Starting with Listening

The following post was written by Megan Lloyd about a new program at Re:Vision called the Sun Valley Real Food Basket program. Last night (December 2, 2015, Re:Vision held their very first distribution of the Real Food Baskets to over 80 SunValley families). Here is Megan's story, about starting new programs, food justice, and listening.

Asnake Deferse was one of those people that I remember first having a significant conversation with in La Tiendita, a community market we piloted this fall. I am certain that we had met before, but it was in La Tiendita, surrounded by bags of grains and coolers of vegetables that Asnake began to explain to me about Sun Valley, a Denver neighborhood close to Westwood.
 
Originally from Ethiopia, Asnake has been living in the Sun Valley Housing units with his wife and four boys for quite sometime now. He told me about the diversity of Sun Valley residents, the obvious food desert the people are living in, and his dreams of bringing culturally appropriate and healthy food to the neighborhood. “I have a car. But a lot of people don’t. There are people who take a lot of buses to Aurora to get food. This is expensive.”
 
With Asnake as our coordinator and voice, we have spent the last month surveying residents, partnering with other Sun Valley organizations, learning from other programs around the country, and talking to people about they want and need to come up with something called the Real Food Basket program.
 
 The Real Food Basket program is a weekly basket of real food, free of processed junk or old cans that residents generally find at their local food banks. That means fruit, vegetables, grains, spices, and even milk and eggs. The first round of these baskets will be free, allowing us to give people the full experience without the risk.
 
After the pilot, boxes will cost anywhere from $12-$19 and residents can use their SNAP dollars to purchase them. We will include recipes and even have monthly cooking classes at the pick-up site. At our first distribution, a few of our coordinators will be doing free health screenings. We are hoping to connect other food initiatives in Sun Valley to create a collaborate cluster of people working to bring real food to the community and to all of Denver.
 
These sound like amazing things. And they are! But if I am being completely honest, I’m scared. I constantly wonder, “Do people even want this?” The reality is that Sun Valley is an incredibly diverse housing unit and sometimes I don’t even know where to begin. But I know that Asnake wants it, that he understands his community, and he believes this will make things better. 
 
The key to Re:Vision’s model is working with people. When we first started planting in backyards, people thought that we were crazy. A full team of Promotores and 400 gardens later, residents are leading these programs, taking control of their health, and helping launch the Westwood Food Co-op.
 
So we start small. We start by eating sour pancake-like bread called injera and drinking thick cardamom coffee in Asnake’s home. We start by going to neighborhood meetings. We start by sitting down and talking with people about their stories, needs, and what they want for their own neighborhoods. We start by listening.