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Cultivating community

Published on 1st May 2015

Longmont food activists teach communities the significance of growing your own food
by Devin Blomquist

After one year of labor intensive farm work, August Miller and his wife decided to pack up and take the knowledge and experience they learned while working on a farm in Paonia, Colo., to their own community in Boulder County. Their mission: to offer residents backyard gardenbuilding and coaching that reconnects people with the nation’s agrarian roots.

But in their year as farm workers, the Millers only made a combined $6,000 salary, which is the lower end of the average salary for a U.S. farm worker. Determined to start their own business, Miller and his wife decided to create an Indiegogo campaign to crowd fund their start-up costs, which totaled around $8,000. After just 45 days, the Millers reached their goal, and they were on to the next step.

In February of 2012, Miller and his wife launched Foodshed Productions and began working one-on-one with clients, coaching them in best practices and helping them build gardens.

“I think we realized that that might be a little ambitious,” Miller says. “There’s a lot to learn [about food production], and unlike us, most people have jobs and are working full time.”

Through this experience, Miller says they quickly learned that coaching someone to be a self-reliant gardener would end up taking more than a single season. So Foodshed Productions shifted gears to focus on workshops and other activities that would bring their intentions full circle.

In 2013, Foodshed Productions helped foster a partnership between Boulder Preparatory High School and Frog Belly Farm, where the Millers had been living and working, to teach students the inner workings of farm production. After a year with Frog Belly, Foodshed Productions and Boulder Preparatory High School began working at Second Start, a community garden in Longmont. The students worked to expand the garden and create more space for low-income families to grow food. This program, called Youth in Community, is just one of the outreach activities Foodshed Productions has put into practice.

They have also piloted ideas like the Boulder County Crop Mob, where a number of volunteers get together at a local farm and lend a helping hand; the Longmont Foodshed Meet-up where residents get together and discuss sustainable food production; and the Longmont Garden Crawl, which allows residents to meet their neighbors and help each other in their personal gardens. 

All the while, the Millers have continued to work with their for-profit individual clients, which fund Foodshed Productions’ nonprofit programs. Regardless of whether the work being done is for profit or not, the Millers hope Foodshed Productions raises the caring capacity of communities through local education in backyard farming.

“What we’ve done here and what will continue to happen is vital to our quality of life, our values, and the things that make Boulder County,” Miller says.

The Millers are so passionate about their work that they have begun looking for their own land to develop, but have found the cost of living and the threat of oil and gas development in Boulder County to be major concerns.

“We essentially discovered that between the environmental concerns here and the value of land, it exceeds our personal caring capacity to actually take care of ourselves here,” Miller says.

This has led the Millers to look elsewhere for land, meaning a move from Boulder County is in their future. But, the initiatives of Foodshed Productions will continue under the leadership of Tracy Halward, a friend and colleague of the Millers.

After meeting August Miller at an event in Longmont, Halward realized that everything the Millers were doing with Foodshed Productions meshed perfectly with a program she had been working to get off the ground. Together, Halward and the Millers devised a plan that would allow her idea, The Front Range Foodshed Initiative, to work within the foundation of Foodshed Productions.

“Our mission is basically to be able to bring in grant-supported funding for putting in gardens and small farms all over the Front Range, particularly in what we call food deserts,” Halward says of her initiative.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food deserts are urban neighborhoods and rural towns that lack ready access to fresh and affordable food.

Halward will also carry on Foodshed Productions’ Youth in Community program, the Boulder County Crop Mob, the Longmont Foodshed Meet-up and the Longmont Garden Crawl. In fact, Halward’s Front Range Foodshed Initiative has already teamed up with Boulder Prep to work at Growing Gardens, another nonprofit community garden, where most of the food the students cultivate goes back to the school’s kitchen.

“I was excited about continuing [the Foodshed Production programs] along with the other pieces that I kind of had in mind with the community gardens and farms and food deserts and so forth,” Halward says.

The Front Range Foodshed Initiative will also work to raise money to purchase vacant lots throughout the county, Halward says. Rather than allow such lots to be developed, the Foodshed Initiative hopes to create urban foodsheds for locals residing near food deserts.

“What gives me my energy is really working toward building community and social justice and providing healthy, affordable food for people,” Halward says.

Published in the April 30, 2015 edition of the Boulder Weekly