By Lisa Birman, MFA
Candice Kearns Orlando (BA, 2009) fell in love with Naropa when she was a senior at New Vista High. A Naropa student visited her class to teach poetry, and Candice was intrigued by her teaching style. As Naropa did not yet offer classes for first-year students, Candice set off for other ventures, but yearned for a deeper connection to self, the world, and social justice. Returning to her home in Boulder, Candice enrolled in Naropa's Environmental Studies program in 2006. The following year, she transferred to CU to study environmental design, but returned to Naropa in 2008 for the final two years of her undergraduate degree. "Social justice, our environment, peace studies, and diversity have always been a big piece of my life and to see that Naropa was fostering a space for these issues to be talked about and acted out, I realized that Naropa was truly a place for me."
While at Naropa, Candice became involved in the Transition movement, a community-led process in which neighborhoods engage in local responses to the global challenges of peak oil and climate change. In 2008, as her senior thesis project, Candice launched UrbiCulture Community Farms (UCCF), with a vision to create a multi-plot farm in Denver focusing on food justice and food accessibility. They started with four yards that they converted into gardens and six community supported agriculture (CSA) members. By the second year, they had eight plots and thirty CSA members. In 2012, they expanded to fourteen plots of land or 32,300 square feet, and fed hundreds of people. There was a waiting list for both their Yard Angels Program and for CSA memberships in 2012, and they already have a waiting list for 2013.
In line with their focus on food justice, UCCF offers sliding scale memberships, supported by community members participating at a sponsorship level. Members can also participate in a composting program, in which they are supplied with a bucket for vegetable waste. Each week, they exchange the used bucket for a clean one, creating a "closed loop system" in which the waste is used to fertilize the soil.
UCCF engages the local community through a number of outreach programs. Their Yard Angels Program is central to their mission. Community members donate plots of land, which UCCF converts into beautiful and productive gardens growing food for the local community. Through their Healing Foods Program, UCCF provides a CSA share to Denver-area shelters serving displaced women and children. Ashley Golder of Safehouse Denver says, "The Community Supported Agriculture share from UrbiCulture Community Farms is a tremendous supplement to our shelter food supply and helps offset the agency's cost of purchasing produce while providing healthy, nutritious food for our residents." The Columbian Elementary Youth Crops Program is a new program in which Denver high school students will cultivate, maintain, and harvest a school garden at Columbian Elementary School. The students will also mentor elementary school students and host a farmer's market providing affordable, healthy, local produce to low-income residents.
UCCF also started a "No Fruit Left Behind" Program in 2009, in which they care for community members' fruit trees, harvesting the fruit and leaving behind however much the property owners want. Excess fruit is donated to low-income families and used to make jams, which also benefit the donation program.
Four years after founding UCCF, Candice is even more committed to feeding her community. "It is hard work managing a business and all the hundreds of moving parts that go with it, but at the end of the day watching kids excited to see what new vegetable has popped up in their school garden, or when I can tell a family who normally couldn't afford fresh local vegetables that they can pay what they can at our farm stand because the person before them paid extra, or to know that a woman that is at a women's shelter gets to eat fresh tomatoes, it makes it all worth it."
Check out Beanstalk's video blog on UrbiCulture Community Farms' educational program.