By: Lauren Sinclair
The Growing Project, an organization true to its name, began eight years ago as a way to connect people to local food and to make local, healthy food more accessible for everyone – regardless of income – and has been growing ever since. From its start, the volunteer-run organization has been dedicated to improving food security in Larimer County through numerous community outreach programs. Led by Executive Director, Dana Guber, and emphasizing hands-on education and local food production, The Growing Project now operates nearly a dozen community gardens, numerous education programs, and manages close to 200 volunteers.
The Urban Food Outreach program works with local partners, non-profits, and various mobile home parks to provide low-income areas with safe and reliable access to locally grown food. Volunteers help to build gardens and provide the local residents with the knowledge and tools necessary to create, care for, and harvest produce. In addition to providing these communities with access to fresh, local food, these gardens also regularly donate to the Food Bank for Larimer County and The Family Center/La Familia. The Growing Project works to install one to two new gardens each year. A $2,000 garden build scholarship is available for neighborhoods and organizations looking to become involved with urban food outreach. In the last two years, volunteers have constructed a kids garden at the Poudre Valley Mobile Home Park, installed a garden area at the Boys and Girls Club, and done expansions in the garden at the Sister Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope.
A one-acre garden located at Hope Farms, just outside of downtown Fort Collins, is used as a dedicated area of food production and education. This home-base garden serves as the venue for many of The Growing Project’s educational opportunities, including youth programs, horticultural therapy, and garden workshops. All harvested food is donated back to the community, mostly through free market stands located throughout Fort Collins. This year alone, The Growing Project has donated almost 9,000 pounds of fresh food from Hope Farms. Volunteers at Hope Farms can attend classes and workshops about the art of home-grown food and, during the growing season, may earn fresh produce from the farm through volunteer work. In addition to the food donated from the farm, The Growing Project has teamed up with The food bank of Larimer County and local farmers to harvest damaged produce and transport it to the food bank, providing thousands of pound of fresh, local veggies to families in need and lowering the amount of usable food wasted because of damage.
Youth education, run mainly out of Hope Farms, is provided for at-risk and disadvantaged youth. Programs allow students to work in education gardens, take cooking and nutrition lessons, receive horticultural therapy, set up free market stands in their neighborhoods, and older students even design and implement food-related community service projects of their own. Kids can also participate in Beaver Lodge Nature Academy and learn the lost art of fire building, foraging, orienteering, preserving and cooking. These programs, combined with The Growing Project’s dedication to providing fresh food to the community, have grown the organization into being a vital and effective asset for our region.
For more information, please visit: thegrowingproject.org or call Executive Director Dana Guber at 970.587.3827.