Yo-Yo Ma Visits Re:Vision and Westwood

On Thursday, August 2, after his sold-out performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Yo-Yo Ma visited Re:Vision and our Urban Farm for an intimate farm-to-table lunch with members of the community.

It began the night before, where thanks to the generous support of Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, 30 Westwood community members boarded a bus from La Casita and got to experience Yo-Yo Ma's Red Rocks sold-out debut. The concert kicks of a two-year, 36-city tour. But what makes this tour particularly special is that Mr. Ma's journey is not only motivated by his six-decade relationship with the music, but also by Bach’s ability to speak to our shared humanity at a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.

The following day community members gathered at 9am to start harvesting and preparing a special farm-to-table lunch to celebrate Yo-Yo's visit to Westwood. He arrived to a whirlwind of guests but was quickly put to work on the farm where he harvested vegetables with our Promotoras and Farm Managers. The meal was kicked off by blessing and song from third-generation Westwood resident and artist, Santiago Jaramillo. Once everyone was seated, Mr. Ma treated attendees to a Sarabande.

"My job," said Yo-Yo Ma as he address attendees, "is to learn what people are doing, and when possible, have people talk to each other and share that knowledge." 

It was an afternoon where we in fact shared knowledge, stories, a lovely meal and even some tears. We are so grateful to have hosted the event, and it is something that will live in the heart of Westwood for years to come. 

Villaging 2050

Have you heard of a Villaging Economy? 

It might have many names, there's the One Small Town concept, Ubuntu, but the concept is this; being able to free yourself from economic dependence. Think about your monthly bills; how many of them are making large corporations and conglomerates money? 

One day, filmmakers Laurie Simons and Terry Sterrenberg (The Healthcare Movie) woke up and realized, all of their money was going towards making large companies and conglomerates rich. Everything from their rent, car payments, health insurance, and more. So they sold all of their furniture, got rid of their apartment, and hit the road. They set out to find communities who are attempting to create their own, "Villaging Economy." In essence, communities that have taken steps to leverage their collective knowledge and build their own economy, hopefully decreasing their economic dependence on the large system and keeping the wealth in the community. 

Sound familiar? Yes, that is very much in line with our mission for Re:Own. We believe the Westwood community is full of talented, budding entrepreneurs, that with the right training, will launch successful businesses (particularly related to food and art) and begin to build a thriving Westwood. And Laurie and Terry agreed. When they Googled "Community Wealth" Re:Vision came up and they were intrigued.

Monday, July 9 - Wednesday, July 11, Laurie and Terry visited with our community members, Promotoras, and staff (including staff from Westwood Unidos and Community Wealth Building Network) to get footage of our community and the budding local economy. They were curious about how an organization that started with building gardens in people's backyards could evolve into an organization concerned with building up the capacity of its residents and creating a local economy.

But, we aren't here to give you any spoilers. You are going to have to check out the documentary when it comes out (no official date, but continue to check-in with us). In the meantime, check out some of the photos from the  film shoot below. 

Meet Yuri Bahena - Re:Own Program Manager

 Photo byJess Elysse Kornacki,  Art of Her

Photo byJess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Yuri is one of the best cooks you will ever meet, and, if you ordered Tamales during last Holiday's Tamale-Thon, you'll know that first hand. And perhaps it's that undeniable leadership in the kitchen that makes Yuri a passionate advocate for her community. While Yuri didn't grow up with agricultural experience, her love for cooking gave her an immediate appreciation and connection with growing her own food when she started with Re:Farm in 2010. 

In 2012 Yuri became a Promotora and in 2016, Yuri became the full time manager of the Re:Own program. The program exists to create a self-sufficient economy, owned by the community. It helped incubate the Westwood Food Co-Op, where Yuri sits on the Board of Directors. But, in early 2018, Yuri had an experience that changed her perspective entirely on why it was so important to have a strong, locally-owned economy... 

 Photo byJess Elysse Kornacki,  Art of Her

Photo byJess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

In January, Yuri was forced to leave the home she had lived in for 7 years... 

Her landlord decided to renovate and get it ready to put on the market. And then it hit her... 

"I had worked so hard to pay my rent over these 7 years, along with all of my other bills. And I realized, I was making someone else rich." 

For years, Yuri knew she believed in the work she was doing, but suddenly it took on a new urgency. So many of the previous years' participants had to move to places like Aurora, and even Greeley, to find affordable housing. 

