Following a service learning project in Nicaragua, University of Denver graduates Joseph Teipel and Eric Kornacki founded Re:Vision in Denver, Colorado in October 2007.
After their eyes were opened to the inequality of globalization and the failures of ‘international development' (e.g., extreme income inequality, exploitation of people and resources by multinational companies, the materialism of cultures and relationships, and the unsustainable consumption of the planet's finite resources) they felt a calling to create a new vision for development and globalization.
Their vision is rooted in a global network of locally-created, self-sufficient and resilient communities - they share a strong conviction that every person has the ability to become an agent for creating a better world and that all it takes is planting the seeds of awareness, and then cultivating through intentionally caring and investing in one person, and one community, at a time.
Joseph and Eric set out to develop a globally-reaching initiative and immediately started planning an international bicycle journey to bring awareness to their cause. Before too long, though, they realized they were repeating a common mistake in international development - trying to create solutions from outside the community. Changing course in 2008, they canceled the trip and started to focus on local problems in Denver and surrounding communities. Along with their newly created board of directors, they developed a comprehensive and holistic approach to create sustainable and self-sufficient communities, starting with the relocalization and rebuilding of a community's food system, leveraging the resources and assets that already existed. So began the development of a model that will soon be scaled and replicated around the world.
In 2009, Re:Vision launched its pilot program, Re:farm Denver, to address the lack of affordable and accessible healthy food in low-income communities. The model is designed to empower low-income families and vulnerable communities to overcome the barriers to growing food, namely resources and education, and to use food as a spark to ignite wider economic and community development.
Re:Farm Denver was launched in the Westwood neighborhood, located in southwest Denver. As one of the city’s poorest and most at-risk neighborhoods, this area is also a food desert, making the conversion of household yards into organic vegetable gardens that much more important. Westwood boasts a rich cultural diversity that is unique to Denver, and by creating partnerships with community organizations, residents, stakeholders, and elected officials, Re:Vision began the cultivation of a thriving community with the first seven families who signed up for a backyard garden.
Soon after, through word-of-mouth, the local middle school heard of the program and reached out for assistance from Re:Vision to start a school garden in a vacant lot, which became home to one of the first urban farms in Denver, and was chosen as the media site for the Colorado Department of Agriculture to promote agriculture on Colorado Proud Day the same year.
Re:Vision's commitment to food justice through a community-led approach quickly gained local acknowledgement. The Denver Post ran several articles featuring Re:Vision's work of teaching families to grow their own food, and for their work that uses gardening as a way to reach at-risk teenagers.
Recognition led to interest from new funders, and in 2010, along with partner organizations, Re:Vision received an $80,000 two-year grant from the National Convergence Partnership to be used to pilot a program that uses gardening as a violence prevention strategy. Through its summer youth food justice program, Re:Vision received a national grant to plant a 40 fruit tree orchard in addition to the garden at Kepner Middle School, creating Denver's first urban orchard. The Denver Office of Economic Development, the Denver Office of Strategic Partnership, and the Anschutz Family Foundation also awarded grants to further support Re:Vision's work that year. In addition, demand for the Re:farm Denver program increased, expanding to nearly 40 backyard gardens.
Most significantly, Re:Vision launched its promotora model, hiring three residents as gardening and nutrition community health workers who have built a social infrastructure that has become the foundation of Re:Vision's community development model. Another highlight in 2010 was a visit from the Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum. She toured the urban farm at Kepner Middle School and spoke of the inspiration Re:Vision is providing to both Westwood and to others around the world.
Around this time, Joseph enlisted in the Peace Corps with his wife, Ashley, and stepped down from the Board of Directors to pursue this endeavor. To recognize his commitment to the organization, an annual award was created in his honor to be given to an individual that best exemplifies his/her commitment to community service. The first recipient of the Joseph Teipel Distinguished Service Award was Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez, a champion for underserved and marginalized families in southwest Denver.
