After the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurants and emptied grocery shelves, food experts said lessons learned while rebuilding regional supply chains could be tapped to make Colorado's food system more resilient and equitable.
Wendy Peters Moschetti, director of strategic initiatives for Nourish Colorado, said when restaurants stopped placing orders, and the number of people needing emergency food assistance spiked, many local producers knew just how to shift gears.
"An incredible amount of creativity, in saying, 'How do I still feed my community?'" Moschetti explained. "Donating or selling to food pantries, working with SNAP recipients or WIC families. We saw those connections come together to a great degree, which to me is incredible resiliency."
As thousands of Coloradans lost jobs during the pandemic's economic fallout, the number of families not knowing where their next meal would come from rose from 9% before the pandemic to nearly 40% by last December.
Moschetti cautioned the state's food crisis is far from over.
The federal government did pump money into the nation's food system, but Moschetti noted most of the assistance initially went to large agribusinesses with established relationships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Smaller regional producers and traditionally marginalized communities, especially farmers of color, had trouble securing relief.
"They did not go to small farmers, or farmers who are Black or Indigenous or a person of color," Moschetti observed. "The response to COVID further revealed and surfaced that there have been long-term, very systemic gaps."
She pointed to the most recent COVID relief package, which includes funds for farmers of color, as one way to begin to fill those gaps.
Many small businesses have been able to secure federal Paycheck Protection Program support, which is keeping smaller farming and distribution companies viable in rural communities.
Moschetti added she's hopeful lessons learned, including getting nutrient-rich foods, grown by local farmers, to Coloradans regardless of their income level or ZIP code, can soon be transformed into policy.