Ending Hunger at its Root in Colorado
Work with the community to meet the immediate need for nutritious food while building a movement to address the root causes of hunger.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Our "Place" is the state of Colorado. We believe that this work will be done best with a diversity of urban and rural counterparts.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Metro Caring was created in Denver's Uptown neighborhood in 1974, when five church and civic leaders came together to address local food insecurity by channeling resources through one organization. Though originally intended as a short-term safety net for people who had fallen on hard times, today the organization has evolved to accommodate the changing needs of the community.
In the last ten years or so, we have watched our home and neighborhood grow and gentrify before our eyes. Evaluation has shown that community members have increasingly been travelling farther and relying on the free Fresh Foods Market month after month for years just to make ends meet.
On the surface, Colorado's economy appears strong, healthy, and growing. However, there are still tens of thousands of families who are getting pushed out of long time homes and left behind by the growth. Metro Caring knows that as a community, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore it is working to ensure that it does better to include all its neighbors in this exciting community.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Colorado is known throughout the US as one of the most physically beautiful states. With the Rocky Mountains in the middle and plains on both sides, the state has beckoned to many as a vacation destination and as a home. The city of Denver is ranked as one of the fasted growing cities in the nation, with particular draw for Millennials.
Coloradans are known for being "outdoorsy"; called to activities such as skiing, snow boarding, mountain biking, hiking, and any other number of adventures year round. We particularly enjoy indulging in any food doused in green chili, a cold craft beer (or three), and buckets of Palisade peaches grown on the Western Slope.
Historically, most of the state was originally populated in the 1800's during the gold rush. The community still riles from events such as the destruction of Denver's "hop alley" Chinatown in race riots in 1880, and the ongoing gentrification of the historically black 5 Points neighborhood that was once famous for its legendary jazz scene.
Coloradans are to this day an entrepreneurial crowd, with high hopes for home ownership, business start ups, access to good food, and an equitable society.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Currently, Feeding America reports a 12.5% food insecurity rate in the United States (all citations available upon request). What is worse is that the numbers of food insecure families are stratified based on race. The USDA reports that less than 9% of white households in America are considered food insecure, compared to 22% of black households and 18% of Latinx households. Food insecurity is also directly linked with rates of diet related diseases like diabetes. The American Diabetes Association has found that living in poverty significantly increases the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Projections that Colorado’s population will grow to 7.8 million by 2040. Based on how this rapid growth has impacted Denver in recent years (housing shortages, rapid gentrification, increased traffic, etc), we can imagine that these issues will compound at the state level.
Metro Caring's community members have identified five high priority issues and challenges that contribute to their food insecurity. These include inaccessible living wage jobs, lack of family and medical leave, inefficient and inaccessible transportation, an affordable housing shortage, and the inadequate social safety net. So far, our community has shown up to help the city of Denver raise its minimum wage laws, packed a zoning board hearing to oppose a luxury development next door, and bombarded our transportation district with so many calls that they reopened a bus stop critical to our community.
One significant factor we expect to have a deep impact on our food system is the climate. Part of this crisis has been caused by agricultural practices in the US. More critically for Metro Caring’s work is that this system has made the cheap and affordable foods for low income families also the ones that more often cause diet-related diseases. Families who live off of low incomes see higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension because of the food they can afford. These existing models are unjust and unsustainable for low income communities. It is a vicious cycle that will require long term policy and culture change to address.
While food waste currently creates a massive environmental problem, the charitable food model erected itself around the notion that this problem could provide a solution to food insecurity, relying on food rescue to stock shelves of food banks and pantries. Grocery retail consolidation, technological advancements in inventory, and real time distribution models (as well as mounting consumer awareness and pressure) will inevitably lead to reductions of food waste. After the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon, we saw a 30% reduction in food waste. This shift presents free food distribution centers like Metro Caring a challenge for stocking shelves and an opportunity for re-inventing equitable community access in a way that builds food sovereignty.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
In the past three years, leadership at the organization has reassessed how we work. We now approach the problem from the system perspective, shifting our goal from providing more food to more people every year to eliminating the need for more people to get food each year.
