Cafe Society

Feed Denver moves into winter planting looking to help Colorado supply locally year-round

In 2008, shortly after she finished reading the Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, Lisa Rogers was trolling the Internet when she found statistics related to the Colorado food supply.

The Denver area spends over $5.7 billion on fresh food every year, she learned, but just $4 million of that total was supplied by producers in Colorado. As a state, we produced less than .1 percent of the food we consumed.

More shocking were the statistics Rogers gleaned about our food-producing potential: Some estimates say the possible haul from Colorado production is as large as $3.2 billion. So what's the disconnect?

"There's no infrastructure," says Rogers. "If local agriculture is important to us, we have to build the infrastructure. Water systems for farming, for instance."

So the woman behind the Common Grounds coffee shops and Little Man Ice Cream set up Feed Denver, an organization designed to create the infrastructure and teach communities how to grow food in the city.

Feed Denver partners with communities to build urban farms that grow produce year-round. That produce is sold to neighbors, passersby and restaurants -- and excess is donated to organizations that feed refugees, as well as projects like Comfort Cafe and the Gathering Place.

While Feed Denver itself is a non-profit organization, Rogers is adamant that these urban farms become sustainable businesses for the community, and so farmers are paid fairly.

In return, they're asked to share what they learn from the process with researchers, interns and volunteers who want to learn how to build these systems in urban surroundings, turning their community endeavor into an education center.

And as we go into winter, those lessons will include growing during the cold months. Right now, Feed Denver is working with Architecture for Humanity, which challenged architects to "design like you give a damn." Three teams have drawn up plans for easy-to-build greenhouses that will overcome some of the unique challenges, such as cold temperatures and excessive sunlight, that Colorado's climate provides.

The first week of October, those teams will present their plans. In November, after raising the necessary funds, Feed Denver will build the best structure over the seeds it's already planted -- crops such as onions, garlic, Swiss chard, kale and carrots.

"We learned a lot from last winter," says Rogers. "Winter farming is challenging."

She's determined to get it right, though, and set an example for future urban farms. Those efforts should keep locavore home cooks and chefs happy -- and help Colorado capitalize on its under-appreciated agricultural market.

You can learn more and support Feed Denver's efforts here.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk