Food Access in Suburban Denver, How Lakewood is Going All-In with Urban Farming

There was a great article in the Denver Post last week on the City of Lakewood, CO and how they have partnered with the University of Colorado to investigate and create a strategy “in order to increase production, availability and consumption of locally grown, affordable and healthy food”.

A little bit on Lakewood first.  It is a city of about 150,000 residents directly SW of Denver.  It’s median household income is $53,000, below the State average of $58,000, and well below Metro Denver’s $63,000 median household income.  More than 10% are below the poverty line.  It isn’t as wealthy as other cities in the Metro Denver region, especially those in the NW portion.  It is a working class suburban type of city.

I visited Lakewood back in 2010 when I was doing work for the City and County of Denver.  Nothing of significance stood out now that I think back six years ago, except for Belmar, a very cool and progressive mixed-use development that took a derelict shopping mall and transformed it into a suburban community hub of retail, dining, residential, office, and entertainment.  The former Villa Italia Mall was razed, and the 104-acre site became an urban, pedestrian friendly downtown for a city that never had a central meeting place.

BelmarLakewood_cnu

Belmar, Lakewood, CO – Image credited to CNU.org

The project has become a huge success, with over 2,000 residents in the master development, and businesses that employ more than 3,000 employees.  Lakewood was one of the pioneers in suburban mixed-use town centers that now dot the North American landscape.

Lakewood is now pursuing something a little different, but just as innovative.  Sprout City Farms has become a success story in Lakewood, providing upwards of 2,5000 pounds of food annually from their urban farm, into the hands of local residents who have limited access to fresh produce.  This has led to the partnership with the University of Colorado, to investigate the sustainability of food production in the city, and how “the city could facilitate an increased production of local food”.

The results display:

That many Lakewood residents must often travel several miles to get to a grocer to have access to fresh food. Students mapped areas of opportunity that had potential for a community garden and discovered that if the city used all of its available parcels for urban farming, it could grow more than 91 million pounds of produce each year — enough to feed 90 percent of the city’s population.

I’m unsure of whether “available parcels” are undeveloped lots that are both public and privately owned, or only city-owned.  For this exercise, lets assume it means city-owned. Obviously many of the available parcels of land that are under city control can be used for higher and better uses, such as affordable housing, commercial development, community space, parks, etc.  Some may also not be suitable for urban farming. If only 25% were implemented as urban farms, you could still generate 23 million pounds of produce.  Not too bad at all.

As I had discussed in a previous blog post, many of these vacant lots can be used as temporary farms.  Then once there is a more desirable development use for the land from an economics standpoint, the urban farm can be moved to a different location within city boundaries.  Policy must be set to ensure that if an urban farm is under operation, the land cannot be developed for another use until a suitable site is chosen for replacement.

SproutCityFarms_farmshares

Sprout City Farms – Image credited to FarmShares

The City of Lakewood will now take the study from the University of Colorado and decide how to move forward with the information.  It will be intriguing to see what occurs over the next few years knowing that the City has shown innovation in the past from a development perspective.  This could very well lead to a similar legacy for planning staff and council.

 

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