In 2019, we completed an intensive strategic planning process. We started this process with a 50-year visioning activity where staff and board members shared their visions for a news headline describing Metro Caring in the year 2069. Most of us said we had put ourselves out of business. Visions described innovative ideas that ultimately brought food insecurity rates in Colorado down to historic lows, making the services we have provided no longer necessary. Some headlines even showed a retrospective, saying that we had accomplished this goal by 2050.
We then used this vision as a north star to establish 10-year goals and the tactics to get there. The process, grounded in Metro Caring’s core values, included community members in co-creation of the plan. Two of the goals include having developed, mobilized, and trained food equity leaders who have lived experience in food insecurity and having implemented a sustainable local food sovereignty framework/model across the state of Colorado.
In order to tackle these targets and address the challenges they refer to Metro Caring is launching a leadership fellowship made up of individuals from across the state. This fellowship will create a space for community members with lived experience to engage in the process of creating a more equitable and sustainable food system. Fellows will train in diversity and inclusion, equitable systems, and effective communication of issues at the community and legislative levels. The idea is to train up a generation of leaders who have the knowledge, skills, and support needed to kick off and maintain a movement to end hunger.
Metro Caring is also creating a Food Access Sustainability Committee made up of staff, volunteers, participants, board members, partner organizations, experts, and individuals with lived experience. This Committee will plan and implement a more sustainable approach to food access for Denver and eventually Colorado.
In the coming 30 years, Metro Caring’s community will also address the nation’s agricultural problems through first embracing a more local food production system by expanding its hydroponic farm production of greens as well as funneling the production into a social enterprise CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Individuals will grow food in the container farm and sell it to other members of the Denver community.
As this community and organization grows to encompass and involve more of rural Colorado, more action will take place around collectively addressing the root causes of diet-related diseases, access to equitable health resources, and evolving agricultural policy.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
So far, the majority of Metro Caring’s concrete actions have been planned for the next 10 years. Right now, we are setting a foundation for what happens later and making it possible for the next 30 years of work to be led by community members. We are prioritizing food sovereignty, which is defined as the ability of individuals and communities to maintain control over their own local food systems, creating choice and ownership for all. It is the belief that a community should be able to exist without chronic hunger.
Our vision is that people in Colorado will participate in a food system that allows them to not have to lean on nonprofits in order to meet the basic human right of food. Instead, we see a system that is much more local, with us all gathering in gardens, in cooking clubs, and in each other’s kitchens to enjoy fresh healthy food together.
Metro Caring envisions that it will have a network of thriving local food businesses that it has helped launch, with individuals in the community having direct access to the means of production. Big, systems-level ideas include starting a public food utility program.
Everything we are doing to spark a movement to end hunger and support food choice occurs with community voice at the center. Our staff know that the economic infrastructure and racial wealth gap continue to contribute to inequity of food access in the US, but when it comes to specific actions to address these issues we turn to the true experts: those who are on the ground experiencing this inequity in their everyday lives. In completing the fellowship, leaders will be equipped with the skills to mobilize their own communities and influence policy makers toward positive economic change across the state.
By 2030, Metro Caring (and Colorado) will be setting an example for other regions in the US and around the world. We will have built a framework for how to start similar food movements and become a convener for the conversation around ending hunger for good.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Metro Caring is starting from a position where we have seen the problem of hunger persist in our community for generations.
To be frank, we are really sick of it and want to see it end for good. We believe that ending hunger will look like a more just, equitable, and sustainable food system where individuals of any background have choice and access to nutritious food. We call this food sovereignty; and acknowledge that it operates within the systems of state and local government. Our goal is to shift this existing system toward including the voices of historically marginalized groups rather than segregating through gentrification.
To reach this goal we know we have to start with the numbers. Looking at the data, we know that we are facing a steep food insecurity rate that varies based on race – exacerbating the already malignant racial divide this nation has been struggling with for hundreds of years. We also know that our population (especially in Colorado) is only growing. However, a growing, passionate, and culturally diverse population are exactly what we need to build a movement and achieve our vision for the future.
