Urban Ag Day focuses on building bridges between farmers and municipalities
Amanda Weaver walked backward, gesturing to the dozens of chickens squabbling for attention to her left.
“I have a chicken addiction,” she said. “They’re like little dinosaurs.”
Her comment was met by laughter from about 25 people following her on a tour of her urban farm, 5 Fridges Farm, in Wheat Ridge, Colo. While the group of policymakers, city planners, ag enthusiasts and more followed Weaver around her property to learn about chickens, goats, pollinators, rotational grazing and the magic of chicken poop fertilizer, another group learned about growing in hoop houses, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at Farmers Markets program and the kinds of municipal regulations needed to make it all happen.
The April 26 event, called Jefferson County Urban Ag Day, was hosted by Jefferson County Public Health in an effort to educate policymakers about the importance of agriculture within cities and to start conversations about how ag and development can coexist in a regulatory setting.
As Wheat Ridge Mayor Bud Starker said in his introductory speech, it was an event where blue and white collar could coexist. He wore a tie and blue jeans to Jefferson County Urban Ag Day, and pointed out to the group that he wanted everyone to be comfortable learning and exploring the farm.
“We wanted to bring all the different stakeholders — farmers, city councilmembers, planners and more — together to talk about how we can make our cities’ food systems sustainable,” said Marion Kalb, food systems coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health and organizer of the event. “It’s important for our county to have a strong, healthy food system, and if we don’t have a good understanding of and relationship with the people who grow our food, we’re in danger of losing that.”
And 5 Fridges Farm was a perfect setting for an urban ag education — it’s a 13-acre organic diversified operation bordered on two sides by apartment buildings. On it, Weaver raises turkeys, chickens and goats, as well vegetables. The Butterfly Pavilion keeps several beehives on the property for research purposes. This year, Weaver is even leasing out part of her property for the cultivation of hemp, which is the perfect crop for pollinators.
When Kalb spoke at the event, she asked the crowd of about 45 people what they thought the most universally loved vegetable was. The answer was a resounding, “carrot.” Then she asked about the most hated. After some waffling from the crowd, she pulled two beets out of a grocery bag. She explained that the two kinds of beet she was holding — a Chioggia and a golden beet — aren’t what most people think. They aren’t pickled. They won’t stain your fingers purple. But they’re both grown in Colorado, they both have many health benefits and they’re both delicious.
“It’s about education,” Kalb said. “We have a job to do in both public health and in agriculture, and that’s teaching people about topics they may have misconceptions about. It’s talking about nutrition. It’s talking about the health benefits of locally grown food. It’s talking about food security. There’s more crossover than you’d think.”
Jenna Metzinger, farmers market SNAP coordinator at Jefferson County Public Health, spoke to the group about the SNAP (food stamps) at Farmers Markets and Double Up Food Bucks programs, which both allow people with low income to purchase healthy, Colorado-grown foods they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. These programs also help local growers, as they bring customers to farmers markets that wouldn’t otherwise be able to buy local.
“The great thing about farmers markets accepting SNAP dollars is that it really allows those who need it most in our community to have an equal chance at health,” Metzinger said. “And with the Double Up Food Bucks Program, participating markets can help SNAP participants stretch their food dollars. For each SNAP dollar spent on a qualifying item, they get another dollar of Colorado-grown produce. It’s a win-win-win for low-income shoppers, local economies, and for our farmers.”
As the group toured around the farm, they asked questions about water use, about the animals’ diets and about conservation easements. Jefferson County Commissioner Casey Tighe scratched the head of a LaMancha dairy goat as it approached the fence of its pen. Heritage-breed turkeys gobbled next to the parked cars, saying hello and goodbye to every guest. At the end of the day, attendees got to try a hard-boiled egg from a local farm.
“We just hope that everyone here got the chance to learn something they didn’t know about urban farming,” Kalb said. “Food really is universal, it brings us all together. That’s what makes the places it’s grown so special.” ❖