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Denver community garden helps address food insecurity

The Metro Caring community garden is working to address access to urban gardening for people who, in some cases, have never had a chance to garden.

DENVER — The Metro Caring community garden, which opened for the season this weekend, is helping empower people who otherwise would not have the chance to grow their own food.

At the community garden on Humbolt Street in the Uptown neighborhood, the plots are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. However, 70% of the plots are specifically for people who may have experienced food insecurity before or come from marginalized communities.

"The barriers to access in urban gardening and urban farming are often so high that folks that have a lot going on in their lives are not able to afford it. They simply can’t access it. They can’t get involved either because of the cost or they don’t have the time," said Jess Harper, Manager of Urban Agriculture for Metro Caring. 

The nonprofit supplies people with seedlings to start their gardens. They also provide help, advice and support to those with garden beds so they can successfully grow produce at their plot.

"This is my favorite time of year. This is my favorite part of my job, seeing people out and about and getting to plant their gardens," said Harper, who has developed a personal friendship with many of the gardeners who use the space. 

"We’re doing really hard work. We are growing food. We are making it happen and we have to be able to find these parts of joy because joy is part of the work and part of building strength," Harper said. 

Some of the gardeners are people who have a lot of experience. Others have no experience at all, or very little. 

"I didn’t even know what having my own garden meant before this. I didn’t know the work it took," said John Nelson, who heard about the community garden from a friend last year. 

Nelson managed to receive a plot for half the season last year when another gardener dropped off, but this is his first year for the entire season. 

"You don’t have any idea of the euphoria, of the feeling, the energy that you get when you do the garden," said Nelson, who was in the process Sunday of preparing his bed to plant blueberries, strawberries, collard greens and other produce. 

Metro Caring is part of the Denver Community Food Access Coalition, a group of eight nonprofits working to address food insecurity and provide greater access to urban gardening in Denver.

The coalition works to provide greater community food access by pooling together resources from Denver Urban Gardens, Hunger Free Colorado, Metro Caring, Denver Food Rescue, GrowHaus, Re:Vision, Sprout City Farms and Montbello Organizing Committee.

Other nonprofits within the coalition are working toward the same goal in a different way. Sprout City Farms produces 14,000 pounds of food at three different locations.

"We have been working together to listen to the community, pool resources and really try to figure out what is the answer to this and what can we do to help along the way," said Stefan Karg, Program Manager with Sprout City Farms.

They also offer workshops related to urban agriculture and sustainable living in the city. Their goal, along with the coalition, is to promote food security. 

On Sunday, Karg was also offering help and support to those planting at Metro Caring's garden.

"Not everyone lives somewhere where you have the ability to grow things," Karg said. "This gives you an opportunity to learn and try things and to learn from others."

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