BENNETT, Colo. (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Agriculture is celebrating 20 years with a new push to show the community what it means to be Colorado Proud.
“Colorado Proud for us symbolizes solidarity with other farmers and with our kind of heritage of agriculture here. It basically is the glue that holds the entire structure together,” said Roberto Meza.
The MIT graduate student wasn’t happy with the impact he was making on the East Coast. He wanted more. His longtime friend convinced him to move to Colorado to make an impact in a completely different way — in farming.
“We realized that both coasts of the United States were already pretty saturated with local food and hydroponics, and Colorado was just beginning to bud in that arena.”
Meza moved to Bennett where he and his business partner, David Demerling took a giant leap of faith into first generation farming. In 2017 they opened their farm, Emerald Gardens where they established a plan to work on microgreens.
“Microgreens first became an attempt to feed ourselves, and then we realized that they were a product sought after by chefs in restaurants. So, that was kind of the low hanging fruit to begin the journey. As we ate more microgreens, as more research came out, our health improved and that’s when we realized we wanted to share it with our community.”
The response from the farming community was one of disbelief.
“’If you’re in it for the money, you’re just going to waste it all on equipment and basically everything goes downhill,’” Demerling said one farmer told him.
Meza looked at it as a challenge.
“Everybody told us that ‘You know, farmers are cash poor, but asset rich,’ and we decided to challenge that notion to see what kind of innovative ways we could develop to build viable farming business,” said Meza.
The pair looked into bio-dynamic principals of farming — a more holistic approach. They have an automatic watering system for their greens and are in the process of building greenhouse that is almost completely self-sustained.
“It’s going really well. What we’ve realized is it’s really important to build relationships with our organizations, our institutions and our city. So we want people to view us as members of a community we’re trying to enrich rather than producers of agricultural food.”
The support they’ve found with a simple Colorado Proud logo and the people who support local farmers are what keep Meza and Demerling pushing forward.
“There have been moments where Dave and I have felt like, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ Our customers really keep us steadfast in the journey. Despite the struggles despite some of the pitfalls or setbacks we may experience, we realize that it’s part of community. We are part of a community, and we want people to feel part of us as well.”
Emerald Greens is one of many Colorado Proud success stories. Meza believes the program is an integral part of their success. They’re in farmers markets and stores and have plans to partner with schools to influence future generations of farmers.
“We’re a part of a living breathing local food system, and your decisions that you make at the farmers market or the grocery store deeply impact the lives of individual farmers,” said Meza.
There are 2,700 members in the Colorado Proud program. To learn more about it, click here.