Megan Andreozzi is finding new ways to pursue her passion of connecting consumers directly with food producers.

COLORADO SPRINGS — A year ago, Megan Andreozzi was the local distribution coordinator for Grant Family Farms of Wellington, widely known for being the first organically certified farm in Colorado and for developing one of the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in the country. By November, however, the farm was forced to declare bankruptcy, a week before the produce subscription delivery program was due to end. "We were all laid off," she recalled recently. "I was six months pregnant at the time."

In spite of the uncertainty, Andreozzi landed on her feet, finding new ways to pursue her passion of connecting consumers directly with food producers.

"For me, the value of connecting people with local food is what I want to be a part of. That's my focus," she said as she stood next to boxes of pumpkins, peppers and potatoes grown along Fountain Creek and in the Arkansas Valley and now ready for distribution in Colorado Springs.

Grant Farms is still operating, but in a much-reduced capacity, and the family patriarch, Lew Grant, passed away in August at the age of 90. He was hailed as a visionary who pioneered organic food production on a large scale. He was also a retired professor at Colorado State University, where he helped to establish the Atmospheric Science Department. His son Andy continues to farm on about 18 acres.

When Andreozzi worked for the Grant family, she was managing 30 pickup locations in Colorado Springs, part of a vast CSA that ballooned to 5,500 members. While the farm at one time was putting its emphasis on building the CSA model — which involves the weekly distribution of seasonal produce in exchange for a "share" of the farm's production, typically valued at several hundred dollars — over the years the farm also supplied numerous stores and restaurants along the Front Range and throughout Colorado.

Andreozzi believes the loss of the Grant operation was a setback for the organic and local food movements. "They were feeding a lot of people," she said. "I love the Grant family and feel really badly for everything that happened."

But she also knows a lot of southern Colorado farmers weren't sad to see them go. She learned quickly how competitive the CSA marketplace could be and how difficult it is to put a definition on the term "local."

In Colorado Springs, many people chose to make a distinction between the Poudre River watershed north of Denver and the Arkansas River watershed south and east of town.

"I was shunned," admitted Andreozzi, who is a Boulder native. "So I'm so glad I can support the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers now."

In the wake of the Grant bankruptcy, farmers in southern Colorado have been stepping up their own CSA programs to fill the void. Today, Andreozzi is using her skills and contacts as one of three voluntary CSA coordinators for the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, a marketing group comprised of seven area farms now based out of the old Excelsior School near Avondale.

Andreozzi helps distribute produce from the member farms to 125 weekly customers at a pickup site held at the Wednesday evening Colorado Farm and Art Market. (CSAs can range in size from thousands of subscribers to some that are as small as an urban homestead with only one or two customers.) "I love being involved with a CSA," she said. "I think it's a very valuable partnership between the farmer and the consumer."

"And I want to raise him around it," she added, giving a little squeeze to her son, Bohdi, who was strapped to her side as she visited with customers.

Creating an education hub

This summer, Andreozzi was hired as manager of Hunt or Gather Local Food Marketplace, a small retail store located in the redeveloped Ivywild School. Now a multi-use building filled with several food-related businesses, the former Ivywild Elementary School first opened in 1916, expanded in the 1950s and later closed in 2009. The handsome structure reopened in August as the site of a local brew-pub, butcher shop, lunch counter and bakery, a $4 million-plus renovation three years in the making. Hunt or Gather, which is overseen and financed by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, occupies roughly 500 square feet of the Ivywild building and stocks only products grown within a 300-mile radius. A food map is on display showing where each of the dozen-plus suppliers is located.

"Every product is listed with the farmer who grew it," Andreozzi said. But Hunt or Gather is intended to be much more than a store, she added. She prefers to call it an educational hub.

"If someone comes in, I want to be able to give them all of their options for local food, including the restaurants in town that serve local," she said. "We want to be a one-stop shop for that kind of knowledge. We're going to start doing classes. So the retail side is just a small, small portion of what we are doing."

After the first two months, she's excited about the potential. Food and cooking classes will be held in meeting rooms on-site or at Venetucci Farm (which is also operated by the Pikes Peak Community Foundation) or other venues nearby.

Ivywild is drawing traffic from well beyond the neighborhood. People routinely drive from Monument, which is roughly 40 miles away, to attend the farmers market and pick up their CSA subscription, Andreozzi said.

The project's co-developers — local craft brewer Mike Bristol, restauranteur Joe Coleman and architect Jim Fennell — have made food and drink the centerpiece of their project and are using synergies between the various businesses to make the building environmentally sustainable. For example, wastewater from the beer-brewing process waters gardens used to grow food served on-site, and the heat generated by the brewery will be used to warm other retail spaces in winter. Bristol Brewing is positioned on the building's north end to buffer it from the cold, while vegetable growing spaces are positioned on the sun-warmed south side.

Andreozzi said it was exciting to be associated with such a unique community redevelopment effort.

"They really had a big vision," she said of the three founders. "It's been excellent. The brewery is always packed. It's the first real community center that we have. And the energy here is just awesome."