written by Luana Hancock
I work for WhiteWave and my husband for Chipotle Mexican Grill—two Colorado-based food companies that have missions aimed at changing the way people think about and eat food. This common ground inspires lots of lively conversations about food at our house (usually enjoyed over a delicious meal, of course). We talk about how our food choices impact our health, overall wellbeing/happiness, environment, world economies, cultures, and access. One question my husband and I continue to come back to, though, is whether or not big is bad.
Horizon, one of our brands at WhiteWave, is a great answer to this question. Horizion all started with a small cooperative of organic dairy farms in 1991. As the company grew, our bigger size didn’t prevent us from focusing on the health of families and our planet. In fact, it actually allowed us to help more people get access to more organic dairy products. It also provided more opportunities for farmers. Over the past 19 years or so, WhiteWave and Horizon have helped farms transition to organic practices through education, scholarships and financial support. We’ve converted hundreds of thousands of acres to organic farmland, which uses methods and materials that lower the impact to the environment. Today, we work with more than 500 organic family farms across the country.
Similarly, Chipotle recently opened its 1000th restaurant, which totally blows my mind. The little burrito joint that CEO Steve Ells opened back in ’93 to fund the “real restaurant” that he—as a classically trained chef—aspired to have, struck a chord with diners that still drives Chipotle’s success today. In a nutshell, you get super tasty, flavorful food for not very much money. Add to that their commitment to sourcing sustainably produced ingredients and you’ve got quite a combo. For example, they were the first national restaurant company to commit to serving naturally raised meat. Today, Chipotle’s commitment to smart, healthy and sustainable practices translates to 75 million pounds of naturally raised meat this year alone. In other words, by virtue of its size, Chipotle, like WhiteWave’s Horizon brand, has provided more opportunities to more farmers to viably farm in a way that’s more sustainable.
Clearly these two companies are a part of my life. Not only is my livelihood tied to them, but they’ve also helped shape my own thoughts and beliefs on what food means to people and the role companies can play. This is not to say that any company, like any person for that matter, is perfect or without growing pains. But the concept that the size of a company, or its ability to grow, automatically determines its value to society is a limiting one. Big isn’t necessarily bad. In the case of WhiteWave and Chipotle, the ability to scale up good food can actually drive meaningful change. I’m proud to be part of that.
Awhile back we did a little reporting on Impact Day, WhiteWave’s first annual all-company volunteer event. Today, we’re pleased to welcome a guest blogger from one of the organizations we supported. Below, Julie Malinsky from Feed Denver talks about the work her organization does in addressing an issue that has only just recently gotten more attention: Food Deserts.
Food Deserts are areas in the city where access to fresh, healthy food is limited. The USDA and Economic Research Service estimates that of all households in the United States, 2.3 million people live more than a mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle; and an additional 3.2 million people live between one half mile to a mile from a grocer without access to a vehicle. Often these are urban core areas characterized by higher levels of racial segregation and greater income inequality. We all know these areas — stretches of road where concrete meets barbed wire fences and the only brightly colored thing is a blaring Burger King marquee. The people living in these communities often suffer the consequences of economic curtailment, with higher incidences of health problems related to diet, and a lower standard of living based upon their lack of good quality, nutritious food choices.
Many supermarkets and other food retailers simply do not wish to locate in these areas because of the economic risks associated with a lower income population. But rather than re-inventing the capitalist wheel, perhaps the solution lies in a different direction? Feed Denver Urban Farms and Markets is a non-profit with some good ideas on how to address this situation. This spring we received a grant from the City of Denver to locate a small local farm on an unused parking lot in northeast Denver. The farm is located at 42nd and Steele in a neighborhood known as Swansea, which is a classic example of a food desert.
In late May, with the help of about 15 WhiteWave volunteers, the parking lot in Swansea was transformed from derelict to fertile. Nearly 35 yards of compost and mulch was shoveled, pushed, carried, and dumped to create mounds for planting and cool wood paths between the rows of compost. Since then, everything from squash to tomatoes has been planted and the farm is well on its way to becoming vibrant. It will help feed the local residents with affordable fresh organic produce, provide a safe community gathering spot, and it will be used to train local youth and adults on how to farm. The farm will eventually create real jobs and soon will expand its production with the addition of three greenhouses designed and built by Architecture for Humanity. With the addition of the greenhouses, the Feed Denver farm at 42nd and Steele could potentially supply food for hundreds of people year-round; meanwhile, local people will have opportunities to learn and become involved with the project. A market is planned in the coming weeks, and Feed Denver is continuing to provide programs for youth interested in farming. It is a small parking lot with big ideas and an even bigger enthusiasm to change how we think of food equality in the Denver metro area.
Feed Denver’s mission is to create viable urban agriculture in the city. Along the way, we hope to green up some of our urban spaces, provide access to those without, and produce beautiful food and spaces along the way. Feed Denver is a regional training center for McArthur Genius Grant award winner Will Allen of Milwaukee’s Growing Power. You can explore more at www.Feeddenver.com, www.feeddenver.blogspot.com, or www.growingpower.org.
Julie Malinsky is Feed Denver’s Jill of all trades and a blossoming writer; www.hapticityandcitizen.blogspot.com