Though the possibilities for a healthy living park are endless, my main interest is in its facilitation of a secure, healthy, and safe local food supply. Such a project would provide education, land, and facilities for food production, processing, preservation, and distribution, and would foster and support entrepreneurial efforts. The Polston land is already being farmed by several Guatemalan families who have been able to maintain good health and dignity despite facing financial difficulties. They are able to raise traditional foods not found in local supermarkets and to teach their children their agricultural traditions.
In 2008 the San Luis Valley produced $202 million worth of potatoes that were sold as a wholesale commodity. Much more value could be captured by capitalizing on the high nutrient levels made possible by our abundant sunshine and high altitude advantage. But, this opportunity for added value is lost when our crops are exported as commodities. And even though we are surrounded by some of the most productive farmland in the country, most of the food eaten in the San Luis Valley is imported from distant places, thereby sending our food dollars down the road and across the ocean. This commodity-based food system has created poverty and malnutrition in our community and across America and threatens the security of our food supply.
The San Luis Valley is persistently ranked as one of the state’s lowest income areas. Over 31 percent of our children live in poverty. The food available to the poor — unless they grow their own — is high calorie and unhealthy, truly unfit to eat. In 2009 32 percent of children in the San Luis Valley were overweight or obese, compared to 24 percent statewide. This number is rising, as is the number of our children diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
One-fifth of the annual deaths in the U.S. are related to poor diet and low physical activity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,000 Coloradans die from diabetes-related illness each year and the medical costs for treating obesity in Colorado totaled $874 million in the year 2000.
Another problem with importing food is our deep dependence on oil to eat. The average food item in the Midwest travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Before the global supply of oil peaks, we can create infrastructure and knowledge base to shore up a local food system that will not rely so heavily on transportation. This is but one way that the shift to community-based food production can be a primary economic driver.
I truly believe we can grow ourselves out of malnutrition, ill health, poverty, and dependence on fossil fuel, and a healthy living park could be key. I believe the best use of the Polston land is one that builds health, wealth, and resilience in our community and ensures a strong future for our children.