How One Small Community is Creating Big Change

In the small western Colorado city of Montrose you’ll find one of the greatest examples of what can happen when residents, nonprofit and community organizations, schools, local businesses, farmers, and city officials join together in partnership toward the common goal of building a healthy community. In fact, the Montrose city motto is “Quality Of Life Is Our Commitment,” and this is one city that walks its talk. Over the years, LiveWell Colorado has had the honor of engaging with the Montrose community in numerous ways to help increase access to a healthy lifestyle for all residents. Here, we highlight some of the successes LiveWell’s partnerships and programs have seen in Montrose, thanks to the collaborative efforts of so many individuals and organizations committed to healthy change.

Montrose School District was one of the first districts to participate in LiveWell’s School Food Initiative (SFI) program back in 2010 and 2011, and is considered a model for success today. Prior to participating in SFI culinary trainings, Nutrition Service Director Kathy DelTonto and her staff served up to 95 percent processed food. “We really were our own worst enemy,” reflects DelTonto on life before the shift to freshly prepared meals. But seeing the light go on for her staff after they attended SFI culinary training was encouraging. Now the menus at all 15 schools in the district feature about 95 percent scratch-cooked food, and cafeterias are staffed with professionals in chef coats and hats who engage the students in conversations about healthy food.

LiveWell Montrose (a coalition coordinated by Valley Food Partnership) was formed in 2012 as part of LiveWell Colorado’s original Community Partnerships program, which provided funding and other assistance to help create thriving, healthy communities by engaging residents and building local leadership and coalition capacity. That original vision has grown over the years to exceed expectations. Today, Valley Food Partnership continues to operate as a network of diverse stakeholders—including farmers, parents, health professionals, restaurateurs, chefs, educators, nonprofits, and community-based organizations such as the hospital, school district, recreation departments, and senior programs—all dedicated to growing the local food system while improving the health of citizens and the economy.

Valley Food Partnership is the fiscal sponsor for Montrose Farmers Market, one of the inaugural participants in LiveWell’s Double Up Food Bucks program that launched in the summer of 2016 to help SNAP (formerly food stamps) shoppers bring home more fresh, Colorado-grown fruits and vegetables (produce from market pictured above/left). For every $1 spent on any SNAP-eligible item, customers receive $1 for Colorado-grown fruits and vegetables, up to $20 per visit to a participating location. Valley Food Partnership found that Double Up Food Bucks complemented its own Local Farmacy Rx initiative, which engages participants in a 12-week program that includes fresh food cooking classes for families and a stipend to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. “Our goal is simply to remove the barriers and get fresh, affordable food into the community,” says Abbie Brewer, Executive Director of Valley Food Partnership.

The City of Montrose also demonstrated a clear commitment to addressing community health needs when it passed a resolution to join LiveWell’s HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign in April of 2015. By June 2017, the city was awarded Elite Status, a recognition given to cities that have adopted five or more healthy eating and active living (HEAL) policies since joining the Campaign. “Montrose has demonstrated a serious commitment to building a healthier community,” says Julie George, LiveWell Colorado’s director of the HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign (pictured above/right with City of Montrose staff). “The city has made significant policy changes and infrastructure investments that help improve safe access to biking, walking, recreation, healthy food, and healthy workplaces in the community.”

LiveWell looks forward to continuing working with our partners to build a sustainable, health-promoting environment in Montrose and throughout Colorado.