Local Food Systems

From Your Garden to Your Neighbor's Plate?

From Your Garden to Your Neighbor's Plate?

Home-based and community gardening is on the rise in Denver. As many gardeners know from experience, a summer's bounty can overwhelm the home kitchen.  For those that would like to cultivate a hyper-local food economy by selling their bounty to their neighbors - which is currently illegal - change could be on the way.

Food Insecurity & Malnutrition: A Growing Problem

The United States Department of Agriculture recently issued results from a study that analyzed the prevalence of food insecurity within the United States.  The study analyzed two different periods of time: 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2011.  These periods equate to the pre and post economic recession respectively.  The results of the study revealed that during the economic recession, rates of food insecurity amongst children reached 10 percent, an increase of 1.7 percent during the years 2006 and 2007.  Furthermore, the results of the study showed that food insecurity has increased within households with working parents, and even if one parent holds a college degree there was still an increase in food insecurity during the years 2007 to 2011.  When working families are unable to provide enough food to the table, the system is broken.  To prevent families from falling through the cracks, we must take proactive measures.  This is the goal of Revision: to provide for those whom the system is no longer able.

Revision’s Model: Results that Speak for Themselves

Photo from: http://www.darkrye.com/content/food-desert

When we think of food insecurity, we often imagine underweight children and adults.  However, in the United States, food insecurity often presents itself as an excessive intake of calorie-dense foods relative to foods that are nutrient-dense.  This occurs for several reasons, but the main factors are price and the proximity to grocery stores.  At Revision, we work with the Westwood neighborhood, a food desert by every definition.  In areas such as Westwood, food insecurity, obesity and related chronic diseases are prevalent.  In order to alleviate the problem of food insecurity in Westwood, Revision has developed a system of urban agriculture that meets the nutritional needs of Westwood by empowering families to grow their own organic produce.  With over 200 families participating in our backyard farming program and two urban farms, Westwood has truly seen an increase in food security.  On average, a family participating in our backyard program produces 110 pounds of produce--this results in substantial savings at the grocery store for these families.  For those who participate in our community urban farms, each member takes home about ten to twelve pounds of produce per week at a cost in between $15 to $20.  Clearly, at Revision, our methods of food production increase food security and reduce the costs for nutritious foods.  Urban agriculture is key in increasing food security in the U.S., and Revision’s success testifies to the fact. 

Written by Austin Lear, Revision Pubic Policy Intern

 

Community-owned Cooperative

Since launching Re:farm Denver in Westwood in 2009, we’ve always had the goal of community ownership of the program. No matter how great the short-term impact – currently, Revision is working with 203 families to establish backyard gardens, and over 40 Somali Bantu refugee families to grow food at Revision’s 2 urban farms in Westwood – if the community does not own and control the entire program, then in the long run it will fail. The biggest challenge, however, has been figuring out the financial sustainability. How can we help the community develop the financial capacity to run the program?

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In 2012, Revision’s staff and board started discussing the idea of developing a community food cooperative as a strategy to help community families take over the program and its goals of food production, distribution, and increasing economic opportunities for residents. The cooperative business model is particularly appealing as it brings together a group of people to work together to solve their common needs through shared risk and shared reward. This model is all about member-ownership and member-control - exactly what we have been trying to implement in our program. The coop model goes deeper, however, than just benefiting each member. It is an economic model that focuses on building wealth within the community. A cooperative can help solve the deeper root problems that we are addressing by getting to the economic conditions that result in a lack of healthy food and other resources.

The intent is to have the cooperative aggregate, market, and distribute excess food that is being grown in the community through Re:farm Denver (to date, the program has empowered the community to grow 36,000 pounds of organic produce!).  The cooperative will purchase produce from them, providing some much needed income, and at the end of the year, if the coop has been profitable, equity or dividends will be distributed to each member based on their contributions to the cooperative. This is creating income and equity at the same time. Each household will have the opportunity to become member-owners of the cooperative.

Additionally, each member of the cooperative gets an equal vote and an equal voice in the governance and decisions of the organization. They elect a board of directors and will periodically directly make decisions that affect the direction of the coop. Through this form of democratic control, people have a say in the type of community they want. This direct involvement is incredibly powerful, particularly for a community that has long been marginalized and made to believe that they have no power.