Yuri has spent 5 years learning and responding to the concerns of Westwood's residents. And their gardens were often times small ways to make life just a bit easier. Often times, families are able to preserve their harvest and eat healthy year-round, freeing up those dollars to spend on other expenses. But, in this world, that isn't enough. 

 Photos by Jess Elysse Kornacki,  Art of Her.  Jewelry featured created by  Mujeres Emprendedoras  and can be found at the Westwood Food Co-Op.

Photos by Jess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her. Jewelry featured created by Mujeres Emprendedoras and can be found at the Westwood Food Co-Op.

"It's hard to find stability in this current world; rents are expensive and we are politically divided. We helped so many families establish their gardens and provide them with at least a small amount of stability, and now they are gone. I knew I had to find another way to help families not just find stability, but find a way to prosper. We've fought so hard to improve this neighborhood, and now that it's happening, we deserve to be here. We should be the land and business owners determining the direction of our neighborhood." 

Your support will help Re:Own begin to develop the capacity of local entrepreneurs in Westwood to start finding ways to not only start building their own personal wealth, but keeping it in the community, therefore determining the trajectory of their neighborhood for generations to come. 

Meet Matilde Garcia - Re:Unite Program Manager

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Matilde is from Durango, Mexico and has been in Colorado for 15 years. She started as a Re:Farm program participant in 2010. Her sister, Antonia (Toña) Garcia, who is also a Promotora, used to have a small garden in their home and was always encouraging Matilde to join her in the garden. But it wasn't until Matilde attended a cooking class with Sisters of Colorado at nearby Munroe Elementary school, that she began to realize the impact a garden could have, not only on her health, but her family's health as well. After her first year participating in the Re:Farm program, Matilde became a Promotora. Her first year was a rocky one, as one of the largest hailstorms to hit Metro-Denver wiped out the majority of family gardens in the program. The Denver Post reported on the devastation that hit 38 Re:Farm families. 

 Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki,  Art of Her

Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

Six years later, Matilde is the Re:Unite Program Manager

Matilde seeks out training opportunities for the Promotoras as a way to build their capacity and confidence as local leaders. To help strengthen our Re:Unite program, please consider supporting our Summer Campaign.

"When I started the garden, I knew it was because deep down I was seeking a bigger change in my life. Sure, we started eating more fruits and vegetables, but I was seeking something more holistic. The garden kick started the process for me and I can say that every single day has been a learning opportunity." 

"Access to education is the key to improving ourselves"

On average, Promotoras receive 70 hours of professional development training per year. This includes English, GED, & computer classes along with Patient Navigator and Maternal Health Trainings with Denver Health

"Our trainings help us gain self-confidence, and through that we are able to make bigger changes in the community." 

In 2017, Promotoras spent 3,366 hours visiting community members

In those visits, Promotoras put their training into practice, helping families find solutions to their problems and connecting them with resources in the community. 

"Access to education is the key to improving ourselves"

Mujeres Emprendedoras

Matilde was particularly moved by her training around entrepreneurship and economic growth, so she started Mujeres Emprendedoras Cooperative. Mujeres is a group of 10 women, who cook, cater events, and make jewelry You can find their items in the Westwood Food Co-op! 

"I started Mujeres Emprendedoras because I know what doors training opportunities have opened for me, and I want to pay it forward to the community. When I started here, I didn't speak English and I had never touched a computer. Now I know how to use to use those tools and it makes me a better professional. That knowledge is power. Those trainings gave me power to run after my dreams. I want women to be able to dream and have the tools they need to make those dreams come to fruition. Can you imagine what our community will look like when that happens? 


Yes, we can.... Si, se puede. Help us to continue developing local leaders by supporting women like Matilde through our Re:Unite program by supporting our Summer Campaign.

Meet Mayra Olivas, Re:Farm Program Manager

 Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

Promotoras start off as participants in our Re:Farm backyard garden program. As they get to know their Promotora, many become motivated to become one as well. For example, one woman, Mayra, who started with the Re:Farm program because though she worked several part-time jobs, Mayra struggled to put healthy food on the table. Modest in size, her garden reminded her of the ranch she grew up on in Mexico where she tended the garden as a young girl. Mayra loved having a garden, and looked forward to the visit from her Promotora each week.

