Written by Krista Fuentes –
Prior to making the decisions to go to graduate school, I was a middle school math teacher at a charter school located in the Park Hill neighborhood. Many of my students commuted from the Near-Northeast region. 90% of our student body participated in the free-reduced lunch program, which subsidizes meals for families that cannot afford it. Students relied on receiving their breakfast, lunch, and after-school snack at school. I believe one reason we had such high attendance in after-school programs is because participating students were guaranteed a snack. When we did not have school, I worried about where my students were eating and what they were eating. Part of being “food secure” is that all people have access to healthy, quality, and culturally appropriate food at all times. However, while teaching I realized that many of my students did not have food security in their own neighborhoods.
Many of the neighborhoods in Near-Northeast have been labeled as food deserts. A food desert is defined as a low-income region that has low-access to grocery stores. Low access in urban areas is defined as being a ½ mile to 1 mile away from the nearest grocery store. Just recently, the USDA has developed other indicators to help assess food access by collecting data on the number of low-income residents who have access to cars. Anyone who has ever tried to carry groceries home on a public bus knows that it is much easier to shop at the supermarket when you have a vehicle.
Recently I took a course in the civil engineering department at CU Denver that introduced me to the concepts and skills of GIS (geographical information systems) mapping. The end of the semester led up to a final project in which we had to create our first map. My project examines how many community gardens are located in low-income sectors of the Near-Northeast region or are within walking distance. It also illuminates the parts of Near-Northeast that do not have access to a community garden. I thought it would be helpful to add additional food desert indicators such as access to community gardens, farmers markets, and other alternative methods for gaining access to quality healthy food. With a food justice movement sprouting in Denver, it would be helpful for community developers to know where efforts to create more access to healthy food for low-income residents is taking place, and where there is room for growth. The positive outcomes of having a community garden in a neighborhood is multi-faceted; it brings people together around a common purpose, puts communities back into contact with where food comes from, and perhaps most importantly community gardens feed residents healthy, nutritious food.
Of the 18 community gardens listed in this region, only three were located in low-income areas. However, most gardens were accessible from low-income regions in ½ mile or less. Areas of concern: large parts of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood do not have access to community gardens. This information would be helpful to developers who are a part of Denver’s food justice movement in trying to make healthy nutritious food accessible to those who cannot afford it. In the future, I would like to collect more data about community gardens in this region of Denver, as well as other data such as: how much land do they have to grow food on? How much food is produced? How many people can they potentially feed? What other factors are considered when planning a community garden and can they be mapped? Answers to questions like these will build Denver’s capacity to create and sustain their own local food shed.