Culture, technology, environment, diet, economics, and policy all connect to food sovereignty. When we refer to food choice, this means having the ability to choose healthy and affordable options, as well as access ingredients that are relevant to any family’s culture. Gaining this access will involve changes to policies that impact the environment, agriculture, and the social safety net. When these changes are made it will inevitably impact the economy by shifting how grocery chains and food distributors do business, how historically low-income communities gain power, and how rates of diet-related disease stratify based on race and income.
Metro Caring cares about the climate crisis in the context of how it impacts humanity’s access to healthy food: Without healthy lands, soil, and water, the crops we consume become more and more difficult to grow. We push for local food systems because local produce is fresher, which is healthier for our bodies. It also benefits the cultural identity and cohesion of our communities to be able to meet the people who produce our food face to face.
Data is conclusive that that poor diet and nutrition leads to diet-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease. What Metro Caring’s vision is trying to fight is the fact the rates of these diseases are higher in populations that survive off of lower incomes. One way we do this now is through community and peer led nutrition classes like Diabetes Self-Management in a variety of languages. In the future, these courses and platforms will expand based on how community members launch new ideas.
If we are truly going to disrupt the adverse health effects of living on low incomes (otherwise known as the social determinants of health), then we need to combat other forms of economic inequality like the racial wealth gap and redlining. Metro Caring is connecting marginalized individuals with big dreams to the resources they need to build community wealth. These include entrepreneurial trainings through the Rocky Mountain Micro Finance Institute. Creating opportunities for new minority-owned businesses will build generational wealth and food sovereignty in populations that have seldom had access to these privileges.
With over 25,000 people who speak at least 40 different languages visiting Metro Caring every year, one can imagine the cultural diversity at the organization is extraordinary. One way we celebrate this is through cooking clubs. Food = culture, and everything we do is food! We also prioritize sourcing foods that are culturally relevant to our community like fresh tortillas, basmati rice, teas, and spices. We recognize the power in our interconnected community, so we are leaving it up to them to decide how different this will look in a more sovereign food system.
Technology is being embraced at the organization through updating the data management systems and software. Streamlining data collection and disbursal allows staff and volunteers to cultivate more personal relationships with community leaders while building our ability to track progress and impact. We have already increased the time available for more meaningful participant contact by 18 minutes per person.
Metro Caring’s Community Activation team is already working together with community members to co-create positive lasting policy change on topics that directly impact the experts with lived experience. For example, we recently acted in support of a city ordinance to raise Denver’s minimum wage, making it possible for families to come closer to affording life in our gentrifying city. In the future, this effort of nonprofits toward letting communities lead will become a model across the state of Colorado and the nation.
It is for all the above reasons that Metro Caring’s leadership has developed a strategy to end hunger at its root. This strategy is to build a movement of community leaders who will develop tactics that organize the power we have always seen in our community, generating civic engagement, contributing to a healthier democracy, and building equity for all.
We believe that building a movement is the most effective way to make fast and long-lasting change. With our existing community base of over 25,000 households and 5,000 volunteers each year, in addition to the fact that they all congregate in one space already, we know we can cultivate an environment in which to educate, train, and develop thousands of invested people to affect change.
Our initial tactics for building this movement include involving community members in organizational decisions, development of a statewide leadership fellowship for individuals with lived experience to learn and build a coalition for change, and as usual practicing co-creation and continuous improvement. We cannot predict what issues will come up in the future, but we know we can help address what is happening now and equip future leaders to tackle new issues from all levels.
Every part of Metro Caring is run with a mindset of solidarity. The organization utilizes a model that values the unique skills, knowledge, experiences, and resources that every individual brings to the table. This collection of individuals with incredible assets holds so much yet untapped power – and this is what we want to provide a platform for.
Metro Caring is increasingly committed to the process of co-creating with participants to improve program offerings. The results of this work include the addition of multilingual signage in the building, more culturally relevant foods in the market, bilingual class and event offerings, and active recruitment of current and former participants to the Board of Directors.
Metro Caring and its leadership are dedicated to ensuring that community members play an essential role in every aspect of the organization’s planning and operations, from board membership, to direction-setting around issue engagement, and program development that drives meaningful change.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?