When Mayra’s Promotora asked her what she dreamt about becoming when she was a little girl, Mayra was at a loss. She said she was never encouraged to dream about her future, so she gave up on her dream of becoming a psychologist long ago. Despite giving up on that dream, Mayra still had a passion for helping people, that shined when she was in her garden and Re:Vision knew that as a Promotora, that passion would carry through to the families she worked with.  So, Mayra was hired as a Promotora in 2011. Mayra flourished and in several years, was promoted to Program Coordinator. In this position, she learned to use a computer, a database, how to plan and coordinate a program, and to coach others. Mayra took English classes and gained confidence. As Mayra grew, she inspired others to see their own potential. Mayra is a leader within Re:Vision, and was promoted in 2017 to Program Manager in charge of the entire Re:Farm program. She is now full-time and earns a living wage salary with benefits, allowing her to dream about the future for her children.

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This month, Mayra was nominated to Mayor Michael B. Hancock's Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council where she will help shape policies across Denver. We could not be more thrilled for Mayra, nor can we think of a better person to represent our community on these issues.

 

To help continue our work cultivating community food systems, and developing local leaders like Mayra, please consider support our Summer Campaign by clicking here

Here are few questions with Mayra, about Re:Vision, Re:Farm, and her vision for the future:

What was your life like before you joined the Re:Farm Program?

"My world felt small. I only interacted with my husband and my family. I would clean offices downtown at night and would often times be the only person in the building. I felt isolated, but I didn't know it at the time. "

What is your favorite story about working with Re:Farm Families?

"There are a lot! When I first started, there were only a handful of families participating in the program. Now, you notice gardens on almost every corner in the neighborhood. I hear from a lot of families that their gardens have been therapeutic for them in one way or another. My favorite is hearing about how the gardens affect the children in the families." 

How is that?

"Children's entire view of the food they eat changes when they are involved in gardening. When they can plant something from a seed, and watch it grow, it ignites a curiosity in them. It is an important lesson to learn where their food comes from. Not only do they want to eat the vegetables they've harvested, I hear a lot of families say that their kids will ask to try new vegetables that they see at the grocery store because they are curious about them. It's amazing to think that a simple activity like gardening can affect a child's eating habits and lifestyle." 

How do you think Re:Farm helps families in Westwood?

"I've seen a lot of families who don't always know where their next meal is coming from. It's hard to put meals on the table, let alone healthy meals. I think its extraordinary that one small garden, can provide for a family and make it so they don't have to choose between fresh produce and other grocery items. So many families can / preserve or freeze their harvests - and sometimes we visit families to establish the gardens in the Spring, and they are still eating from the last season's harvest. Between the cost savings on groceries (an average of $500 / year) and the health benefits of eating more vegetables (participants report eating 75% more vegetables after completing the program), I'm always amazed by how much change one garden can make." 

And what change did your garden make for you? 

"Outside of all of the changes talked about above, I remember a very distinct moment. My promotora asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I told him what I wanted to do (be a psychologist). But then I started thinking about how I hadn't thought of that in a long time, and my world started to expand. After that point, when I would work in my garden, I started to think about what I could do with the passion I felt and started to feel like I had something to bring to the table. I wanted to share my passion with others and my heart became so full knowing that I could help bring this feeling to other community members." 

The Denver Food Sustainability Policy Council is a big deal. Do you see advocacy work in your future? 

"Yes. In the future I hope I can use this knowledge that I've gained to make changes for my community and beyond. I can't see myself in a "normal" job anymore, where I leave my work in the office. We need advocates who know what the community and are willing to fight to make the necessary changes."

Re:Own - Local Entrepeneur Spotlight: Adriana Rondón Rivero

 Photo credit:  Brandon N. Sanchez  

Photo credit: Brandon N. Sanchez 

“¡Mi mente y mi corazón muy fuertes. Mi mente y mi corazón muy felices," is a mantra Adriana Rondón teaches kids at Munroe Elementary school through her YogArtandMovement program. 

My mind and my heart are strong. My mind and my heart are happy.

It seems like a mantra we should all be practicing these days. Which is why Adriana has dedicated her life's work to telling stories with her body, and teaching healing through expression. 

Adriana is a visual artist, journalist and yoga and movement instructor from Caracas, Venezuela. Her work is about the healing journey and it is related to the people. Locally, she partners with elementary schools (Munroe Elementary), classes at the Southwest Improvement Council, and Westwood Unidos, where she hosts a variety of classes at La Casita, such as "Amor Propio y Autoestima para Mujeres (Loving yourself and self esteem for women). Adriana notes that so many Latinas in the community work so hard, often times stressful, physically taxing work that causes stress, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Combined with economic, social and political stressors, Adriana uses yoga as a form of cultural healing. 

