'A whole lot more than chickens'

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Locally produced food could pave way to sustainability

By Sandy Barnes

Returning to a simpler time when people grew the food they ate is a dream of those involved in community gardening efforts. 

During his presentation, Rusty Collins, Denver director for the Colorado State University Extension Service, said that only 1 percent of the food consumed in the state is grown locally. Shifting that percentage to 20 by the year 2020 is a goal of his organization, he said.

“Urban agriculture is a whole lot more than chickens,” Collins told a group at the Evergreen Fire/Rescue auditorium on Sunday.

“We truck in virtually everything we need,” remarked Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers. 

The semi-arid area in which we live is a difficult environment to be talking about food resiliency, he said. Adding to that difficulty is that in Denver and Jefferson County, subdivisions have been built on agricultural lands.

“There is nowhere left to start a farm,” Lewis said.

In 1947 there were 1,819 farms in Jeffco, he said. By 2007, that number had dwindled to 540.

“We may need to look at a new sustainable agriculture with low-input gardens, permaculture and harvest of native wild game,” he said.

All-season greenhouses can be created by digging down 3 feet to protect the soil from freezing and by capturing solar energy through insulated glass, Lewis said. Cave-dwelling plants are also an option, he added.

“Agriculture has taken this wild journey,” said John Paul Maxfield, founder and CEO of Waste Farmers. “We’ve outsourced some of our must basic needs, and in the process, we’ve ended up unhealthy.” 

People also have lost their connection with the land, he said. 

“I think agriculture can make our reconnection,” Maxfield said. “We see the opportunity for cultivating the farmer within.”

Maxfield has developed a line of soil products created from organic components that provide a foundation for gardening.


Growing gardens

While the challenges for growers are real, gardens are sprouting beside schools and homes in Denver — and in a park in Evergreen.

Meg Caley, co-founder of Sprout City Farms, talked about the 1-acre farm she has created at the Denver Green School, which produces food for the cafeteria.

“We’re trying to build a model of supplying schools with food,” Caley said.

“It’s a challenging program,” she added. With a budget of 90 cents per child for lunch, Caley said her organization has to fund-raise to keep afloat financially.

Caley also offers cooking classes and is working with the federal Women, Infants and Children program to accept food stamps.

“We’re happy to be in the city,” said Caley. “We are trying to think about people in the city who will benefit the most.”

Last year the school farm produced 11,000 pounds of food using a drip-irrigation method that conserves water, she said.

“We are very water conscious. We really try to monitor our use,” she said.

At Buchanan Park in Evergreen, Rachel Emmer of Evergreen’s Alliance for Sustainability is implementing a community garden after several years of planning and effort. Emmer and her organization hosted Sunday’s food resiliency program.

“The hope and the dream is that we will inspire a new way of looking at increasing our ability to feed ourselves,” Emmer said.  


Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.