For six years, Nick Chambers, aka Chef Funghi, has managed Valley Roots Food Hub, a non-profit, grassroots distributor of locally grown produce located in Mosca, Colorado. Besides supplying truly local produce to consumers across Southern Colorado, Nick’s operation supplies the majority of produce featured on Chef Chase Kelly’s menu at Ranchlands’ Zapata Ranch. From a communal standpoint, Nick’s program is run much like a CSA, whereby the exchange of produce grown on local ground benefits all parties involved. His program picks up where larger chain markets cannot provide and, in the process, keeps customers well-fed and his suppliers employed in a time of economic uncertainty in a post-COVID world.
“In the beginning, people were ordered to stay home. Now, even with restrictions lifted, people still want to stay home. Less people want to go shop, and we offer 100% Colorado local food for pickup and delivery. It’s a much higher quality food than what’s available at the local market,” explains Chambers. CSA programs like Valley Roots Food Hub typically operate on a membership basis, where customers purchase a share of the farm. “In this model, shareholders take on some of the risks and rewards of farming, as opposed to the farmers bearing all the risk themselves. Shareholders pay upfront at the beginning of the season and then receive a weekly ‘share’ coming off the farm. It is a much more organic and dynamic method of getting farm-fresh produce and helps the farmers by being flexible with timing, volume, and availability of certain crops.” It’s a win-win arrangement.
While many CSAs’ smaller scale operations can limit the produce options available to supporters, Valley Roots Food Hub proves incredibly diversified. Over 65 independent, regenerative-soil farmers contribute their harvests to the program, with offerings including microgreens, fruit, goat cheese, Amish-raised eggs, pork, beans, quinoa, corn, polenta, elk, yak, beef, and sunflower and safflower oil. Additionally, the San Luis Valley’s climate sustains a year-round growing season. In the colder months, indoor agriculture takes over in the form of hydroponics, grown indoors without soil. While diversity naturally decreases in this type of system, production can continue and provides for Chambers’ employees and consumers alike. As if the incredible spectrum of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat isn’t enough, Valley Roots’ program also boasts ready-to-eat meals made from these locally-sourced ingredients. Salsa, fresh baked bread, pizza, pie, jellies, jams, and an array of juices are available to shareholders as an a la carte bonus. Very few CSAs offer such a diversified inventory, especially one that is organically and locally produced from the farm to the table.
While Nick’s passion is undoubtedly helping farmers and consumers alike connect over healthy, sustainable food, he also just enjoys the human element of what he does. “If someone wants to make a locally produced item and approach us professionally, we’ll work with them. Bringing people together and forming relationships with farmers and ranchers that work hard locally, that’s what it’s about, and to me, food is the highest art. It brings people together and it’s fun to see it from start to finish, from the ground up.”