DENVER (CBS4) – The Westwood Food Cooperative is not scheduled to open until 2016, but right now residents can buy memberships that will eventually give them access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The cooperative will be the neighborhood’s first full service grocery store, and it will be owned by the residents themselves.

LINK: Westwood Food Co-op

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“The cooperative model allows you to buy a membership. You have ownership rights, you’re able to now vote on key decisions like electing a board of directors or what products to stock,” said Eric Kornacki, Executive Director of Re:Vision, the nonprofit organization that is driving the cooperative effort.

Membership costs $40 annually or $200 for a lifetime. And at the end of the year if the store is profitable, those profits will be returned back to the members. Neighborhood gardeners will be able to sell their extra produce to the cooperative, but most importantly it will provide year-round access to fruits and vegetables.

LINK: Become a Member of the Westwood Cooperative

“The idea is that we prioritize buying food from the neighborhood first and foremost, and then when it’s not enough or it’s winter, we buy from elsewhere,” Kornacki explained.

Right now the cooperative is an empty warehouse on a 2-acre property on Morrison Road in West Denver. Neighbors have spent the last nine months cleaning up the property and getting it ready for the transformation into a grocery store and community center.

“The main part of the property … kind of the heart of the property … we’re working with the community to design sort of a public plaza that will host Mercado’s and music festivals and things that will make this a destination for Westwood residents,” Kornacki showed CBS4.

Tommy Escamilla tends his garden. (credit CBS)

Tommy Escamilla tends his garden. (credit CBS)

The property will also house a green house, a full kitchen to support the grocery store, and office space. Re:Vision is planning on opening the grocery store in the first quarter of 2016. Organizers will launch a Kickstarter campaign in September to raise money for the project.

“Re:Vision is a nonprofit organization that works in some of Denver’s most underserved neighborhoods to develop resident leaders, cultivate community food systems, and then build a strong resilient local economy,” Kornacki said.

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LINK: Re:Vision

Re:Vision started in 2009 with a mission to address poverty issues in Denver. Kornacki started by teaching backyard gardening to seven residents in Westwood. It was an effort to bring fresh produce to a neighborhood considered a food desert. There is no grocery store in the neighborhood and even if there was many residents wouldn’t be able to afford to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

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“We started providing the resources and training people to grow food for themselves,” Kornacki said.

Re:Vision has hired 17 community members as Promotoras who mentor residents with backyard gardens. The Promotoras till the garden bed, plant the seeds, set up a drip watering system, and then check in throughout the season as the resident tends vegetables. Re:Vision has 400 of the backyard gardens through West Denver.

“The majority of people are consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re saving up to $35 a week on their grocery budget when their garden is producing, which is substantial for families living on less than $20,000 a year,” Kornacki explained.

Tommy Escamilla has one of the gardens in his backyard. He’s growing carrots, corn, peas and pumpkins. He says that he’s got a fresh salad as close as his backyard, but the real benefit is that he has enough to share with his family and neighbors, which builds a strong network that wasn’t there before.

“It’s a good idea. You get to watch what you grow, you get to eat what you grow, and it’s not full of all those pesticides and all that junk,” Escamilla told CBS4.

“I don’t think is solves all their problems, but it definitely is the spark that is getting people to see that they don’t have to wait for someone else to solve their problems. They can take action … come together as a community, and own their own solution,” Kornacki said.

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Libby Smith is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. If you have a story you’d like to tell CBS4 about, call 303-863-TIPS (8477) or visit the News Tips section.