuable as trendy décor than for apple storage. Because of this lack of infrastructure, the most viable buyers for apples in large quantities are cider-makers who can tolerate Grade B fruit and a few wormy apples.

We also enjoy a variety of independent markets where we can buy local food and specialty products. Of course, there are the farmers’ markets. But we are unique in the region to have a weekly auction at the Sale Barn. Most small-scale auctions lhave gone to bi-weekly or monthly cycles or closed altogether because profits are so low. We also have a great variety of U-pick or on-farm sales that offer honey, berries, fruit, and eggs. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention our local micro-breweries with these important producers.

After water, the other pillar of the local food blockchain is shared knowledge. Whether it is a request of the CSU Extension Office to identify a pest, or the School to Farm, 4-H, and FFA programs that teach youngsters how to grow, process and eat local food, shared knowledge keeps our local food community vibrant and sustainable. Personally, I continue my experiments growing quinoa, to share knowledge of how to grow (or how not to grow) ancient grains suited to high-altitude climes.

The best way to keep our local food blockchain intact is for the entire community to support its infrastructure and markets. Buy local flour, shop at the farmers’ markets, and support the education programs that will make future generations good stewards of this community. Share herbs from your overgrown garden with a neighbor and offer some helpful growing hints as well. Next time you are stuck behind a slow-moving trailer turning into the Sale Barn, instead of cursing, bless them for giving you an opportunity to earn some coin and increase the value of our local food blockchain.

Carolyn Dunmire writes from Cahone, Colo.

From Carolyn Dunmire.