"We are all immigrants, and this is a space where we can find ourselves, express our worries, our sadness, our nostalgia." 

 Photo Credit:  Goyo Mijares

Photo Credit: Goyo Mijares

In addition to her Yoga practice and community healing and empowerment work, Adriana also teaches the wildly popular El Camino De La Arepa class as a way to share the rich flavor and culture of Venezuela with the community. The project sets out to create community through
the love for Venezuelan food and traditions, while raising awareness and funds for Venezuela, a country that is in a deep economic and political crisis not well known here in the U.S.

Adriana's commitment to creating safe spaces for learning, healing, and reflection upon oneself and ones culture, makes her approach unique and it's something we admire tremendously. Which is why we are thrilled to announce that Adriana will be teaching both El Camino de la Arepa, and a special Mother / Child Yoga class at our First Annual Garden Bazaar! Adriana's arepas will also be for sale at the bazaar. Both classes will be free and open to the public. 

Schedule: 

El Camino de la Arepa at noon on Saturday, May 12 at La Cocina @RISE Westwood (3738 Morrison Rd.). To RSVP, email hello@revision.coop with El Camino de la Arepa in the subject line. In the body of the email include how many people you would like to RSVP. 

Mother / Child Yoga Class at 11:00am on Sunday, May 13 at La Casita @RISE Westwood (3790 Morrison Rd.) . Please RSVP thru La Casita's scheduling system, here

About: 

“El Camino de la Arepa” is Adriana Rondón-Rivero's beloved excuse to share the rich flavor of the Venezuelan arepa in other lands outside of Venezuela. “El Camino de la Arepa” is a short class, a live cooking demonstration of how to make Venezuelan arepas and other traditional Venezuelan food. “El Camino de la Arepa” (the Arepa´s path) is what happens when millions of Venezuelans
settle across the world or return to the land of their grandparents. We bring arepas with us.
What is a Venezuelan Arepa? [uh-rey- puh; Spanish ah-re- pah]. Arepa is a type of corn based flat “bread”, that we make from scratch, it is formed into a patty that is grilled, baked, split open and stuffed with a variety of ingredients.

Special Mother's Day Yoga Class for Mother's & Children with Adriana Rondón VivirYoga Project

To celebrate Mother's Day all mothers and children are invited to a special mother / child yoga class that will be a joyful practice, focusing on poses that open the heart, bring calm and happiness and deepen the bond between mothers and children

Yoga is not a religion. It Is a practice that helps to heal the body and a mind by bringing joy and wellness.

Come to celebrate our roles as mothers and children and to have fun with 45 minute yoga class that will honor motherhood and the special bond between mothers and children, through a variety of poses and sequences, incorporating partner poses and other mother-children activities.

This is a Yoga class for every one! Not Yoga knowledge is needed. All fitness/flexibility levels are welcome. My overall intention will be one of celebration and enjoyment.


Clase especial del Día de la Madre Yoga para madres e hijos con Adriana Rondón VivirYoga Project

Para celebrar el Día de la Madre, todas las mamás y niñas y niños están invitados a una clase especial de Yoga, una práctica alegre, enfocada en poses que abren el corazón, traen calma y felicidad y profundizan el vínculo entre madres y sus hijos.

Yoga no es una religión. Es una práctica que ayuda a sanar el cuerpo y la mente al brindar alegría y bienestar.

Vengan celebrar nuestros roles como madres e hijos y diviértanse con una clase de Yoga de 45 minutos que honrará la maternidad y el vínculo especial entre mamá e hijos, a través de una variedad de poses y secuencias que incorporarán poses para realizar en pareja y otras actividades.

¡Esta es una clase de Yoga para todos! No es necesario ningún conocimiento en Yoga. Todos los niveles de flexibilidad son bienvenidos. Mi intención general será la celebración y el disfrute.

 

Looking for a Fabulous Volunteer Opportunity?

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We have just the thing for you! May 12th and 13th from 10am-3pm, Re:Vision is hosting our 1st annual Mother's Day Garden Bazaar. This event will be filled with laughter, community, family, food, garden supplies, and mimosas! We would love if you could be a part of it. 

