February 10, 2023 3 min read

Giving back to our community has always been an integral part of who we are at Chopwood Mercantile. That’s why–while the majority of our own time is spent at the top of Elk Avenue–we partner with local nonprofits who are out there getting their hands dirty. 

Originally a community garden, Mountain Roots Food Project has been an evolving part of the Gunnison Valley for over a decade now. With educational programs, multiple farms, summer camps, and more, they continue to dream bigger each and every season. We caught up with development director, Rachel Branham, to learn more about what it’s like to farm at 8,000 feet, big goals for the future, and how you can get involved. 

It seems that often, outdoor recreation steals the show in the Gunnison Valley. What was the impetus for forming Mountain Roots?

Mountain Roots was founded in 2010 by a group of like-minded people who wanted to challenge the assumption that gardening at 8,000 feet wasn’t possible. As a nonprofit, we were originally under the fiscal sponsorship of the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley. We started our first community garden on Elk Avenue in a then-vacant lot, and have grown to be a complete food systems initiative with programing in the areas of hunger relief and food security, outdoor and nutrition education, regenerative agriculture and farmer training, value-added food production, and community-supported agriculture

Over the years, Mountain Roots has grown from a backyard garden to a robust program featuring a multi-farmer CSA with distribution centers and indoor growing facilities. Is Mountain Roots slowing down any time soon?

We aren’t slowing down until regenerative agriculture is widely seen and utilized as a solution to climate change and no person in the Gunnison Valley is experiencing hunger. In fact, each year we find new initiatives to explore and new ways that we can engage with our local food system. In 2023, we look forward to expanding Infinity Greens, our hydroponic greens and herbs, building on our new farmer training program to include certifications and more formal education, and building the Food Hub—an aggregation and distribution point for local produce that will connect us with the greater Southwest Colorado region. 

Hit us with some stats!

In 2022, the Mountain Roots collaborative CSA kept a whopping $120,000 in our local economy by promoting local farmers and distributing local produce to shareholders. Between our two farms–Glacier Farm in CB South and Community Farm just east of Gunnison–we produced nearly 13,000 pounds of produce, and distributed over 25,000 pounds of fresh produce to local households in need through our Backyard Harvest program.

What are the unique challenges of farming in the Gunnison Valley? Are there any advantages?

Honestly there are no advantages to growing food in the short season and dry, cold climate of the Gunnison Valley other than we get to live here while doing it! To give seedlings a head start while snow is still on the ground, we start seeds indoors or in greenhouses. We use season-extension tools like frost cloth and high tunnels to give our vegetables a few extra weeks to ripen. Aside from the challenges presented by our climate, pests such as deer and ground squirrels are also challenging to deal with in our rural area.


How has community engagement evolved and grown over the years?

Since we started as a gardening organization, a lot of folks think that volunteer opportunities stop there. But in fact, volunteers and community members are the heart and soul of the work we do in so many areas of our local food system. From teaching or participating in Cooking Matters courses–classes that teach families how to shop and cook on a low-income budget–to packing and distributing hunger relief boxes to households experiencing food insecurity to working with kids in our after-school programs and summer camps, there is something for everyone. Whether purchasing a CSA share, signing up for an educational program, or referring a family or friend to our food security program, there are so many ways to be involved with Mountain Roots.

How can our readers get involved? 

To learn more, please visit us online. And to volunteer, you can reach us at volunteer@mountainrootsfoodproject.org.

You can also follow along with Mountain Roots on social media