Over the past 12 months, Revision has been discussing the idea with family members, residents, and other community partners. There is great excitement about the potential economic impact a cooperative business can have on the community. Over the next several months, we will be developing a steering committee, and working with funders and partners to develop a feasibility study and business plan for the cooperative.  Stay tuned for updates!

Winter Farm Work

Despite the recent snowy and cold weather in Denver, we’ve been busy getting our gardens and our urban farms ready for a productive growing season!

During February, AmeriCorps members helped Revision complete its greenhouse at Kepner Middle School – just in time to grow the more than 10,000 seedlings that Revision will plant and sell this spring!  The team also helped construct two new high-tunnel hoop houses at the Ubuntu Urban Farm, providing an additional 2000 square feet of protected growing space. These high-tunnels will extend our growing season by several months, and will also help protect crops during the summer. A special thanks to Mr. Michael Jeronimus for generously donating these hoop house materials – they will make all the difference.

We are excited for our first full growing season at the Ubuntu Farm, a collaboration with the Somali Bantu Development Council and Revision’s promotoras and other community partners. We will be producing food for the community while developing new economic opportunities as well. Both the Kepner Urban Farm and the Ubuntu Farm are cornerstones in developing food security and economic opportunity for southwest Denver.

Stay tuned for volunteer days, farm tours, sustainability classes, and farm dinners this year!

 

Colorado GMO Labeling Bill - Update

On February 21st, 2013, the Colorado House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee voted down HB 13-1192, which would have required the mandatory labeling of food and food products containing or made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jeanne Labuda (D-Dist.1) and widely supported by consumer, farmer and health advocates and non-GE farmers, food producers and businesses.

Although California failed last November to become the first state to initiate legislation that would require labeling, 18 states are considering similar measures.

While Senator Labuda knew that it was an uphill battle, she had public opinion on her side – national polling consistently shows that 90% of Americans want consumer labels to explicitly state when food contains GMOs. “I appreciate the supporters who came to testify on behalf of this bill. It shows the widespread support in Colorado for labeling of GE foods,” said Representative Jeanne Labuda. “It’s a huge step in the right direction to give consumers the right to know.”

Despite the overwhelming public support for this measure, large agribusiness has poured millions of dollars to fight labeling, and to convince the public that GMOs are harmless. Monsanto alone poured an estimated $45 million dollars to help defeat the California bill.

The public hearing for HB 13-1192 was standing room only as people from both sides of the issue came to testify. Those that spoke in opposition to the bill included the Wheat Growers Association, the Corn Growers Association, Colorado Farm Bureau, and the Grocers Association. Opponents cited several common themes: GMOs have not been proven to have harmful side effects, and mandatory labeling would drive up costs that would eventually be paid for by consumers.

Proponents argued that labeling would not drive up costs significantly. One witness cited a study that showed the annual increase in cost would be no more than $5 per consumer. Other proponents argued that GMOs have not been proven safe, and that the FDA and other agencies have not had adequate time or resources to conduct long-term studies on GMOs.  The FDA, for instance, has not conducted any independent studies; all studies to date have been industry funded.

While cost and safety are important, there is too little information at this date to legislate on these positions alone. The crux of the matter in this debate, and the one that carries the most weight, is the freedom of consumer choice. People have repeatedly declared that they want to know more about their food – whether it contains transfats, artificial sweeteners, or GMOs. Labeling laws already require the disclosure of information such as if a product contains milk or soy, or if it was processed in a facility that processes nuts. GMOs are the next step in more transparency in our food system, allowing consumers to make informed decisions.

"The death of HB 1192 is not only a defeat for basic consumer rights, but it hurts Colorado's family farmers and ranchers who work hard to maintain strong relationships with their customers," said Dan Hobbs, a farmer from Avondale and a Rocky Mountain Farmers Union spokesperson. “Giving consumers more transparency about how their food is produced will return a little bit of fairness to our agricultural markets and give small and midsized farmers a fighting chance to stay in business through alternative market systems. After all, if a seed is unique enough to patent, it is unique enough to label."

By providing information to the consumer, the free market will decide whether or not there is consumer fear or concern around GMOs. By withholding information from the consumer, (and by pouring money into misleading ad campaigns and one-sided research) agribusiness companies are not only distorting the marketplace, but they are subverting our democracy. 

For general more info about GMOs, check out Organic Consumers Association and Food and Water Watch. For an in-depth report on the issue, we recommend reading GMOs Myths and Truths.

Click here to listen to an audio version of Revision International’s Executive Director testifying at the State Capitol.