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."