Hillside’s fresh food revolution 


At times, early in the morning, I wander across the street from my home to a café to get my morning joe. Above the entrance to the kitchen there’s a sign that reads: “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well if one has not dined well.”

It’s true: None of us could survive without what is produced from the ground.

The last few years have been a “groundbreaking” for the nonprofit I work with, Colorado Springs Food Rescue. That intensity has increased over the past several months. Some weeks back, we announced our acquisition of a 3.46-acre parcel of land in the Hillside neighborhood, a donation from the Legacy Institute.

Hillside is a neighborhood whose closest fresh food options are the bananas, apples and oranges that are sometimes laid out on the front counter of 7-Eleven. The purpose of this land is to change that, by cultivating a community-driven food center, where neighbors grow, cook, learn about, access and advocate for fresh food.

My colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time researching everything from bodegas to cooperative economies based on growing fresh food. What I’ve admired the most is the incredible beauty each community creates around its connection with fresh food and how the space where food is grown exemplifies the identity of the neighborhood. Food connections build community strength.

I’ve felt that power in Hillside, a community where I’ve built many beautiful relationships over years of work, including what are probably thousands of hours spent working in a church’s community garden and many more hanging out at the Hillside Community Center.

Now, that community power is being put to work in a series of multi-phased projects on the Food Rescue property that will include an income-generating, four-season urban farm, educational programs, a community event and workshop space, and the Rescue’s administrative offices.

To my knowledge, this is the first project of its kind in a Colorado Springs neighborhood. It’s amazing to feed off the community’s excitement, and to feel the “let’s get to work” vibe in the air.

First in that process was hosting one of several community town hall meetings, which took place at Relevant Word Ministries, the church directly adjacent to the land. While getting the word out to the community, I met someone new. Shirley Williams, an 18-year resident of the neighborhood, lives in a house that’s been in her family for generations.
Now 59, Williams, who lives with and cares for her mother, has a food budget of about $200 a month. Nonetheless, she always tries to save enough to buy fresh lettuce. Williams says that at one time she was 50 pounds overweight and had diabetes but now “believe it or not, I don’t have it anymore.”

“I have a lot of diabetes in my family,” she continues. “... I had to take insulin two to three times a day and I hated it ... I just refused.”

Williams says she’s lost the weight by eating more baked food, salads and vegetables, as well as by walking and drinking more water. When I asked her what it would mean to have lettuce within walking distance in her neighborhood, she responded, “Whoa, my goodness!”

Another neighbor, not far from Shirley, is affectionately known as the “pigeon man.” A large flock of the birds hovers around his home waiting for their daily feeding of seeds from the prize-winning sunflowers that grow alongside long stalks of corn in his front yard.

Imagine what these two have to offer. I’m hoping Shirley might teach classes at our center on healthy eating, and the pigeon man says he’d like to share gardening techniques with his neighbors.

At our recent town hall, many of our neighbors were eager to hear more about the center. They also learned more about a fresh food pilot project in Hillside being conducted by a budding neighborhood food co-op that will take SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Ideas were presented for the future of the site: an indigenous garden, a compost park and the hiring of youth employees to guide gardening and fresh food education programming. The Rev. Promise Lee, a local community leader, suggested putting boulders at the entrance to the
center for now until we can afford a fence, to discourage late-night vandalism.

I left feeling energized.

Here’s the takeaway: Your neighborhood should not determine your lifespan. Hillside is prioritizing fresh food access as part of a social support system. And they’re getting more people to talk about food and health equity.

It’s a ripple effect. And I, and many others, am excited to see its impacts.


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