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Huerta: An Earning while Learning Urban Agriculture Social Enterprise for Immigrants and Refugees

Huerta provides sustainable economic opportunities through a 2Gen approach to urban agriculture for immigrant and refugee families.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Since 1995, Focus Points Family Resource Center has offered comprehensive programs that address the many obstacles that immigrant and refugee families face on their journey to self-reliance. Focus Points serves the Globeville Elyria-Swansea (GES) neighborhoods of Denver—three vibrant neighborhoods that are home to immigrant populations, under resourced, and now under threat of gentrification. 72% of households make less than 100% of Denver's median income (< $60,000) and 42% of children under 18 are living in poverty. The steep increases in housing costs that accompany gentrification necessitate creative programming to support existing residents in securing sustainable income. To address families’ barriers to accessing high quality economic opportunities, Focus Points will launch Huerta, an urban agriculture social enterprise designed to empower every member of a family. Huerta is a paid “earn-while-you-learn” training program. Adult participants earn a competitive wage as they learn core technical and business skills over 3 years. Each program element is designed as an incubator to equip participants with the right tools, including certificates from local universities and community organizations, to successfully pursue economic opportunity pathways. Huerta’s versatile curriculum is tailored to each individual: they can choose to specialize in a variety of educational tracks including greenhouse management, product development, composting, cooperative ownership, and business ownership. Huerta takes a Two-Generation (2Gen) approach designed to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by simultaneously providing programs for low-income parents and their children. Children will have access to high-quality early childhood education and be exposed to the urban agriculture material their parents are learning at an age-appropriate level. As a social enterprise, Huerta will sustain itself through selling marketable products developed by program participants.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Close to downtown Denver, the GES neighborhood is now undergoing significant urban development projects, including maneuvering a major freeway viaduct underground, making the neighborhood accessible to downtown and catalyzing its gentrification. Huerta targets GES with the goal to keep immigrant families in their homes so they can benefit from the development, instead of becoming once again displaced which is historically the case for marginalized communities when Denver neighborhoods gentrify.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Huerta builds bridges between immigrant and refugee families and the broader Denver community by training participants to be career ready in the urban agriculture industry. Participant families will learn to leverage their lived experiences to influence the urban agriculture sector. Huerta will connect participants with partners such as the Denver Botanic Gardens and a community health center, giving them a platform to learn and share their experiences with influential community resources.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Huerta’s primary purpose is to address income inequities for immigrant and refugee families through sustainable wages, career readiness and community wealth-building. We know from Focus Points’ first social enterprise, Comal Heritage Food Incubator, that Huerta’s impact will run deeper than access to economic opportunities. Families in the neighborhood are multigenerational and each individual faces diverse barriers to success. Generational gaps can develop in immigrant and refugee families—the children of immigrants feel assimilated while their parents and grandparents do not. Huerta’s 2Gen model is a platform for parents and children to learn together and co-create an identity for their family within their community. Building social capital as a family cohort establishes dignity for the adult generation and hope for the children’s future. Social equity and financial capacity pave the way for joyful living in a connected, supportive community.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Huerta’s unique 2Gen social enterprise model will help move the needle of poverty in a system marginalizes immigrant and refugee families. Huerta’s earning-while-learning model provides supplemental wages for participants while they acquire core job skills, agricultural expertise and guidance to launch their own businesses and cooperatives. This approach recognizes that “free” job training programs are inaccessible to low income communities because of associated expenses such as childcare, transportation, and lost wages. Adult participants will build technical skills business development and the agricultural sector and transferrable soft skills. Children will participate in evidence-based school readiness activities. Program evaluation will measure household earnings, adult workforce readiness, child school readiness, and levels of health and long-term well-being for the entire family. Outcomes will be measured by assessments developed with the guidance of a professional consultant.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Following the success of Focus Points’ first social enterprise, Comal Heritage Food Incubator, community members expressed the need for additional opportunities to learn transferable soft skills and sector-specific job skills sought after in the Denver job market. The social enterprise model is accessible to and is successful with families in the neighborhood. Many participants are foreign-born residents who grew up on farms or ranches in Latin America. Huerta’s focus on agriculture and building a culture of community is familiar to immigrant families and builds on the assets they bring to Denver’s economy. As the city of Denver pursues ways to ensure fresh food is available in all neighborhoods, the urban agriculture industry has become extremely successful. This industry provides Focus Points with multiple employment partners for certified Huerta graduates to secure gainful employment to support their families.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Globeville Elyria-Swansea community members have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and the tenacity to thrive in their neighborhoods. However, these communities face significant barriers to a financially secure future. GES experiences one of the highest unemployment rates in Denver, 8.7% compared to Denver’s overall unemployment rate of 3.2%. According to 2016 data from the Piton Foundation’s Shift Research Lab, an estimated 26% of GES families live in poverty. Barriers to accessing employment within GES include a lack of quality childcare, transportation, and educational opportunities. Construction from a major freeway expansion and the development of a large commercial complex disrupt the community. Huerta will strategically remove the barriers families face by offering educational opportunities to adults, transportation to and from programs, and low-cost, curriculum-based childcare to complement all adult programming.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Despite the rise in residential and commercial displacement resulting from the gentrification of the GES neighborhoods, community members remain committed to achieving financial self-sufficiency in order to stay in their homes and preserve their local culture. The number of participants interested in workforce development rises each year and these engaged families have a strong voice in the development of initiatives that advance career opportunities. Huerta’s model will draw upon the success of the Comal Heritage Food Incubator to build cultural bridges between participants and within the community. Comal participants expressed a sense of pride that their cultural identity and heritage earns wages to support their families. Huerta will incorporate the immigrant and refugee populations’ lived experiences with rural farming into the social enterprise model to optimize long-term impact in building community wealth.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

The promise of the Huerta program brings regional and statewide partners together. The following organizations and agricultural industry experts serve on the advisory board: Denver Human Services, Denver Early Childhood Council, National Western Complex, Colorado State University Extension (CSU), Andrew Nowak (independent farmer), and Dan Goldhamer (CSU Horticultural Agent). Organizations and individuals providing expertise and guidance to programming include: Denver Early Childhood Council, National Western Complex, Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG), Clinica Tepeyac, Radian: “Imagine the Possibilities,” Brien Darby (DBG Senior Horticulturist), Alan Lewis (Director of Special Projects Natural Grocers), Adam Schlegel (Co-Founder of Snooze, Founder of Eater Denver), Sally Herbert (Co-Founder and CEO of Altius Farms). The Colorado Department of Human Services provided financial support for the planning phase of Huerta through a 2Gen2Go grant.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

Focus Points Family Resource Center

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Focus Points offers its constituents core, culturally grounded, evidence-based programs. 100% of the families served by Focus Points qualify as low-income and are under-resourced. In 2010, the organization moved into the GES neighborhoods and targeted our programs to the Spanish-speaking community to best address our neighbors’ unique needs. Focus Points 2Gen model includes programming in early childhood education, family development, adult education, and economic opportunities. Each of these elements is incorporated into the Huerta coursework. Our programs benefit the entire family by assisting residents with securing gainful employment to stay in their homes and improve education, food access, physical and mental health. Following the success of the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, the Huerta social enterprise will allow participants to earn supplemental income while learning new skills for career development and advancing family development goals.

Website URL:

www.focuspoints.org

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

USA

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Denver, Colorado

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