Like a busy little bee, the little red-haired girl flits through the garden from plant to plant. Rather than extracting nectar from each blossom and spreading pollen from plant to plant, she’s popping ripe cherry tomatoes and succulent strawberries into her mouth and calling to her friends to try some too. Four-year-old Khaleesi is accomplishing exactly what The Montbello Urban Farm set out to do in this neighborhood where access to fresh, healthy food is limited. She is learning where her food comes from by growing and harvesting it; eating fresh, healthy vegetables; and sharing with her friends and family.
Her dad, Austin Chitwood, is the manager of The Urban Farm at Montbello. Chitwood tends the 10,000-square foot garden, teaches residents about growing food, supervises volunteers, and wages war with the never-ending onslaught of weeds.
Sometimes the right people just end up in the right places and a previously insurmountable problem becomes a solvable issue. Consider these three points of individual light in Mesa County.
First, there’s Dan Sharp. He is the food and nutrition services director for Mesa County Valley School District 51. After arriving at his role at the district, he began the effort to introduce scratch cooking and salad bars to every school in the district. He accomplished this, but something nagged at him. He was looking at a district with more than 21,000 kids. About half of them qualified for free and reduced lunch. Where were they eating in the summer? A district budget that shrunk about 21 percent following the recession of the early 2000s, had left the district unable to provide much programming at its schools during the summer. No programming meant no lunches for kids that might need them during the summer months.
Meighen Lovelace’s activism is fueled by one part public passion and one part personal need.
Lovelace lives with her two young daughters in Avon in Eagle County. As with most resort areas, much of the work available can be temporary or seasonal. These kinds of opportunities are difficult when you also need help from federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. One on-call job too many, and the nutritional help goes away, leaving Lovelace with two little ones who need breakfast or dinner.
“The people who live here full time are working class people who are struggling,” she said. “I am one of the lucky ones. I have a car. I have a good education.
Tom and Loyola Quintana have worked hard all their lives.
If you visit the couple’s Greeley home, it’s easy to see the twin pillars that have supported and encouraged them through their 51 years of marriage: Family and faith. Both 80-year-old Tom and 81-year-old Loyola maintained full time jobs, including Tom’s 14 years of service in the U.S. Army. Both retired in their 70s with small pensions and Social Security.
But like many seniors on fixed incomes, constant increases in the costs of living like heat and electricity and unexpected and expensive illnesses like Tom’s battle with cancer and his recent strokes, have eaten into the small nest egg they were able to build. Like one in every 10 Colorado seniors, the Quintana’s know what hunger is. They get help from the Weld Food Bank.
In the San Luis Valley, the battle against hunger is fought on two fronts: Access and affordability.
In a geography the size of Massachusetts but called home by only roughly 46,000 residents, the distance between two inhabited points can often thwart the sorts of amenities found in more populace areas. Some towns lack grocery stores and gas stations. Some areas, such as “the Flats” that populate some parts of the six-county area are simply sparse collections of houses. The likelihood that fresh fruits and vegetables are less than a 50-mile car ride away are low.
This geographic reality also contributes to the affordability challenges. The San Luis Valley has long been one of the most economically challenged areas in Colorado.
Project Worthmore is a fulcrum for a refugee community living primarily in Aurora. It is a place where things can tip toward the better for hundreds of families looking to build a new life in a new country.
And one of the reasons this is true is that this tiny non-profit has made itself an important hub in the food redistribution efforts that are largely unseen across the Denver metro area.
“Healthy food can be a tough issue for the families we serve,” said Frank Anello, the non-profit’s executive director. “Many of them are coming from refugee camps and other places where they may not have had much access to food, and certainly not healthy food, all their lives.”