Denver - Denver’s Westwood neighborhood is hemmed in by Sheridan Blvd., Mississippi Ave., Federal Blvd., and Alameda Ave., yet the boundaries go beyond mere geography.
According to a 2008 survey, obesity rates here far exceed the state average. Westwood has less park space per capita than any other Denver neighborhood and higher levels of crime that discourage people from walking or biking.
That’s why the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning started LiveWell Westwood four years ago to help bring down these levels. One of its initiatives has been to promote the growing of healthy food at local schools.
Just last month, Westwood’s Munroe Elementary School opened its Farmer’s market for the first time this year.
“If there are no nearby supermarkets, people that have transportation issues will wind up shopping at corner stores,” said Justin Park, Community Engagement & Communications Coordinator for the Colorado Center for Community Development at CU Denver, “Often when people talk about obesity, they talk about it like it’s a choice. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to make healthy choices. Many of the people in Westwood want to make the right choices, but there are barriers and challenges in the way.”
The farmer’s market offers healthy choices where none existed before.
“It has raised awareness in the community about what can grow and how easy it is to grow it,” said Angela Urrego, a graduate student in Landscape Architecture who has been interning at LiveWell Westwood since May. “It has also shown residents that vegetables are not only nutritious, but kids will eat them.”
LiveWell Westwood Coordinator Rachel Cleaves said the neighborhood was chosen because the area showed a need for new opportunities where people could take an active role in changing their neighborhood.
“The idea started with community,” she said.
Stretching approximately 75- feet along the fence that surrounds Munroe Elementary, the garden built by the students, volunteers, and paid members of the community is neat and lush. Wheel barrels, signs, fencing and other common garden implements dot the landscape after walking through the main entrance where four benches lie beneath a shady pergola. Parents and students were smiling and laughing as they sold the first produce of the year.
Rosario Juarez, a parent volunteer, heads to the garden after work and has helped with many aspects of the garden over the years, especially irrigation.
Munroe students can take part in the Wellness in the Garden after school program where they help in the garden and learn how to cook. Some of the food they grow makes its way into the school’s meals though the Garden to Cafeteria program.
In 2010, the farmer’s market at Munroe Elementary had a difficult time keeping up with demand as it sold 1,500 lbs. of food. There is also a Farmer’s Market at Westwood’s Kepner Middle School.
“People are really happy to have fresh, affordable food nearby,” Park said.
With the opening of the garden this year, families will have the chance to make healthier choices with what they eat.