GreenLeaf is a nonprofit youth leadership development and urban farming program based in Denver, Colorado. Founded in 2008, GreenLeaf supports and challenges youth to grow their own food and tackle the lack of access to healthy food in low income communities and communities of color, the widespread and directly related health epidemics among youth and their communities, and the lack of meaningful employment options for youth of color in Denver.
GreenLeaf offers seamless year-round programming for a diverse crew of youth from all across Denver, who earn a fair wage working 5 hours per week during our School Year Program and 20 hours per week during our Summer Program. Our crew is staffed with 10 Youth Agri/Cultural Interns (ages 14-18) and 2-3 “Menterns” (mentor/interns, ages 18-21). During the Summer Program our Youth Interns work 5 days a week on the farm, running all aspects of our food production and distribution efforts, as well as community outreach and canvassing. A key focus of the Summer Program is developing leadership skills, building teamwork, and exploring personal and community identities. During the School Year Program, we shift to a focus on evaluation of the farm season, conducting research on crops and production methods, and planning for next year’s farm.
The work of our crew of Youth Interns is divided into three main areas: 1) Agricultural Operations: deciding what to grow, learning how best to care for it, and teaching community members and volunteers about our farm operations; 2) Educational Operations: developing curriculum tools to teach peers and communities about food, nutrition, growing food, and eating local; and 3) GreenLeaf2Go: neighborhood canvassing, marketing, and distribution operations, including our 9-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and our on-site Farm Stand.
GreenLeaf Youth Interns take home approximately half of our harvests to share with their friends and family, and the rest of our produce is sold at low prices or donated to those in need in our community. Our primary methods of food distribution are a low-cost, weekly Farm Stand, and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. For the Farm Stand, hosted from 10 to noon every Saturday at our farm, our youth conduct market research at local grocery stores in order to set low, flexible prices for our organic produce. The purpose of the Farm Stand is to increase access to healthy, affordable produce in Northeast Denver, so no one is turned away for lack of funds. Members of the community are also invited to become shareholders in our CSA program. CSA members share in the risks and rewards of farming by purchasing shares at affordable prices ahead of the farm season, which allows us to buy seeds and transplants and invest in farm infrastructure. In exchange, CSA members are entitled to pick up a share of the harvest every Saturday throughout the 12-week harvest season. We also donate a large portion of our produce to hunger-relief organizations each season.
GreenLeaf grows in an area of Denver that is similar to hundreds of urban neighborhoods across the United States, where people (primarily people of color) live in the hearts of cities without access to nutritious, affordable, high quality produce. The USDA estimates that 23.5 million people across the US live in food deserts, and that more than half of those people (approximately 13.5 million) are low-income.
GreenLeaf youth know first-hand what it means to live in a food desert without access to healthy food options. Throughout our history, we have primarily worked with students of color, including many from immigrant families. Nearly all of our crew members over the years have qualified for free and reduced lunch at school. Youth of color and youth living in poverty are most affected by a lack of food choices, leading to health disparities related to these oppressions. The Food Trust identified the following N.E. Denver neighborhoods where people have low income and insufficient access to supermarkets: Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Park Hill, Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, and Montbello. These neighborhoods are home to the GreenLeaf youth.