10 Denver Organizations Win Grants to Fight Food Waste

Co-Authored with Roy Steiner, The Rockefeller Foundation

Last June, NRDC announced a partnership with the City and County of Denver as part of a bold effort—Denver’s Food Action Plan 2020. The Food Action Plan is a forward-thinking program written to fulfill the goals set forward in the broader framework of the Denver Food Vision. The Food Action Plan seeks to make the vision an accomplishable reality for Denver residents by setting goals to reduce the number of food insecure households by 55 percent, and to cut the volume of food waste in residential garbage collection by 57 percent citywide by 2030.

Today, we are pleased to announce the expansion of NRDC’s partnership with Denver to fight food waste. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, we are providing grants to 10 local Denver businesses and non-profits, whose ongoing work will contribute to the achievement of our goals to reduce food waste in the city. Below is a list of our awardees—congratulations to these incredible groups!

NRDC Food Matters Funds Award Recipients

The Growhaus

The GrowHaus works to ensure lasting access to healthy food in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea (GES) neighborhoods in Denver, by serving as a neighborhood-based, community-driven hub for food distribution, food education, food production, and economic opportunity. The GrowHaus will use funds for Cosechando Salud (Harvesting Health), their weekly no-cost grocery program and cooking class, which uses rescued food donated by Denver Food Rescue. Every Monday residents of GES and surrounding neighborhoods participate in a bilingual participatory cooking class, take part in a Zumba class, share a healthy community meal, and then bring home rescued food available that week, including fruit, vegetables, bread, milk, and prepared foods.

Children’s Farms in Action

Children’s Farms in Action was awarded Food Matters Funds in partnership with several other organizations forming the Montbello Farm-School Network Community Project (FSNCFP). The FSNCFP is a three-year collaborative impact project among several local schools and nonprofit organizations that came together more than a year ago to address a common purpose to create a community-based food system to improve food access and reduce food insecurity in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood. Elements of the envisioned system include growing food locally in school-based gardens, rescuing and distributing food that would ordinarily become wasted food, and teaching children and adults about growing food, converting food waste into compost and utilizing that compost to create soil that yields more healthy and fresh food. Food Matters Funds will be used to carry out the work needed to implement programming, mostly around expanding the capacity of the low-cost/no-cost grocery to provide more equitable food access for all residents by expanding growing and food rescue collections and providing paid summer internships for youth.

The Consumption Literacy Project

The expertise of our organization is in engaging and supporting youth, educators, and communities to innovate ways of changing waste and consumption patterns in the classroom, in our backyards, and everyday life. The Nearly Zero Project is a product of CLP’s work with over 350 youth across 7 schools in Denver and Jefferson County teaching about the environment through food and compost.  CLP’s innovative programming facilitates an active learning environment, co-creating change with youth, and holding the space for them to have voice and hands in the process of making these shifts in the culture of their schools and communities. Food Matters Funds will help to fully fund the Nearly Zero Project and allow experts to educate in classrooms at Academy 360 starting this spring.

Jewish Family Services

The mission of Jewish Family Service of Colorado (JFS) is to enhance the wellbeing of those in need throughout the greater Denver community by delivering services based on Jewish values. Every day, JFS helps people overcome challenges to live fuller, more meaningful lives. Food Matters Funds will support JFS’s Weinberg Food Pantry (WFP) by providing important operational funding and increasing its ability to serve those who are food insecure. Each week, WFP staff make 12 food rescue pick-ups from 3 local grocery stores, ensuring that excess food that would otherwise be thrown out is distributed to low-income individuals who are food insecure. Last year, JFS rescued 352,763 pounds of food from local grocery stores. JFS also has a strong partnership with We Don't Waste (WDW), a local food rescue nonprofit. In addition to its grocery rescue, WFP distributed an additional 44,475 pounds of food rescued by WDW in the last year. Most of the food rescued from grocery stores and WDW is fresh produce, dairy, bread, frozen meat, and pre-packaged refrigerated goods such as salads, wraps, and sandwiches. Through WFP, JFS serves more than 2,000 unduplicated households each year, providing enough food to feed each individual in the household for a week during each visit.

Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center

Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center (SVKCC) has created multiple programs to provide and expand food access opportunities for Denver’s Sun Valley community. SVKCC has received over 180,000 pounds of recovered food from Denver Food Rescue, and other food rescue organizations including We Don’t Waste. The rescued food is utilized for a No-Cost Grocery Program, Sun Valley Youth Center Dinners and various community events. 24,170 individuals have been served through the No-Cost Grocery Program and SVKCC has served over 40,000 meals to children and families utilizing recovered food. Food Matters Funding will be used to hire a community-based staff member to run the No-Cost Grocery Program, quantify how much food is wasted, address operational costs, and provide prepared food that is SNAP-eligible at the Kitchen.

Re:Vision

Re:Vision is a 501c3 organization based in southwest Denver. Since 2009, Re:Vision has grown the largest community-food system project in the country with over 2,000 household gardens, a community urban farm, indoor hydroponic facility, cooking and nutrition education, and upcoming commercial kitchen. Through partnership with local food rescue organization, Metro Caring, Re:Vision is proposing a food waste recycling program to divert over 500,000 pounds of food waste annually. The program will launch with the investment in infrastructure for Re:Vision to collect food waste daily from MetroCaring and expand to a neighborhood food waste collection system that will allow low-income families to get compost pick-up and finished product drop-off. Food Matters Funds will go towards expanding needed infrastructure and scaling up Re:Vision’s existing food waste diversion program as well as laying the groundwork for a neighborhood-wide compost collection system. Funding would also support consumer educational materials for the Westwood community, which is a primarily Spanish speaking community.

