Access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food continues to be a challenge for many Colorado Springs, CO communities. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a relatively large number of residents more than a mile from a country supermarket live in Census areas with low income and low access. However, the Colorado Springs Food Rescue (CSFR) aims to tackle local food insecurity and health inequalities in the neighborhood through a holistic model of food redistribution.
The CSFR began in 2013 as a group of volunteers using bicycles to collect food from donor companies and give it directly to local nonprofits. Now CSFR offers an extensive program that operates in three main areas. Access to food, food production and food education. “The CSFR model minimizes transport time. prioritizes the redistribution of healthy, perishable food; and is involved in an extensive network of over 160 volunteers, ”says Executive Director Zac Chapman to Food Tank.
The integrated program works across the local food system with initiatives like No-Cost Groceries, a program that works with unsafe neighborhoods to redistribute fresh surplus food. “CSFR has redistributed over $ 5 million worth of nutritious food and has created 8 free food programs since its inception. In 2018 alone, 13,000 unduplicated people were served, ”explains Chapman. To improve access to food for all community members, CSFR also launched The Farmacy, a program that connects local doctors and Medicaid patients with healthy staple foods.
With one in nine people in Colorado struggling with hunger, CSFR also puts an emphasis on programs that target food production. Fresh Food Connect is a gardening and donation program with 59 gardeners, while Soil Cycle is a household compost collection service that currently has over 150 members.
To engage young community members, Colorado Springs Food Rescue offers food rescue and education programs in 12 schools. The Food Systems Leadership for Youth program helps students manage a free food program for over 2,000 underserved people. The CSFR has also partnered with academic and community institutions to conduct research and evaluate how to remove barriers to fresh food across Colorado.
CSFR is part of a collective of food rescue groups called the Food Rescue Alliance. Originally founded by Boulder Food Rescue, the Food Rescue Alliance provides a peer-to-peer learning network that supports the development of models for the redistribution of food around the world. Projects currently exist in Denver, CO; Jackson Hole, WY; Seattle, WA; Minneapolis, MN; and in the Philippines. “From the beginning, the values of the Food Rescue Alliance have been based on health justice, racial justice and a criticism of the maintenance of food aid.” says Chapman.
In 2018, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined the effects of the Food Rescue Alliances’ redistributive models on reducing food waste and food insecurity. “The specific model [of the Food Rescue Alliance] enables food rescue organizations to be creative, flexible and responsive to reduce food waste in retail, “author Hayden Dansky told Food Tank. that takes too long for healthier perishable foods. “
The Food Rescue Alliance sees residents as leaders in the development process rather than as targets of an intervention. “Food rescue models make it possible to adopt community-based solutions, decentralize access to food and increase participation on a city-wide level,” explains Dansky. “Increasing participation in programs increases access to food as individuals are more likely to be involved and receive products when they can give back and are more likely to set up systems that will work for their community if they have an active hand and voice in doing so. “The emphasis on community development is crucial as other studies have shown that community neglect leads to persistent problems with access to food.
Inclusivity and participation form the core of the neighborhood-based approach of the CSFR. Recently, 3.47 acres of land was donated by the Community Development Foundation, The Legacy Institute, to help expand the existing Hillside Food Hub food distribution program into a neighborhood food center. “The Hillside Hub’s mission is to create a community-run space where neighbors can grow, cook, learn, access, and champion fresh foods,” says Chapman.
A depiction of the future Hillside Hub, where communities can access and advocate fresh food in Colorado Srings. Courtesy Rajah Bose.
The CSFR education program and the indigenous-led non-profit Haseya Advocate program have already started construction. While Chapman is cautious about the “early stages of Hillside neighborhood gentrification,” he is positive about what is to come. “The Hillside Hub will definitely be the big thing for our future!”
As Colorado Springs moves forward, Dansky seeks more opportunities that are opening up across the food system. “The growing awareness and movement around food waste and food insecurity present a great opportunity right now for saving food to make a big difference in their community.” Dansky tells Food Tank. “Innovative solutions around food access are emerging, as is CSFR’s Hillside Hub, which is turning traditional charities upside down and enabling real change in the community.”
Photo courtesy Danny Mullaney.