We at Feed Denver are happy to be curating a Lexicon of Sustainability show this year. This week’s topic is Unconventional Agriculture. As I read their newsletter (with a few hallelujahs – they were preaching to the choir, here!) I began thinking of our fair city.
Denver, with its surrounding Rocky Mountain region, has a number of interesting and attracting elements that bring many people to visit and live but one that doesn't get a lot of attention is its burgeoning grass roots urban agriculture movement.
It only takes a visitor from out of state to give new perspective. They notice the front lawns turned to food beds and the shared block gardens neighbors are creating to grow food together. They are surprised by front porch food stands selling just-harvested veggies with fresh breads and jams. They have never heard of gardens, farms, and agriculture being written into a city’s zoning code.
As you explore the city, and its surrounding suburbs, you realize you have begun seeing actual farms. Everitt Farms in Lakewood, Five Fridges Farm and Clear Creek Organics in Wheatridge, True Roots Farm formerly in Wheatridge (moving this season to Arvada), and Feed Denver’s Sunnyside Farm on 44th & Vallejo. You see farm stands and markets. At the stores you see local farm products like Maxfield’s Organic Soils. And you notice local seed companies like Seeds Trust, Lake Valley Seeds, and Botanical Interests.
Supporting these and future farmers are some remarkable programs. Feed Denver: Urban Farms & Markets commitment to growing farmers through regenerative farm modeling and education to create true community level economics. Re:Vision in Westwood committing itself to one geographic community’s food and job shed. The Denver Green School and Slow Food Denver’s programs to put food growing education in all schools.
People, this is amazing! Denver – the Queen City of the Plains - was an early adopter of the conversation around food sovereignty. The first bold move was our forward thinking zoning department (yes, I did say that about the Denver zoning department!) added language allowing the growing of food in almost all areas. When introduced to the opportunities in the innovative urban agriculture movement they recognized that local, uninhibited food production needed to be written into Blueprint Denver, the comprehensive rezoning project they were working on that was adopted in 2010.
The next bold move, that same year, was the creation of the Mayor’s Sustainable Food Policy Council (initiated by then-Mayor Hickenlooper). Since their formation the council has debated and developed policy and understanding of the food needs of this city. They have been instrumental in continually addressing and exploring ways the city can support local food production.
That group brought the third bold move forward answering the state’s Colorado Cottage Food Act they worked with relevant groups and agencies to create the Fresh Produce and Cottage Foods Sales Home Occupation Permit. This provided a smooth integration of both state and local policies to support not only growing food in a residential area but the creation of cottage food opportunities. This is the thing: In Denver we can grow food at home and sell it. We can process some of that food and sell it as well…from home.
More than unconventional, this is revolutionary (in modern first-world cities)! This fertile ground, where Feed Denver has germinated, is creating the opportunity for cottage food entrepreneurs and urban farmers to take it to the next level and build that true local economy. The local economy that is about one person exchanging with another, one community supporting itself with its own effort.
In the Lexicon newsletter (#45) that inspired this essay, they said: Unconventional agriculture encompasses a philosophy that addresses the complexities of sustainable farming and reflects on the local history and resources of the land. It benefits from innovative research, mathematics, and thinking in abundance.
An unconventional CITY encompasses a philosophy that addresses the complexities of sustainability in partnership with nature while reflecting on its own local history and resources. It also benefits from innovative communities and economics, as well as, thinking in abundance.
We live in an amazing city. Remember that as you prepare for the upcoming leadership elections. But remember you are part of this city’s ecosystem, too. Get involved. Do your research. Ask questions of your leaders and potential leaders. Challenge policies by helping to write and build better ones. Start something unconventional…like an urban farm.