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Understanding how urban policy can support farm and ranch viability, as well as promote rural
economic development


Choices urban decision makers make regarding food policies have impacts along the supply chain (including to farmers and ranchers) on the environment and to rural communities  and economies. Accordingly, our team has worked closely with four Colorado commodities (supply chains and regions) to understand if and how farmers and ranchers respond to existing urban food policies; and secondly, how supply chains, the environment, communities and economies are impacted.

Photo courtesy of Routt County


The beef team is focusing on northwest Colorado—namely Moffat and Routt Counties—to understand how urban demand can support rural beef producers, and how those ranchers can effectively supply the products that urban consumers want. With assistance from the CSU Extension Livestock and Range Planning and Reporting Unit, they are examining the potential for ranchers to raise three different products: Colorado source-identified beef, Animal Welfare Approved certified beef, and American Grassfed Association certified beef. Initial conversations with ranchers have indicated a strong interest in better connecting with urban consumers and a willingness to adapt to consumer demand if the price is right. The CSU team is now examining the Colorado beef supply chain to better understand economic flows to determine how the necessary connections can be made to ensure the flow of high-quality Colorado beef to Denver-area consumers and worthwhile economic returns to Colorado ranchers.

Photo courtesy of Mark Rose


In collaboration with the Western Colorado Horticultural Society, the CSU team is working to explore expanded urban markets on the Front Range, particularly those that are interested in purchasing seconds (seconds are fruits and vegetables that are perfectly safe to eat, but may look a little funny or not meet size specification requirements). Initial conversations with peach and sweet corn producers reveal that there are currently strong markets and prices for firsts, but challenges gaining market access to sell seconds profitably. There appears to be interest in and opportunity for processing peaches and sweet corn using technologies such as individual quick freeze (IQF), juicing or pureeing, powdering as a sweetener, canning or jarring, or fermenting into value-added alcoholic beverages. Further, this may support Denver’s goals of having better access to year-round Colorado products. Watch Video »


In partnership with the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, the CSU team is working to understand how Colorado wheat farmers may respond to Denver’s values-based procurement incentives. In other words, if there is a premium for local, organic wheat, will CO growers shift acreage to certified organic production?

Initial conversations and observations with partners and wheat producers have suggested additional factors go into decision-making, beyond just economic (or price) considerations. Aiming to create a more representative model, and get better information for urban policymakers, these initial findings warranted further investigation into decision-making which led to interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. We are learning about specific policies,  environmental relationships, infrastructure, values, and social processes that shape wheat growers’ decisions about what to plant, how to grow it, and market channel selection.


In partnership with the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, the CSU team is working to identify procurement opportunities that may improve outcomes for both potato farmers and Colorado schools.

One opportunity that may represent a “win” for both producers and Denver Public Schools is a shift on the school lunch menu from French fries purchased from mainline distributors to fresh potatoes purchased directly from farmers in the San Luis Valley. Small potatoes fetch a lower price than large potatoes on the fresh market, so if farmers could charge schools more than the commodity market would pay them for small potatoes but less than schools are currently paying for large foodservice grade potatoes available from their current distributors, that would represent a financial gain for both parties. Schools would have access to a consistent supply of local product that would be an appropriate size for children’s portions. If schools replace French fries—that are typically made from potatoes grown elsewhere and processed in other states—with fresh Colorado baked potatoes on their menus, that would be a nutritional win for students, an economic win for Colorado farmers because they can sell their smaller “seconds” for a better price, and an environmental win by reducing the amount of processing (and therefore the amount of water and electricity required) that goes into a school lunch. Other areas of investigation for the potato supply chain include specialty potato varieties, organic products, Colorado-made potato snack products, and the logistical challenges of shorter supply chains for potatoes.


Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools


Partnerships are vital to understanding how urban food policies affect rural or agricultural areas, as well as the economic, environmental, and social tradeoffs between traditional and alternative supply chains.

For example, Denver Public Schools switches from purchasing highly processed products from large mainline foodservice distributors, to Colorado-grown or raised products in a less processed form.

Before: Pre-seasoned and cooked ground beef taco filling » After: Raw, uncooked ground beef
Before: Peach cobbler filling or peaches in fruit cup » After: Fresh peaches
Before: Fully baked sandwich bread or buns » After: Flour for made-from-scratch baked goods
Before: Frozen French fries » After: Raw baking potatoes

The decision has ripple effects throughout the food supply chain, for example, the change may increase the costs that schools pay per item, but also increase the price that farmers and ranchers in Colorado receive for their products.


The first CO Food Summit took place on January 7, 2020 with the goal of advancing food policies that support urban-rural connections. The food summit helped to build linkages that meet diverse urban food goals while creating viable market opportunities that builds wealth for Colorado farmers and ranchers and rural communities.



Contact us by email and we’d be happy to answer any questions you have about our rural-urban connection efforts!

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