Southeast Colorado Springs has long been described as a food desert, a place where there it’s hard to find good, healthy and fresh food. Now there is the beginning of an effort to push back that desert and let fresh food bloom.
Food to Power — formerly Colorado Springs Food Rescue — broke ground on the Hillside Hub, a 3,400-square-foot neighborhood food center, on June 12. Located just south of the Hillside Community Center, on land donated to the nonprofit by the Legacy Institute, the Hillside Hub will provide Food to Power with a permanent location to provide programming and food to people in Southeast Colorado Springs.
“It’s going to be a place where neighbors can come together as a community around food,” explained Patience Kabwasa, the executive director of Food to Power. “We can grow together, learn together, recipe-share together, we can advocate for fresh food, we can compost together. We also have our youth internship, FLY [Food Systems Leadership for Youth], and the vision is to help young people form their identity, express their cultural identity around food that they share with their families and the wider community.”
Construction is scheduled to begin by the end of June and should be finished by early 2022. Kabwasa notes that the Hillside Hub was made possible through a combination of grant funding and private donation.
“We have a collage of grant funding from different foundations like Colorado Springs Health Foundation, as well as the Colorado Health Foundation,” she said. “El Pomar has also contributed to this project. We have a number of funders, foundation, individual and corporate. Construction costs have just skyrocketed. We are still fundraising to close the gap that is left, which is about $257,000.”
The future site of Hillside Hub is also home to an indigenous healing garden, maintained by Monicka Snowbird, the program director of Haseya Advocate Program, which works with Indigenous domestic violence and sexual abuse survivors. The garden, part of Food to Power’s plot, was donated to Haseya by former Colorado Springs Food Rescue Executive Director Zac Chapman.
“There’s only two other pieces of land in the state of Colorado, off the reservation, that are specific for Indigenous use,” said Snowbird.
“There is Tall Bull [Memorial Park] in Sedalia, and then Indian Mountain up in Boulder. Everything we do, as far as healing for our domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, is all culturally centered. We’re coming out here, talking about power and control tactics and developing healthy boundaries and all the ways that you can heal, with our hands in the ground, learning about medicines and traditions. They’re reconnecting back to this land. That’s where we’ve seen the most significant changes in their healing.”
Kabwasa says the Hillside Hub will help residents in an area that has been described as a “food desert,” or an area without easy access to fresh food.
“In 2016 we did a feasibility study, we partnered with a bunch of neighbors in the Hillside community to talk about the need for fresh food access,” she said. “We’re actually in an area where the life expectancy is 16.1 years [shorter] than it is in other neighborhoods. We know that fresh food absolutely contributes to that. You need fresh food to be on your A-game, whether it’s learning, physical activity, so when you think about being in a neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is three miles away, and the fresh food you’re able to obtain is on the counter at the 7-Eleven, fresh food access is important to how you live, function and thrive. That’s really what we heard from the community in that feasibility study.”
Kabwasa also said access to fresh food is complicated by other factors, like access to transportation.
“If you’re relying on public transit to get to the grocery store, that could be half a day or more to get where you need to go and you’re definitely going to make decisions on the food that you bring home based on your route back and what you have to carry,” she said. “It’s not having access to fresh food in your neighborhood where you live, work and play.”
Currently, Food to Power operates a No Cost Grocery program out of the Helen Hunt Campus. “Our grocery program happens Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m. and then Saturdays at 12 p.m. at our office at Helen Hunt Campus,” said Rachel Followill, Food to Power’s food access manager. “We pre-fabricate the boxes and we try to do a good mixture of what someone would need for a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. They come in and sign up, they don’t have to bring an ID or anything like that. They just say, ‘Hey, I need food.’ We ask how many are in their house and we give them a box of groceries.”