By Shawn Chitnis
DENVER (CBS4) – A group in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood plans to address its challenge of being a “food desert.” The Organizing Committee plans to build its own grocery store so residents, especially those without access to a car, do not have to travel as far as four miles to access all of the items they need for a healthy lifestyle at a full service grocery store.
“Montbello is a bit of an island of deserts,” said Khadija Haynes, a community advocate for the neighborhood. “When you say desert, it’s not like there aren’t riches in the desert, there are great riches in this community.”
She hoped to see more progress made to help address the issue of a food desert in the community, one she believes is also a cultural and employment desert. But she is excited to help the FreshLo Initiative address many of these concerns with a new central hub for the neighborhood.
“The number one issue that people are still concerned about is the lack of a grocery store and the lack of access, easily and affordably, for fresh food,” said Donna Garnett, the executive director of the Montbello Organizing Committee.
The neighborhood has already built an urban farm by the United Church of Montbello and provided a farmers market for the neighborhood part of the year. They have even worked with local schools to create a sustainable food access program. But a recent survey by the group knocking on 1,500 doors found that a proper grocery store is still needed.
“Where there’s a will, there is a way and we certainly have a will,” said Angelle Fouther, a member of the leadership for the Montbello Organizing Committee and the FreshLo Initiative. “Fresh, healthy, accessible, affordable food is a necessity for every community.”
The initiative plans to find a central location that can promote cultural heritage and the arts while also making the neighborhood more walkable and support the local economy. The plan is not only to have a grocery store and community space but also affordable housing. Grants from multiple foundations have helped to start the planning process.
“For the most part, you have to get off the island, you have to get booted off the island to get what you need,” Haynes said. “You have to go out and get it, what you can have here is not the best thing for you.”
Leaders believe there will be a stronger sense of identity for Montbello once they have a central community gathering place for culture. They also hope it will foster more business within the neighborhood, keeping more of the community’s money within its borders.
The committee tried to get a major grocery store chain to join the project but could not find someone that wanted to invest in the project. Their research shows they could support multiple grocery stores but companies they contacted did not see an opportunity to grow.
For residents like Haynes, the project will not only be a chance to show the rest of Denver what Montbello is capable of but also highlight minorities playing a key role in all aspects of this project.
“Those barriers, those stereotypes, and those myths are just that. They’re myths,” she said. “We hope people will come and join us in building our own.”