The Grow Feed Change Project is a community relief effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project looks to provide starts of fruits and vegetable plants and seeds free of charge to rural residents in Pueblo and Huerfano counties, including the communities of Beulah, Cuchara, and La Veta.
Jenn White is the co-executive director of We Are FARMily, the nonprofit leading the project. She spoke with KRCC's Abigail Beckman.
Highlights from the interview
What does We Are FARMily do?
We Are FARMily is a nonprofit that offers fifth-day programing to students in Pueblo and Huerfano Counties. Students develop skills and knowledge in regenerative practices, agriculture, outdoor education, making and health and wellness that they then use to develop solutions for real-world challenges in their communities. The official name was inspired by Sister Sledge, a song We Are Family. [My husband] Jess and I don't have children of our own, but have always found family with our students with the students in the public-school setting and now our farm is building our family, so that's where the term FARMily originated.
When did you realize there was a need for the Grow Feed Change project in the community and what's your goal?
We originally discovered there was a need two years ago when we first founded We Are FARMily, which is what brought us to the region to be able to do the work. But then with recent events, we were in stores and seeing the empty shelves from the panic buying and seeing that the regular shipments of fruit and vegetable plants were not arriving in the windows they normally do. We realized those shipments might be preempted for the ready to eat foods and personal care products that were being swept off the shelves faster than they could be restocked.
We also are seeing online seed companies saying, 'hey, it's time to order seeds and things like that.' And so many comments with people saying, 'I unfortunately can't afford them right now. We don't know where our next paycheck is going to come from.'
We want to make sure that people could access the fruits and vegetables that they need to be able to be healthy and to remove those financial barriers.
What are some of the specific economic struggles in the area that you're serving?
We're situated right on the line between Pueblo and Huerfano Counties and both of those counties have had significant economic struggles for decades. Huerfano was built on the coal industry; Pueblo on steel. They both had significant collapses in those industries that have left the region trying to recover for quite a while. Both have been doing amazing work to rejuvenate and revitalize the communities, only to get hit with this right in the heart of all of that work happening.
Pueblo is also the home of the Colorado Smelter Superfund Site so there are a lot of homes where people cannot safely grow [things they are going to eat] in the soil because it has not been able to be replaced yet. The EPA is doing a lot of work to replace the soils, but there are still hundreds of families within that site area.
If a family wanted to purchase a tomato plant, and work to cultivate it, what output would be needed from that plant to feed a family and what are the costs associated with that?
The average tomato plant right now is $3.78 with tax, so we're talking roughly $4 for a single person to have tomatoes throughout our growing season. The recommended ratio is four tomato plants per person which would be $16. So, in a family of four that's $64 just for the plants. We've actually looked at all of the plants and seeds that we're providing to families. According to those ratios, it comes out to $260 per family for just for the purchase price, which when you look at a thousand individuals, that's $65,000 in plants and seeds.
How are you keeping up with the workload and where are you getting funding for this project?
We're working a lot of 16-hour days to make this possible, but we really believe in it. We also have been able to contract with some local gentlemen who are helping build our greenhouses that are expanding our capacity. We've had a few local donors send in materials and the All Pueblo Grows Seed Library and the Pueblo Seed Company have donated the seeds that we are growing and distributing for direct sow crops. Community members have also grown extra seedlings to donate to us — all of that extra support has been instrumental.
We're also working with the EPA and different COVID-19 relief funds to try to secure the remaining balance for our budget. But we believe so much that access to healthy, nutritious foods is a right, not a privilege, that we decided to take that risk and go and pull funds from our existing budget to get this project off the ground.
You've already had close to 300 families sign up- that's roughly 1,000 people. Were you expecting that kind of response and do you think you can take on more?
We are in the unique position of being simultaneously thrilled by the response while also being humbled by the need that is expressed by it, which is an interesting dynamic to be experiencing. It's why we founded We Are FARMily.
We were hoping to be able to have this level of impact in our community, we just didn't anticipate the timeline being so quickly in under such intense circumstances, but we're still accepting registrations and we're working to increase our capacity by supporting other communities and organizations that are willing to do similar work.