By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the work Ron Finley is doing in Los Angeles neighborhoods to convert curb space into edible gardens. He’s empowering people in Los Angeles food deserts to take back their health and their meager budgets by growing their own food in those tiny strips of grass between the sidewalks and the streets near their homes. And the results are spectacular.

photo from ronfinley.com

Photo from ronfinley.com

People who previously had no education on nutrition or food now have both. People who had no access to fresh foods now do. People who struggle with gang life and crime now have a source of pride and independence derived from the edible results of tending their gardens. “Growing your own food is like printing your own money,” Finley says in his TED Talk.

Ron Finley’s work is truly inspiring. If he can move hundreds of people towards food independence in the huge food desert neighborhoods of Los Angeles, what can we achieve in the neighborhoods of our own much smaller cities? A week or so ago, a friend and I were talking about ways to create better access to fresh produce in more neighborhoods in our own city, Denver.

For example,we could be collecting backyard garden surpluses of foods like zucchini and swiss chard and making them available at little market stands scattered throughout the city. The benefits of such a thing would be evident: less food wasted & more people eating fresh foods. Both my friend and I have been traveling through other countries where little farm stands punctuate every few blocks — giving people throughout the town access to fresh produce without plastic wrap and pesticides. If towns in Panama and Nicaragua can do this, why can’t we do this in Denver too?

As it turns out, we can and we are doing this in Denver.

Food Baskets for Residents

A Mercado De Al Lado food basket

A Mercado De Al Lado food basket

The GrowHaus is a non-profit urban farm and education center in Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood — an underserved area scarred by industry and divided by highways. According to the GrowHaus, access to fresh, healthy produce is limited or nonexistent in Elyria-Swansea. The nearest full-service grocery store is over 2 miles away, and sells poor quality food at higher-than-market prices. Although there are a few corner stores in the neighborhood, most residents travel outside of the neighborhood for their grocery needs. This neighborhood is more car- than pedestrian-friendly, so even people without mobility issues find getting to these low-quality, over-priced groceries to be very challenging.

Now this is where it gets good. The GrowHaus has recently implemented a food basket program called Mercado De Al Lado to provide 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day to neighborhood residents at  lower-than-WalMart prices. This means, residents no longer have to travel outside of the neighborhood for fresh food, and the food they are getting is all locally grown and sourced from either within the neighborhood or the surrounding area. And as of last week, they just completed a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over $8,000 to strengthen this program. I am thrilled to see this program taking off and tackling one more food desert in Denver. If you’re in the Denver area and wish to donate your surplus produce for their basket program, get in touch with Adam at GrowHaus.

Fleet of Mobile Farm Stands

Photo from fourseasonfarm.com

Photo from fourseasonfarm.com

Now back to my fantasy about little farm stands all around Denver… as it turns out, the people behind the Sunshine Food Project had a really similar idea. Launched by volunteers in August of 2013, the Sunshine Food Project aims to get fresh, local, organic foods into the homes of people in need. Focusing on the Denver’s North Park Hill neighborhood, these volunteers envision a fleet of mobile farm stands arriving in neighborhood gathering places like the local Boys & Girls club, schools, and food pantries — delivering affordable, fresh produce directly to the people who otherwise would do without.

Though they’ve gathered plans and funding for their first mobile farm stand prototype (based on this design), they want to build a fleet of stands (including bicycle-pulled versions), so that they can service more people more easily. You can see their video and find out how to pitch in on the project on their crowdfunding campaign page.

Getting Involved

Both of these projects dig right in to the food desert problem and deliver instant results: getting food to people who can’t get to it on their own. And there is a lot more you can to do help these projects than just contributing cash. Both of these projects are hosting their crowdfunding campaigns on NeighborhoodCatalyst.org – our new favorite site for getting projects off the ground and into action. In addition to the cash campaigns like you’ve seen with kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com, Neighborhood Catalyst incorporates well-rounded community participation through volunteering skills or other in-kind donations. This way, even if you’re short on cash but you have, say, bicycle building skills, graphic design skills, or extra produce in your back yard, you’re still able to jump in and help to make your favorite projects come to life. If you’re in Colorado and want to start your own Neighborhood Catalyst campaign, you can learn about that here.