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Colorado Springs Food Rescue’s Zac Chapman on local food equity 

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
  • File Photo

Zac Chapman, executive director for Colorado Springs Food Rescue (CSFR), is clearly passionate on the topics of food access, education and healthy community-based food outcomes. As a board member of the Food Policy Advisory Board of El Paso County and a member of the Colorado Food Policy Network, he spends most of his time advocating for changes in Arkansas River Valley community food systems that impact all of us, whether we know it or not.

Indy: How did food systems and advocacy become your calling?

Chapman: I was a youth food educational curriculum developer for the Boys & Girls Club, I’ve managed two farms and my grandmother inspired me with her love for the land. Now I’ve been part of the food justice movement for a decade. I’m driven by the belief that our food systems are reflective of our wider systems of justice and inclusion in our culture, our country and globally.

Why is food justice and equity so important and so important for Colorado Springs?

It’s not important only for Colorado Springs — it’s important for everyone everywhere. Look, we understand what makes us healthy. Studies have shown that health is less determined by individual choices and personal genome than by your neighborhood’s access to food, community and youth education, economic stability. These are the social determinants of health. This is the basis for the Neighborhood Food Community movement — when we invest equitably in neighborhoods we can really drive better health outcomes through the power of fresh food. This is why The Hillside Hub is so exciting.

Let’s talk about The Hillside Hub.

The Hillside Hub is a neighborhood food center. It integrates food access, education, four-season urban farming, fresh grocery distribution, and even employment opportunities. Composting. Cooking classes. We started planning in 2018, we have 3.5 acres [at 1090 S. Institute, provided to CSFR by The Legacy Institute at a $354,000 value], and ultimately the goal is human connectivity and community health.

How close are you to being fully operational in that space?

Including land donation, we have raised close to $1.3 million through major gifts, foundations, the Give! program and the general community. We are about $700,000 away from meeting the financial goals that will allow us to be operational.

Outside of The Hillside Hub, what issues does Colorado Springs have regarding food security and food health? What needs to be done?

Well, this work has intersections with food security sure, but an important concept is the foodshed. Much like people have become aware of watershed — where does our water come from, and what does it go through to get here? — the foodshed looks at the whole bioregional landscape — where the food in our community is being grown, under what circumstances, and how it gets here.

When we talk about local food in Colorado Springs, we aren’t really talking just about Colorado Springs. We’re really talking about the Arkansas River Valley east of Pueblo. This is the mineral-rich bread-basket of southern Colorado. Our food here should come from this incredible resource, but we’ve lost some farmers of late. The conversations we need to be having are around more mechanisms for farmers in the Arkansas River Valley to have access to the Colorado Springs market. We need the infrastructure for individual consumers to have access to these farmers’ goods where they normally buy fresh foods. We have a lot of opportunities in these areas.

How do you build awareness of the need for healthy foods and the foodshed?

When we talk about the average person in our country, the average person can’t afford a $500 emergency. So we think the average person can’t support a local food economy. But these are stereotypes directed at our neighbors who are food-insecure. When we survey people with food insecurity the No. 1 thing they desire is access to fresh produce, meats and dairies. So that’s where we need to educate. CSFR supports over 11,000 people with our no-cost grocery program every year. People want fresh, healthy food.

So where does CSFR need to focus its advocacy, beyond existing programs and The Hillside Hub?

Definitely there is advocacy work to do regarding how to support a local food economy. A lot of conversation about supporting the local foodshed. Often, a lot of time is spent discussing personal health, and the conversation should be more about whether we are investing in community wealth-building with regards to food. How we can create the means by which to get regional products where they need to go in this area.

But the regional system is really rough for farmers and for people struggling with food insecurity. We are engaged with the El Paso County Public Health Food Assessment, which focuses on policies and systems and environmental changes. Looking at innovative ways to get healthy food into communities. The Hillside Hub will be piloting a local food-buying program, for instance.

Some groups doing great work in this area are Bondadosa [bondadosa.org] — they are a for-profit doing great work assisting in the logistics of getting fresh food into communities, and Tap Root Cooperative [taprootcooperative.com], a producer-managed local food distributor. 

This is important work.

Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Legacy Institute donated the property at a $354,000 value.

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