Future Farmers Of America

November 11, 2011 by staff 

Future Farmers Of America, More than 25 years’ experience with community gardens helped Denver Urban Gardens win a $70,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s People’s Garden Grant Program.

“There is expertise here that few communities in the country have,” said Harris Sherman, the USDA undersecretary for natural resources and the environment.

The USDA received 360 proposals but selected only 10, awarding a total of $725,000 to create 155 gardens.

In Denver, the money will be used to develop 14 new gardens in the next two years, adding to Denver Urban Gardens’ network of 114 community gardens, which produce more than 294 tons of food each year.

One of the new gardens will be at the J.W. Maxwell Elementary School in Montbello, where about 70 percent of students are Latino and 25 percent are African-American, with 96 percent receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

Sherman on Thursday said he envisioned a generation of urban farmers as he watched kids running around the lawn where the garden will be.

“These are the future farmers of America,” he said.

The goal of the program, along with other urban gardens around town, is to give people in underserved neighborhoods and food deserts access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.

“In recent years, we’ve seen results from our research with the Colorado School of Public Health about how important they are to food access and food security,” said Denver Urban Gardens spokeswoman Abbie Harris.

Their research found that 95 percent of community gardeners in metro Denver give away some of the produce they grow to friends, family and people in need. About 60 percent specifically donate to food-assistance programs.

USDA employees kicked off the People’s Garden initiative in 2009 by creating gardens at government facilities.

In Denver, three federal agencies had just moved to the Denver Federal Center — the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resources Conservation Service — and launched an interagency collaboration to convert unused land to a community garden.

This year, they raised more than 230 pounds of food, which they donated to the Jeffco Action Center.

Their garden also became a learning tool for the 110 children at the Clever Kids Learning Center next door.

“It was a great opportunity to work with little kids and show them where their food comes from,” said Petra Barnes Walker, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Conservation Center.

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