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Food Security, Clean Water, and Economic Development in Southern Colorado



Food Justice and Self-Empowerment


[01:35] Justin Garoutte is introduced.

[01:57] Justin describes where the Conejos Land Grant Region is and why it is important.

[03:05] Justin tells who predominately lives in the region now.

[03:25] Justin shares his background and how he came to be the Executive Director of Conejos Clean Water.

[04:36] Is food justice and food security a big issue in this region?

[05:37] Justin relays how receptive people are to growing their own food.

[06:24] Justin talks about the Conejos Clean Water organization and its background.

[07:36] Justin speaks of the things that he’s currently working on.

[10:01] How is Conejos Clean Water funded?

[10:41] Justin discusses how many people live in his region, the number of acres, and what the overall economy looks like.

[12:10] Is the water from the Valley supplying any other regions?

[13:09] Justin discusses if there is any financial support for the region from people downstream.

[15:07] Justin shares how people can learn more about Conejos Clean Water and their work.

[15:33] Justin conveys how people can support Conejos Clean Water.

[16:38] Justin provides one change that would lead to safer, more sustainable, and more equitable communities.

[17:26] Justin states the action listeners can take to help build a more equitable and sustainable future.

[18:02] Justin shares what the Conejos Land Grant Region will look like 30 years from now.


Justin Garoutte is the Executive Director of Conejos Clean Water. Justin is an Antonito native who recently returned home to give back to his community and be closer to family. His family has been farming and ranching in Conejos County for multiple generations. At an early age, he was fascinated with traveling and took the first opportunity to get out and see the world. He was one of sixteen Americans chosen to be a citizen ambassador for the U.S. Department of State LINC Program in Tunisia in 2005. His experience in northern Africa inspired him to study abroad again, and he received a scholarship for a full-year of study in Germany on the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program.

After returning from Germany and graduating high school, he headed off to Colorado College on scholarships from the Daniels Fund, Hispanic Annual Salute, and CC Presidential Fund. While at Colorado College, he explored his interests, including courses in Native American and Mexican American Literature. After another year abroad in Göttingen, Germany, Justin graduated cum laude with a BA in German Language and Culture in 2012. Immediately after graduating, he embarked on what would turn out to be a three-year journey to Germany and other European countries. While in Germany, he taught English at the University of Bremen and German for high school exchange students from the United States, Thailand, and China. In addition, he returned to Colorado College in 2014 to teach a month-long, intensive German Theatre course and direct Das letzte Feuer, a German theatrical production by Dea Loher.

Upon his latest return from Europe, Justin founded Valleybound, the Antonito School and Community Garden, which serves as an empowering educational space, offering a variety of activities for youth and adults alike. Educating and empowering community remains his main focus. Currently, he coordinates and teaches literacy and healthy choices at Guadalupe Elementary and serves as a mentor to at-risk youth throughout Conejos County.


The mission of Conejos Clean Water (CCW) is to build public awareness and encourage advocacy and education around environmental, social, economic, and food justice issues in the Conejos Land Grant Region. CCW operates under the basic premise that water is our life source; therefore, protecting the water and fostering a healthy environment promotes public health and serves as a natural resource management system. CCW works to protect public health by promoting environmental justice. CCW views the environment as people: where we live, work, play, and learn. CCW views environmental justice as a convergence of civil rights, environmentalism, and public health. Environmental justice is multicultural and multiethnic, it is grassroots, and it increases links to global struggles. Therefore, CCW is focused on social justice and pollution prevention in order to reduce cumulative health impacts from the built, social, political, and natural environment.


“A lot of the counties here in the San Luis Valley and the Conejos Land Grant Region are, according to median household income, the poorest in the state, and so we have a lot of kids that don’t necessarily have a lot of food at home. Some families have lost a lot of their ties to having a garden in their backyard or foraging for some of the wild, edible plants that we have in the area…So, we have our school and community garden, known as Valleybound, and that’s where we really have tried to reconnect our community with our roots, teaching kids how to grow microgreens. We have a permaculture class for the seventh graders that we’re doing, cooking lessons out there, and just really trying to reconnect people with the fact that growing food is something that you can do, and you don’t have to rely on outside sources to get that for yourself.”

“We have weekly gardening sessions out there once a week, and the students at the school are the most receptive. And that’s something my dad told me, too, when I came back is, if you want to affect social change and really look at bringing people to self-empowerment, you have to start with the kids because those are the minds that are ripe for change. And that’s where we see the most interest, and the kids just running out there to the garden and learning about quinoa and purple potatoes and all these things that are so magical to them because they’ve never seen them before.”

“The Department of Energy, with Los Alamos Labs, started transferring this nuclear waste here in town, without talking to any of the local municipalities or the local people. People were angry, and people were afraid of their health and the environmental impacts that could have if it were to spill. People went door to door canvassing, gathering signatures, gathering a membership base for the organization. That’s how we [Conejos Clean Water] started. It ended up ending in the courts through litigation with a partner, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and we were able to effectively halt the transfer of nuclear waste right here in town, a town of eight hundred people.”


Conejos Clean Water

Donate to Conejos Clean Water

Valleybound – Antonito School and Community Garden

Río Grande del Norte National Monument Expansion


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