We are looking volunteers who can help set up and take down the event, as well as help during the event. If you are interested, please fill out the survey link below to gauge your availability and interest areas within the event. Someone will follow up with you later this month to discuss further details. Thank you for your interest, Re:Vision wouldn't be possible without our wonderful community and volunteers! 

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfBY9UwMaBUMFrJXgGBbOapPJjPsSag8Nbs0BSc9eJt-WqmEw/viewform?usp=sf_link

The Season of Creation

 Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki,  Art of Her

Photo Credit: Jess Elysse Kornacki, Art of Her

One only needs to take a look at the volatile weather lately to tell that Spring is a time of conflict for the Earth. It is letting go of the frosty winter weather, the ground is thawing, and some of our favorite flowers are beginning to fight their way to the surface. The particularly tough ones have already started to bloom. Nothing says Spring in Colorado more than beautiful vibrant tulips covered by a fresh layer of snow. 

So it only seems fitting, Santiago Jaramillo is ready to unveil his latest mural along Morrison Road. The theme of the piece is the duality of struggle, the push and pull between life and death, sun and moon, order and chaos; the combined 2 energies that make 1. In this case, one vibrant mural that represents one very vibrant community straddling two worlds.

Westwood is a community on the brink. In last week’s blog, we talked about the specifics behind why. This week, we want to talk about how art is being used as a way to combat gentrification, and create a place for the community that is currently here. 

Santiago grew up in Westwood and he’s seen the neighborhood change. Growing up it was a very working class neighborhood, but then the Summer of Violence hit (1993) and Westwood changed dramatically. The working class left and the neighborhood became rundown and neglected. A few years later, Mexicans started moving in and Santi says, “they brought new life and it very much had that working class energy again.” Around that same time, Santi was struggling with drugs, and as a new young father, he wanted to clean up. Enter Cauhtemok, and artist who quickly became his mentor and teacher. He taught Santiago about the indigenous roots of the Mexican culture. Santiago says learning about what his culture is truly rooted in helped him find his way. Since then, Santiago has changed the face of Morrison Rd., with beautiful, vibrant murals celebrating the Mexican and Indigenous cultures of the neighborhood.

Santiago’s latest mural is vibrant, and incredibly detailed, so we sat down with him to chat about the symbolism behind it. Here is what he had to say: 

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About the border: 

The 3 levels of the pyramids represent Ometeotl, or, duality. The two energies build on each other like levels in the pyramid to create one (the final level of the pyramid)

Around the 4 corners:

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You’ll notice the 4 elements represented here; air, sun, water & Earth. 

Along the bottom:

The footsteps represent Via Verde, a community engagement driven project designed to introduce green infrastructure practices into Westwood, and improve health and community. It also represents the community retracing its footsteps back to its ancestral roots. 

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To the right: 

 Tonatiuh

Tonatiuh

The Aztec symbol of the sun, Tonatiuh, with the symbol of fire coming out of his hand. Tonatiuh was believed to be the leader of Tollan, heaven, each day fighting battles from sunrise to sunset and throughout his journey across the sky. 

To the left:

 Chalchihuitlicue

Chalchihuitlicue

Chalchihuitlicue, (She Who Wears a Green Skirt), Aztec symbol of rivers, lakes, streams, and other freshwaters, goddess of birth. Out of her hand, the symbol of water. 

Along both sides:

 Earth's protectors

Earth's protectors

Two Mayan warriors dropping seeds into the ground. They serve as Earth’s guardians, and perhaps also a small homage to Re:Vision’s mission of cultivating thriving, resilient communities by creating a community food system. 

In the Center: 

Both Chalchihuitlicue and Tonatiuh come together to create the beautiful image in the middle. This coming together is known as Atlachinolli. When fire and water together you get steam, breath of the Earth. In short; creation. Within the image you will see the tree of life, the primordial sea, the sun and a child. The cycle of creation. 

Analyzing the duality of the piece, and seeing the conflict of two sides strikes a chord in this ongoing conversation of gentrification. The piece, and other murals along Morrison Road have certainly given the community a significant facelift. But the content of the murals is what causes true transformation. In Santiago’s case, learning about his indigenous roots and the beauty of his culture, helped him turn around his life and find his calling. He hopes it will do the same for community members and passersby. It’s all about going back to our ancestor’s ideas, and making things sacred again, because we are all connected. The goal being that two sides can come together to find a solution to an issue while honoring each other’s unique backgrounds and needs. 

