Development uproots urban ag organization GreenLeaf

Urban farmers like growing things. But all too often lately — especially in Denver — gardens are getting uprooted by encroaching development.

Take Greenleaf, a youth-led nonprofit food-justice program that builds leadership among high school students from Northeast Denver neighborhoods. The program, founded in 2009, transformed an abandoned lot in Denver’s Cole neighborhood into a farm, but was bumped from that plot in 2013, to the Sustainability Park at 25th and Lawrence. Now, GreenLeaf is having to pack up its seeds and transplant itself again.

That’s because a developer, Tree House, is building a new project on the block. While the news does not come entirely as a surprise, it is certainly a disappointment to the farmers who run three urban ag projects that make their home in the Sustainability Park located at a nexus of economic growth in the traditionally black and Latino neighborhoods of Curtis Park, Five Points and Rhino.

“The development and gentrification and all that’s helping has a really serious impact on urban ag in Denver. Land access is one of the biggest needs for farming,” said GreenLeaf’s director Cody Meinhardt.

Undeveloped land in Denver is scarce. And any abandoned privately owned plot is sure to be sold for condos, hipster craft boutiques or organic dispensaries – no matter how many heirloom tomatoes can be grown there.

Projects like GreenLeaf that farm on private land don’t just get pushed out by development – they actually attract it, Meinhardt said.

“Having a program like GreenLeaf is great for the community, and people want to live near something like that. They want to be able to walk down to their local farmer and buy fresh produce picked that morning … It’s a real factor in the development of the neighborhood and increased interest in the neighborhood.“

What happens to GreenLeaf and other nonprofit ag groups?

“We tend to be displaced,” Meinhardt said.

So Greenleaf is holding a fundraiser Saturday from 5-9 p.m. at 1368 26th Street in Denver. Tickets start at $20. For more information, go to GreenLeaf’s Facebook event.

Money raised will help the organization pay for a move from the Sustainability Park to a farm twice the size at Smiley Middle School in Park Hill. Moving to a public school will give GreenLeaf a reliable farm site to continue to serve the community and educate and empower Northeast Side youth into the future.

The move isn’t entirely unwelcome. After all, wealthy white people flooding Denver’s Five Points-Curtis Park-Rhino neighborhoods have pushed out many of the low-income youth GreenLeaf aims to hire as farmers.

“We have our food justice mission, and it’s important for us to be in an area where we can meet our mission, and be a real place-based program where the farm itself is owned by the community,” Meinhardt said.

Photo credit: Woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons, Flickr.