Craig Broek is taking over back yards and front lawns around Denver -- but only with the best of intentions. He's the pastor of The Table, a community church that grows fresh vegetables on the lawns of anyone willing to open up their property, and then donate a portion of the crops to a food bank. And this church is open to all who want to participate.
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When Broek and his family moved from New Jersey to Denver a year and a half ago, they wanted to develop a project that "adds value to the specific community in which we're living, along with giving people a safe place to explore Christian faith," he says. His wife has a master's degree in public health, and that was part of the inspiration for creating The Table. "She has a passion for growing healthy food and also a passion for getting it in the hands of people that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. Kind of a food justice perspective, that the best food isn't just for the wealthy -- at least it shouldn't be," Broek explains.
Following the model created by an acquaintance, they developed a multi-site urban farm. "We actually use people's yards, who will allow us to grow vegetables in their garden or in their yard, wherever it is," Broek says. "In one case, we put raised beds on their driveways and developed a crop site, and then we grew vegetables all summer."
The Table uses organic and sustainable practices for growing and transporting the food, including delivering it by bicycle. The produce it grows is distributed in three different ways.
A portion of the produce is donated to people in need. The Table partnered with Community Ministry, a food bank for the southwest Denver area that's supported by churches around Zuni and Jewell streets. "Most of the food that we grew that we donated went to them," Broek says.
To fund the project, The Table has a Neighborhood Supported Agriculture program. Members who pay $500 for the season receive a basket of fresh produce each week, approximately enough to feed a family of four. The cost ends up being about $24 or $30 per week.
The rest of the produce is used in community meals. Broek and his family host potluck gatherings at their home in the Platte Park area, making a meal with fresh produce from the garden. "We just basically have a party on our back patio and talk together about various topics throughout the season," Broek says.
There are different ways to be part of the growing project. People can buy a share, allow Broek to plant vegetables in their yard or garden, volunteer during the growing season, or just attend the gatherings and bring something to share. "It's a very open community, and we always love new people and new participants," Broek says. "It's not like if you come once, you have to come every time. We let people take it at their own pace."
Broek and his family invite anyone to join, even if they don't have a background in the Christian faith. "It doesn't matter who you are and what your beliefs are, we really want to focus on building a community," he says. "And by community we mean folks that can share ideas and do it in an honest way, but also recognizing that the real reason of why we're doing what we're doing is because we feel like it's a part of a bigger story. And that is doing justice in a city and helping people who otherwise wouldn't be able to help themselves."
Although the growing season is over, plans are under way for next year. "We're in the process right now of doing soil tests and amending the soil and returning it to homeowners," Broek says. The Table will continue to hold gatherings over the winter, including soup nights on Thursdays, when it makes two soups -- one vegetarian and one "meatatarian" -- and invites people to bring sides and drinks. The next such gathering will likely be in the first week of December.
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In the meantime, the Table is looking for more garden plots for next year. Check out the website and meetup page on its website for upcoming events, as well as information on how to volunteer either time or a garden for next year.