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Of the list of things that would make residents around east Lakewood’s Mountair Park feel safer about coming and going, it’s a fair bet most wouldn’t put a small farm at the top of the list.
But the Mountair Park Community Farm, located at West 13th Avenue and Depew Street, has done just that by bringing healthy produce, visitors of all ages, and beautification to the park and surrounding area.
“We would hear so often from neighbors that they didn’t feel safe walking in their own neighborhood,” said Katie Huszcza, the farm’s manager. “Now we’re expanding, and are able to work with area children, some of whom have never seen what a carrot looks like growing in the ground.”
The farm was started by Sprout City Farms and the City of Lakewood in 2014 as a part of the 20-minute neighborhood initiative, which is funded by the Denver Regional Council of Governments and focuses on enhancing the neighborhood around the Sheridan transportation hub to help make the community safer.
The one-acre park grows a variety of vegetables from spring to autumn, and uses this produce to help provide healthy eating options to a largely low-income living area. One of the ways it does this is by selling its Community Supported Agriculture shares, which give shareholders 17 weeks of vegetables from the farm.
“During the season, shareholders come by the farm once a week to pick up their freshly grown veggies,” said Laura Lavid, executive director of Sprout City Farms. “Our vegetable options change as the season, but whatever we have is picked that day. It couldn’t get any fresher.”
There are several options for paying for a share — shoppers can pay the full price of $375 or they can sign up for work shares, where they are able to earn 50 percent of the cost back in exchange for working at the farm for about 34 hours during the season. Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as part of the food-stamp program, can also purchase a share for just $10 a week.
“We sell 50 shares every year, and are already at half sold,” Lavid said. “By being just one piece of the pie in the food system, we know we can make an impact in people’s nutrition.”
The farm is also a hands-on learning location for residents of all ages. Children in Lakewood’s summer camps often visit the farm, and Sprout City accepts interns to help with day-to-day projects.
“One of Mountair’s biggest strengths is its programming,” said Allison Scheck, marketing and community relations manager for Lakewood’s Community Resources Department. “The farm is crucial in filling a need for the community, and we’re seeing more and more people gather here.”
Last season, the farm expanded another half-acre, and is using the area to get people involved in new ways. Among the vegetables, fruit trees and raspberry patch, there are instruments for children to get creative with, and an area where people can apply to keep their beehives.
“We worked with the Butterfly Pavilion to create a pollinator garden in this part of our farm,” Huszcza said. “Bees like clumps of bright colors, so we’re hoping to see a lot of them once the season gets going.”
The park can expect even more visitors, since it is a stop on the coming 40 West ARTline, which uses public art installations to connect many of the parks around West Colfax.
This integration into the community may be where the farm is making the biggest impact in people’s lives.
Mountair Park has become home to the Jewish Family Service’s Lunchbox Express program during the summer, which brings free lunches to children younger than 18 during the months where they don’t get meals at school.
Since its inception, the farm has donated food to Mountair Christian Church, and is expanding this year to make donations to The Action Center and Lakewood’s Head Start program.
“It’s been a great collaboration ever since the farm started,” said Ruben Rodriguez, pastor with Mountair Christian Church. “We have about 250 to 300 people make use of our food pantry a month. It’s nice to be able to offer them some healthy options.”
The park has to be careful about what it donates to the church, since many of the people who use the pantry have no way to cook food, but staples like carrots and potatoes are always popular.
“The presence of this park has made a difference in the community,” Rodriguez added. “It’s not easy to bring such a diverse group of people together, but the farm has made progress.”
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