Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture pays a visit to Southwest Conservation Corps' Los Valles office

Colorado Commissioer of Agriculture John Salazar visits with staff members at Southwest Conservation Corps's Los Valles office to learn about AmeriCorps

Editor's Note: John Salazar, Commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, recently visited Southwest Conservation Corps's Salida, CO office as part of a program to raise awareness about the importance of AmeriCorps programs in rural communities. Before he was appointed Commissioner by Governor John Hickenlooper, Salazar served as a United States Representative for Colorado's 3rd District from 2005 - 2011. Commissioner Salazar is the older brother of Ken Salazar, United States Secretary of the Interior, who spoke at The Corps Network's annual award ceremony on Capitol Hill in February. 


Originally Published in The Mountain Mail of Salido, Colorado - story by Casey Kelly 

With the focus on improving rural economies, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar toured Southwest Conservation Corps’ Los Valles office in Salida Friday.

The visit was part of Serve Colorado’s “Honorary Member for a Day” program to highlight the impact of AmeriCorps programs in Colorado communities.

“As First Lady Michelle Obama has tried to push farm-to-table and fighting childhood obesity, we want to see if there is a place for the Colorado Department of Agriculture to help,” Salazar said.

Robin Lewis, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member serving with Southwest Conservation Corps, discussed efforts to increase access to fresh local food, like the school district garden, and future plans for more farm-to-table projects.

“We have a great pool of young people that we want to connect to the community,” Lewis said.

While touring the Los Valles office, Lewis showed Salazar the garden tended by the corps’ crew members. She said last season the crew grew 200 pounds of zucchini, Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, broccoli and other vegetables to feed themselves.

Program Director Julie Mach said the harvests were bountiful enough that the crews sold some of the extra produce to local farmers’ markets later in the season.

“The idea is to make the program self-sustaining,” she said.

Mach said the conservations corps hosts about 50 AmeriCorps members each year, who come to Salida to work on environmental conservation projects on public lands.

Lewis also coordinates a agriculture-focused program known as AgriCorps, which she said brings 60 young people in the summer and fall to do community service projects.

“These programs can coexist with big agriculture operations,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the Department of Agriculture has limited funding, but does have access to some federal grants.

Carlo Boyd, with Buena Vista Home & Garden, attended the meeting with Salazar and talked with the commissioner about affordable housing, water and ideas to mobilize young people.

Concerning water, Salazar said he’d like to shift the conversation to focus on conservation.

“I’m a farmer and rancher, and we use conservation measures. We only use as much water as the crop consumes,” he said. “Let’s start talking about the water we have and figure out a way to plan around that availability. The technology is here.”

Mach brought up conservation projects Southwest Conservation Corps has been involved in to promote conservation, such as replacing old showerheads, toilets and other appliances with water-efficient alternatives.

“It’s not as much about reinventing the wheel as it is using the technology that exists now to be more efficient,” she said.