In 2011, Re:Vision’s work caught the attention of The Colorado Health Foundation, who provided Re:Vision with a multi-year grant, helping the backyard garden program grow to 87 families, with another 50 placed on a waiting list. In addition, the Denver Office of Economic Development funded a $53,000 grant for Re:Vision to expand the production of the urban farm at Kepner by building a greenhouse for year-round food production. By the end of the summer, the promotora model earned a reputation as an effective approach to community development, and Re:Vision was awarded a $149,000 grant from the Denver Energy Challenge to help low-income households improve their energy efficiency.
Re:Vision’s work continued to gain accolades, earning Eric a three-year appointment by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper to Denver’s Sustainable Food Policy Council, and international press coverage for the impact of its backyard garden program in Hispanic communities. 2011 was also the year Re:Vision presented its first Re:visionary Award to New Belgium Brewing Co-founder and CEO Kim Jordan for her commitment to building a progressive and environmentally-responsible company.
In the beginning of 2012, Joseph returned from the Peace Corps and began serving as the Director of Operations. Re:Vision moved its headquarters from an office in downtown Denver to a converted restaurant on Morrison Road, an industrial street that runs through the heart of Westwood. With a multi-year grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, the Re:farm Denver program grew to 167 families, employing nine promotoras, and in the new community office space, Re:Vision started holding cooking and nutrition workshops, promotora training, and community meetings.
The biggest development of the year came in the spring when Re:Vision was approached by The Denver Foundation, and was asked to help locate urban farmland for a group of refugees from Somalia. Call it serendipity, but Re:Vision was already in the process of acquiring vacant residential property in Westwood to convert into an urban farm at that time. After meeting the members of the Somali Bantu community and realizing how important farming was to their culture, Re:Vision felt compelled to work with them and share the land. Bringing in key partners and stakeholders such as City Councilman Paul Lopez, Denver Water, The Trust for Public Land, Denver Public Health, and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Re:Vision secured a land-use agreement, and began the conversion of the vacant lot into a farm. This required major soil amendments and included the construction of an off-grid solar-powered irrigation system, as well as several high-tunnel hoop houses. A late-season crop was planted, just in time for Re:Vision's Second Annual Harvest Festival, where Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was presented with the Re:visionary Award for his vision to promote urban agriculture through his Denver Seeds initiative. October 1, 2012 was Re:Vision’s five-year anniversary.
In April 2013, Re:Vision was selected as one of 25 national entrepreneurs to ‘pitch’ their business model to a group of investors and judges at the Slow Money Annual Gathering in Boulder. Presenting Re:Vision’s model for building community food systems, and specifically for their vision of the Westwood Food Cooperative, Re:Vision unanimously won Entrepruenuer of the Year and a $50,000 prize. Shortly after, Re:Vision received additional funding for the Westwood Food Cooperative from the US Department of Agriculture Competitive Community Food Projects Program in the form of a $300,000 three-year grant. This funding is intended to lay the foundation of a community-owned grocery store and food hub. Out of 150 proposals from all over the nation, Re:Vision was ranked 4th!
As one of the founding members of Denver’s Sustainable Food Policy Council, Re:Vision spearheaded a policy initiative in 2013 that would allow for the residential sale of uncut, fresh produce and cottage foods straight from a gardener’s house or community garden plot. Adopted by Denver City Council in July 2014, residents now have the ability to earn extra money by selling food directly from their garden, creating food security for our most vulnerable residents and neighbors.
In 2014, Re:Vision is helping over 300 families grow their own food, with a goal of 400 families in 2015.
Re:Vision is excited to move into the next phase of its history by forming the Westwood Food Cooperative as a community-owned business that will bring the first grocery store to the Westwood community, providing numerous job opportunities and access to healthy, locally-grown food. Through this innovative model, over 300 low-income families in southwest Denver will have the opportunity to become part owners of the cooperative, helping them earn equity in a business that serves the needs of their community. As this model succeeds, Re:Vision aims to replicate it around the country.
Stay tuned as more thriving, resilient communities are cultivated!