By August, it was evident that one thing would certainly be off the table for Thanksgiving 2020: hosting roughly 1,500 guests at Farm Collaborative’s annual community dinner in the Hotel Jerome ballroom.
With COVID-19 again dominating public discourse and health orders as case numbers climb, many holiday meals this week will be confined to individual households, since informal gatherings cannot exceed five people under current regulations. And as the hospitality and entertainment industries — mainstays to the valley’s employment economy — are again particularly hit, the demand at food distribution sites again far exceeds the pre-pandemic norm.
So when Food Collaborative, Aspen’s nonprofit that aims to connect “children and community through food and farmers,” as its website describes, realized one of its signature events would not be possible, the team brainstormed other options to honor the tradition and serve the community, Agriculture Director Cooper Means said Tuesday.
“Obviously, since this spring when we knew things were getting weird, everyone had no idea what was going on. I’d say sometime in August, we were like, ‘OK, there’s no way we’re going to put this meal on,’” he recalled, adding that Farm Collaborative purchases food from farmers at their respective prices. “But one of the main reasons we do it is to support the farmers, so it’s not something we feel like we can just not do.”
And, he continued, in some ways, the hardships brought by the novel coronavirus presented a sort of opportunity for the organization to refocus on an ongoing internal conversation.
“We have been for years discussing, ‘How do we get this food more to the people who need it?’ A lot of times, the guests at the Hotel Jerome aren’t necessarily the ones who are having trouble paying at the grocery store — which is OK; they’re a great part of the community. But this year, we really want to try to get the food to the people who would benefit most from it and really need it.”
Enter Aspen Family Connections and Food Bank of the Rockies, which today from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. will be distributing the Thanksgiving bags Farm Collaborative assembled at the Aspen Chapel.
“We had a great, very successful, fast-paced food giveaway today in El Jebel. That was the first half of our food,” Means said, adding that the remaining half will be given away this afternoon.
Initially, Food Collaborative was able to boast that it had 1,800 pounds of locally sourced food to donate to the holiday — but in the days leading up to the actual event, that number was closer to 3,000.
“We ended up getting a last-minute donation of money, so we upped that total. Our final number was just under 3,000 pounds,” he said. “That was just some friends of the farm who decided to put something out on social media, and brought in about $3,000 very last minute. In literally five days.”
Myriad farms participate in fueling the program: Two Ridge in Emma, Wild Mountain Seeds in Carbondale, Rock Bottom Ranch, Sustainable Settings, High Water Farms in Silt, the Farm Collaborative, Mountain Oven in Paonia, plus “we got some through Farm Runners,” Means added.
Farm Collaborative Executive Director Eden Vardy expressed gratitude for all the partners involved in making this year’s distribution a successful one, despite public health limitations.
“Food Bank of the Rockies deserves credit as the primary provider of food to thousands of families in our region; we are just helping to fill the bags with farm fresh local food as a special gift this Thanksgiving week,” Vardy said in a statement. “I would also like to thank a group of private citizens who raised thousands of dollars in a very short amount of time to help us fill out the food bags with a more robust selection of local goods.”
Katherine Sand, Aspen Family Connections executive director, shared Vardy’s sentiments of thanks.
“There’s nothing better than working with local farmers at Thanksgiving, knowing they’re bringing us produce that comes from our own valley. It’s the warmest possible family, and they’re giving it to us and our community is amazing,” she said.