Groundwork Denver

Groundwork Denver (GWD) is receiving funds in partnership with Denver Food Rescue (DFR) for Fresh Food Connect (FFC), a collaborative project formed by GWD, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) and DFR. FFC is a national technology program that employs youth with barriers to employment to collect excess backyard garden produce using bikes and trailers and redistribute it so community residents via a smartphone web-add. Food Matters Funds will support the ongoing expansion of FFC Denver’s operations in northwest and northeast and help FFC to achieve the economy of scale needed to provide the consistent supply of produce necessary to successfully run farm stands, teaching youth valuable retail skills.

We Don’t Waste

We Don’t Waste supports the community and the environment by reclaiming and redistributing quality food to those in need. This mission is supported by two overarching goals: 1) Increase food security with access to healthy food, and; 2) Support the environment by decreasing food waste heading to area landfills. We Don’t Waste collects quality food from roughly 150 food providers and deliver it to nearly 60 nonprofit agencies feeding the hungry (plus another 130 organizations through partner distribution). Food Matters Funds will help We Don’t Waste to expand their footprint in 2019 to serve a greater area and more people. Some funding goals include: the launch of a Mobile Food Market and identifying areas of the city and populations not being adequately served and finding local partners to work with in those areas and recovering more food that is at least 50% fresh produce, dairy, protein, and grains.

Birdseed Collective

Birdseed Collective is a nonprofit community outreach organization that is dedicated to improving the socio-economic climate of Denver, Colorado through innovative arts and humanities offerings. Birdseed Collective runs a free food redistribution program at the Globeville Center in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood, redistributing an average of 2000 lbs a week during a one-hour weekly program. The food program directly teaches residents how to preserve food for future use, has decreased the community reliance on unhealthy food by providing healthier choices, has supported a resident-led approach and created opportunities for revitalization in the neighborhood and much more. Food Matters funds will provide essential operational funding to allow Birdseed Collective to manage the Globeville Center and increase funding for staff, supplies and other important resources.

Scraps LLC

Scraps is a bike-powered compost service—a hauler of food scraps and all commercially compostable materials—dedicated to making composting widespread in Denver and changing the city's waste diversion paradigm. With more than 500 customers, across 30 neighborhoods in Denver, Scraps now hauls upwards of 6,000 pounds per week (a rate that continues to increase). Food Matters Funds will help with critical ongoing operational costs like hauler fees and compostable bags. 

With $100,000 in funding in-total, the ten grant recipients we’re announcing today will help build and strengthen local nonprofits and mission-driven small businesses that focus on advancing three areas identified by NRDC’s assessment. This includes:

  • Wasted Food Prevention: Efforts to reduce or eliminate excess food at the source, including improved inventory management, repurposing of surplus food, and alternatives to the underlying causes of food going to waste.
  • Food Rescue: Efforts to maintain or expand donation of nutritious foods, make rescued foods more accessible in the most underserved neighborhoods and to people with disabilities, and strengthen the operational efficiency and responsiveness of the food rescue system.  
  • Food Scrap Recycling: Efforts to expand or improve the infrastructure devoted to composting and/or anaerobic digestion processing and collection, including education and recruitment targeting food scrap generators.

A critical element of NRDC’s Food Matters project is a commitment to equitable, transparent, and mutually-beneficial partnerships with Denver-based organizations. In an effort to run an inclusive and transparent grant-making process, we sought the counsel of equity and human-centered design experts from Weav Studio. Weav Studio’s operating philosophy is that those closest to a societal problem are best-equipped with the knowledge and experience to define the solution. With Weav, we asked the local community partners who ultimately applied for the funding to also help design the project goals, the size and type of the grants awarded, and to contribute input on the selection process. Along the way, we learned invaluable insights from stakeholders, local advocacy organizations, last-mile food pantry organizations, food rescue organizations, neighborhood organizations, community gardens, urban farms, churches, and community resource centers.

Through these conversations, we learned that increased transparency in the grant-making process was of highest importance to our community partners and stakeholders. With little time and staff capacity, folks told us that the decision to apply for funding often came down to their determination of their actual likelihood of receiving the funding, but the determination was made in the dark—they felt that they lacked a real baseline or context for making that determination. Our goal was to build a diverse and robust application pool for our selection process, so we designed and made public our scoring rubric for applicants. Potential applicants could then see exactly how they would be scored and how these scores were weighted. Moreover, we asked two community partners who work closely and deeply in our focus areas, but who weren’t applying for funding, to serve on our selection committee.

Our effort to make our selection process transparent reflects our commitment to the challenge our grantees will endeavor to solve with their work. We believe that food waste is but one component of a bigger, worldwide problem, which is among the greatest we face today as a society.

Our global food system is built to maximize profit and production over health and natural resources. It is failing to nourish the world and failing to preserve our planet for future generations. Given the enormity of those obstacles, where do we begin? The answer is in our own cities, local businesses and backyards.

Identifying problems is easier than solving them. That’s why we are so excited to announce our winners, and support this robust community of organizations selected from an extraordinary group of applicants.

About the Authors

Elizabeth Balkan

Director, Food Waste; Food & Agriculture Program

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