Santiago says, “…at some point conflict in nature causes creation.” Whether that is the conflict of Spring, or the current conflict Westwood is experiencing, Santiago Jaramillo is going to keep creating. 

To hear more about Santiago's work, and to learn about how he is using art in Westwood as a means to combat gentrification, join Re:Vision, Creative Exchange and Confluence-Denver for IdeaLab on April 17, made possible through the generous support of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.

The Via Verde Mural was sponsored by The Trust for Public Land as part of the 2017 Westwood Chile Fest.  The guiding vision behind Santiago’s mural was inspired by the communities work with Cool Connected Westwood to address climate justice issues in Westwood such as lack of walkable and bikable streets, water quality, tree canopy, and quality parks and trail experiences.  This was one of seven new murals added to Morrison Road, with collaborative funding from Denver Urban Arts Fund, The Trust for Public Land and BuCu West.

 Creation

Creation

Re:Own - That "G" word...

Yes... we're talking about Gentrification...

 Photo by Jess Elysse Kornacki

Photo by Jess Elysse Kornacki

This week’s blog post is Part 1 of 2. Today, we give some context for Re:Vision’s Re:Own Program and what is currently happening in the neighborhood. By the end of this piece, you might feel a bit overwhelmed, but don’t worry. Next week’s post will be all about the positive work going on around Westwood to combat gentrification, and how you can get involved with a great event coming up on April 17

Re:Vision’s mission is a three-pronged approach in working with people in economically marginalized communities to cultivate community food systems, develop resident leaders and create an economy owned by the community. While Re:Farm and Re:Unite produce tangible impact in families and communities, we’d be missing the larger picture if we didn't intentionally focus on building community wealth - which is the purpose of Re:Own.  

By the end of 2018, our goal is to incubate at least 3 food-based businesses from the community, for the community. We’ve already helped incubate the Westwood Food Co-Op (WFC), and the next step in our success is to be a catalyst for the creation of products that will eventually be sold on the shelves at the WFC. So why does all this ultimately matter?

 Photo by Jess Elysse Kornacki

Photo by Jess Elysse Kornacki

Perhaps you’ve heard the word “gentrification” a lot lately? In short, gentrification is the process where low income communities are renovated to suit the tastes of the middle class, displacing those communities and erasing its culture. The conversations about gentrification in Denver reached new heights in November of 2017 when INK! Coffee placed a sign outside of their RiNo location declaring they were “happily gentrifying the neighborhood since 2014.” Suddenly, a term that seemed to have only been used in certain circles was being discussed everywhere. In response to that incident, hundreds of people gathered in the beginning of this year to discuss gentrification in Denver. Now it seems like you can’t turn on the news, or open a newspaper without hearing the word at least once. 

Gentrification happens in economically marginalized neighborhoods, which are often times communities of color. And Westwood is both. Westwood is 81% Latino, and has historically been one of the most neglected neighborhoods in Denver. Today,  it is one of the last ‘affordable’ areas in Denver, so it makes sense that gentrification and involuntary displacement are already exerting massive pressure on the families who live here. To add to the complexity of the issue, Denver voters recently passed a $937 million Bond Package, of which over $42 million is earmarked for improvements in Westwood and Southwest Denver. On the surface, that might sound like good news, but if you’ve been in Denver for awhile, you know this is typically how the process begins. Often times low income neighborhoods receive structural improvements, just in time for developers to come in. 

Does it seem like Westwood’s fate is already sealed? We don’t think so. We believe investing in the capacity of the community, and creating a locally owned, resilient economy is the key to combatting gentrification. Re:Vision does not want entrepreneurs from Westwood to open businesses outside of Westwood, nor do we want people to spend money on essentials like groceries outside of the neighborhood. Westwood is a vibrant neighborhood, with some of the best food and most beautiful murals you will find in all of Denver and we believe in their cultural and economic value. Which is why we are so excited to talk more about IdeaLab next week, where we will examine the place arts has in this conversation and how it can be used as yet another tool in this fight against gentrification.

Re:Unite - Our Thoughts on the Recent Budget Cuts for SNAP

 A Westwood Food Co-Op Member picking up groceries

A Westwood Food Co-Op Member picking up groceries

In a recent article published by 5280, we learned Colorado ranks 45th in the nation for SNAP enrollment. And even more upsetting, President Trump’s proposed budget cut would slash the program by $17 billion next year alone. The administration also has proposed the “USDA Foods Package,” what they call a Blue Apron type box that would provide SNAP recipients with shelf-stable items such as milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables (NOTE; canned fruit and vegetables). Doesn’t sound very Blue Apron-esque does it? Can you guess where we stand on this issue?

