Empty Food Shelves, 1.07

Empty Food Shelves A ‘Wake Up Call,’ Some Say

Gina Guarascio

Valley Journal, January 4, 2007



It’s been more than two weeks since the first heavy snowstorm hit Colorado’s Front Range, disabling transportation systems, leaving thousands stranded in airports, and killing cows on the eastern plains.

Finally, the grocery stores in the Roaring Fork Valley are starting to catch up, restocking supplies that were decimated before Christmas and weren’t able to be restocked because of backups in Denver where City Market’s main distribution center is.

“When you have a warehouse operation like we do, everything just snowballs. We’re really at the mercy of these storms,” said Kurt Cross, the manager of the Carbondale City Market, before the second heavy snow storm hit Denver last week. “The warehouse is still trying to catch up from last week. It’s just clockwork; when you shut the gate it just starts backlogging. It was a pretty tremendous storm for them.”

Cross said he expected things to get restocked by the end of this week. Meanwhile, markets throughout the valley and the state were unable to provide produce, meat and dairy products during one of the busiest times of the year.

“It looked like Eastern Europe or Russia,” said Carbondale resident Dr. Will Evans who had visited the Carbondale market several times over the last two weeks looking for organic eggs, among other things. “It’s a wonderful thing to have happen. It’s a wake up call if we listen.”

Evans is one of the original members of the Carbondale Economic Localization (CEL) group. The organization has been meeting for months to try to come up with ways that Carbondale can be more self-sufficient. Seeing empty shelves just might be the impetus the group needs to get more people to understand what a brittle system we live in, said Evans.

“There was a little girl in the market who I overheard ask, ‘mommy, what’s going on?” said Evans about a young girl who had never seen such a thing as empty shelves at the supermarket. “She (mom) didn’t miss a beat, she said, ‘That’s what happens when you rely on trucks and cheap oil.’ It really shows how vulnerable we are.”

Cross said most customers seemed to understand there was nothing the store personnel could do to make food appear on the shelves once the system had been disrupted by more than two feet of snow.

“I think everyone understands how spoiled we are as a country; that we can just walk into the grocery store and find all we need,” said Cross. “Then, all of a sudden, an event like this wakes everybody up to see how fast it can snowball.”

Members of CEL have broken up into sub-groups in the last few months. Groups are looking into water (where it comes from and where it’s going), energy, shelter and food.

“The food group is taking an inventory of this valley, how much tillable land do we have? How much is needed for the amount of people that live here?” said Lynn Ruoff, the organic garden manager at Sustainable Settings ranch outside of Carbondale. “I can tell you we can’t be self-sustaining in this valley. We’re trying to figure out what’s here, then look at what the need is.”

Sustainable Settings Executive Director Brook Le Van has been talking about “preserving the bottom lands” in the valley for food production for years. The idea of preserving prime real estate in the Roaring Fork Valley for potatoes and green beans, instead of houses and golf courses, is a tough challenge. But it’s something CEL, and local land conservation groups, are trying to accomplish.

That’s because, even a million dollars can’t buy food and warmth when there’s nothing to buy, says Ruoff.

“I think it’s a blessing (the food shortage). It’s hard to take a step towards something that you don’t have an experience with, when there’s not a need, that’s how we work. This could open a window that most people in this country haven’t had to deal with,” said Ruoff, who hopes people will start thinking seriously about where their food comes from.

“That’s what food security is; when you take responsibility for your own food,” she said. “In many other countries they experience this all the time, and we think ‘oh poor them, they don’t have any food.’ We haven’t experienced that. But what we have is not a healthy system. If we get to look at the consequences, then there’s an opening.”

Ruoff said the inevitable decline of cheap oil will make transporting food thousands of miles not only ridiculous, but unfeasible.

“We need to regain control of our food source. That creates the community that is lacking, the things we’ve lost by being in drywall and in cars all day — the ancestral connection of how we fit in,” she said. “By just taking one step, where you know where your food comes from, you’re taking steps towards all those things in the whole system of well being.”

Local groups like CEL, the Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Settings, are working toward creating a more locally driven economy and way of life.

CEL will meet at Solar Energy International at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4. One of the topics of conversation will be food. All are welcome to attend.