Over the last couple of years, our Promotora team has worked tirelessly, thanks to a grant from Kaiser Permanante, to educate our community about SNAP assistance. Westwood has the highest percentage of eligible people for the program, yet, the lowest enrollment. Recognizing, there were likely significant barriers for enrollment within our community, Kaiser Permanente provided our Promotoras with training on the system, with the hopes they would be able to find out why our community was not utilizing the benefits and begin to enroll more community members. 

First, a little context. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but was previously referred to as food stamps. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the name of the program was changed to place a greater emphasis on nutrition and take away the stigma associated with food stamps. Unfortunately, in many communities, including our own, that stigma is still there. The majority of our community members are first-generation immigrants from Mexico, and came here to provide for their families, so many of them see applying for the program as a failure on their part to do so. The second biggest barrier is misinformation, particularly fears around immigration services. Many of community members did not apply for the program because they had heard rumors that their names would be turned over to other agencies. That is simply not true, and something our Promotoras have to remind our community members of daily. Not helping the issue is that many of our community members who have applied in person for SNAP benefits have heard  horrible things like, “Why are you asking for help here? Go back to your country,” or, “Mexicans only come to rob our jobs and our food.” These are from the employees at the office. Can you imagine going to get your driver’s license and being judged by the employees based on the kind of car you drive?

 Matilde Garcia Rubio, SNAP Program Manager

Matilde Garcia Rubio, SNAP Program Manager

At Re:Vision, we believe access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We cultivate thriving, resilient communities by providing families with the tools and education they need to grow their own solutions. With that said, fresh organic produce is just one element to a healthy balanced diet. Between a garden and SNAP benefits, many of our Re:Farm program participants are able to provide their families with well-rounded nutritious meals. 

 "I am a member of the Westwood Food Co-Op because I want my community to have access to healthy food." - Yuridia Bahena Santana, Re:Own Program Manager and Member of the Westwood Food Co-Op.

"I am a member of the Westwood Food Co-Op because I want my community to have access to healthy food." - Yuridia Bahena Santana, Re:Own Program Manager and Member of the Westwood Food Co-Op.

One Re:Farm program participant would frequently supplement his family’s meals with food from a food bank. Once, our Promotora and SNAP Program Manager, Matilde Garcia Rubio, compared the nutritional information of a block of cheese he received from a local food bank and noticed the fat content was double that of a standard block of cheese. After more than a year of encouraging him to apply for the program, she used this example as a way to finally convince him he could not provide his family well balanced meals from food banks. So, he applied and now he says for the first time in 10 years, they are not worried about where their next meal will come from. 

Another woman who participates in our Re:Farm program had the courage to leave an abusive relationship. After doing some math, she realized that she could cover her rent, and use SNAP benefits to help feed her family. She feels that without that help, she would have had to return to her marriage just to make ends meet. 

But what about families who cannot have a garden? Food, especially healthy food and fresh, unprocessed produce, can get expensive, and when you are on a limited budget, often times those are the first items to go in favor of more shelf-stable items that stretch further. According to this New York Times blog  1,000 calories of fresh, nutritious foods can cost $18, vs $1.75 for processed foods. So it makes all the sense in the world that when families are having to stretch their food budgets, fresh, nutritious food is cut first. Studies have shown that SNAP recipients actually have better health indicators and lower risks for diet-related illnesses. So investing in SNAP is investing in our public health. That’s where the Westwood Food Co-Op comes in. A grocery store owned by the community, the Co-Op stocks affordable and healthy foods, accepts SNAP benefits and participates in the Double Up Food Bucks program. This program provides $20 for every $20 spent that can be used to purchase local and fresh produce. During the growing season, the Co-Op is almost bursting at the seems with produce from Re:Vision’s urban farm. It provides a community that otherwise has no access to healthy food with a variety of options.

As an organization, we provide the community with options to take control of their own health and become an active participant in growing their own sustainable change. We have worked for two years to help de-stigmatize SNAP benefits and de-mystify SNAP enrollment. Our Re:Farm program and the Westwood Food Co-Op also work together to provide supplements to create an overall healthy life, one that doesn’t come in a box, it is one that has to be cultivated, and earned, and our beautiful and vibrant community is doing that daily.