Our Summer Intern's Story!

It all started with a question: What makes you mad?  During my second year at the University of Denver in the Pioneer Leadership Program, we were required to find an issue that “made us mad.”  To be honest, there were quite a few things that made me mad: discrimination based on race, the wage-gap, and poverty.  As I thought and thought about these issues, my stomach began to growl.  Suddenly, it hit me.  One issue that actually infuriates me is unequal access to resources, especially in food.  Through this project, I came across the term “food desert” and learned that a food desert is not a place where no food grows, but rather one that does not provide nutritious food for its residences.  This curiosity led me to move forward on focusing my time researching the food deserts that exist in Denver alone and I was shocked to find out the answer.  This project in my leadership was short-lived, but forever stayed in the back of my mind.

Flash-forward to a year and a half later and you’ll find me looking for summer internship programs.  I quickly came across the Nonprofit Internship Program at the Denver Foundation—a program that develops students’ leadership in the community, exposes students to several aspects of the work of a nonprofit organization, and introduces interns to a community of their peers who are also interested in improving Metro Denver.  I looked more into this program and I immediately was drawn toward one specific nonprofit: Re:Vision.  This organization caught my attention immediately because it was the perfect way for me to combat my animosity toward food deserts that exist in the Denver community, particularly in Westwood, and integrate myself in this Latino community.

One interview and a yummy dinner at a Pho restaurant later, I became an intern for the wonderful organization of Re:Vision under Joseph’s supervision.  So what would be my role in fighting this issue of food injustice?  Well, as a matter of fact, Westwood is considered a food desert.  Although this neighborhood is filled with the best taco restaurants, the closest grocery store is King Soopers, which is over a 30-minute walk away.  Reading about these statistics was one thing, but actually experiencing them was another.  I fell in love with the Westwood neighborhood once I stepped foot on the diagonal road of Morrison.  I loved hearing the Spanish language on every block and being able to converse with others in their native tongue.   I came into it as an outsider from Thornton, which is a city just 30 minutes North of Denver.  Though it is only 30 minutes away, it has a completely different atmosphere of Westwood.  I came from an affluent city where I was one of the only people of color (the other including my brother) and never hearing any language other than English.  Working with this new community of Westwood further pushed my passion in fighting the food injustices they faced. 

I never realized how easy it was for me to drive or walk to a grocery store until I came to Westwood.  Once I became the Westwood Food Co-op Outreach Coordinator, I began plan the steps of starting a grocery store in this neighborhood that rightfully deserved one.  After working in Westwood, I’ve learned not to take my grocery stores for granted.  It was frustrating, though, to know that not every community is able to get to a grocery store so that they can provide healthy food for their families.  My time at Re:Vision, however, has showed me that communities do have a voice in fighting for their needs.

Below is a link to a video I created about my leadership experience here at Re:Vision!

https://explee.com/video/gpqd2

What it means to be a member-owner

Ever wonder why we're always saying 'member-owner' instead of just member? Well read on and we'll explain it all. Are you a member of a club? Perhaps Sam's Club, or Costco. Or maybe you have member card to King Soopers or Safeway. While these are all great memberships to have, its important to know off the bat that this is not the same as becoming a member of the Westwood Food Cooperative, or any cooperative for that matter. 

Cooperative businesses are incredible and unique in their structure and are all built on the premise of member ownership - that the members of the business are actually the legal owners of that business. As owners, individuals are invested in the business - both financially and personally - and have a stake in seeing that business succeed. As a member of Safeway, you might enjoy member-only discounts on certain products, but you don't really have a stake in the success or profitability of Safeway as a company. 

But perhaps you're a stock holder of a company? Then you do indeed have a stake in the profitability or success of that business. Hopefully if you're a share holder then you shop there too or buy its products - and encourage your friends and family to do the same. You recognize the more shoppers the more success and therefore more profits. However your ownership and stake in that company is based on the number of dollars you invested, right? So $200 probably only bought you a fraction of one percent ownership - and therefore a fraction of one percent of control in the company. So, the more wealth you have, the more say you get in the company's operations, products, how they treat their employees, and so on. 

With a cooperative business however, and specifically with the Westwood Food Cooperative, your ownership and control of the company is actually based on your person. One member, one vote. So $200 in the WFC buys you control for life - the right and responsibility to vote for the board of directors and to guide important decisions at the annual meetings. 

So - to be a member-owner - this distinction is critical. We need you - yes you! - to join, to become an owner of this business. By becoming a member-owner, you not only take on the responsibility of owning this company, you have the opportunity to make it what you want - to control of your own destiny. Join us today - click here

Property Development - Phase I

Re:Vision is incredibly excited to say that Phase I of the property development is just weeks away from breaking ground. Evan though the name Phase I implies not much has happened on the property yet, check out our last blog post about everything they've already accomplished. 

As many of you know the small building on the property has already been transformed by Westwood Unidos, Westwood Healthy Places, and Re:Vision, into La Casita - a community-driven education & fitness center. The space is a magnet for community members - offering classes of all sorts 6 days a week. For more information and a class schedule, click here

So, what Re:Vision is calling Phase I refers to a half million dollar investment from Denver's Office of Economic Development in the improvement of the outdoor space on the property, an urban farm & greenhouse, and sorely needed pedestrian and right-of-way improvements. At the heart of property will be a plaza - designed to be a gathering space for community members, pop-up events, or dance, music or art demonstrations. Surrounding the plaza will be demonstration gardens showcasing Colorado-appropriate plants, gardening techniques, as well as some more traditional herbs, trees and shrubs. 

As you turn South you'll walk across a new parking lot which will be closed regularly for farmers markets, pop-up events, and community gatherings. On the other side, you'll walk along a sidewalk alongside the urban farm beds planted with several crops destined for community consumption until you get to a large (existing) concrete slab - even more space for community gatherings, but also home to a public restroom and farm stand, in addition to a 3,000 square foot greenhouse. 

Finally, you'll be able to stroll along the sidewalk on W. Custer Place and S. Meade Street without fear of the current 8' tall chain link fence falling down on you! The sidewalk will be wider, with a retaining wall and lower fence transforming this right-of-way from an eye sore and barrier to walking into a beautiful, inviting property frontage. 

Stay tuned for more updates!

Property Development Update - Introduction

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The development of the physical property at 3738 Morrison Rd is the responsibility & under the direction of the nonprofit organization Re:Vision, not the Westwood Food Cooperative (WFC). However, the WFC will end up utilizing/leasing building space on this property in the future to renovate for its grocery store, so the property development, and the co-op store opening are very linked - hence this blog! 

This is the property when we bought it - partially collapsed warehouse, overgrown with weed trees, dilapidated mobile home and semi trailers, and countless piles of trash and debris.

This is the property when we bought it - partially collapsed warehouse, overgrown with weed trees, dilapidated mobile home and semi trailers, and countless piles of trash and debris.

Since purchasing and taking control of the 1.7 acre junkyard property in early 2015, Re:Vision has been hard at work cleaning it up - abating asbestos, demolishing unsafe buildings, and hauling away trash and recycling. The property has come a long way and now has an active community education and fitness center, the beginnings of a 1-acre urban farm, and buildings we can 'use' for special events, gatherings, and meetings.

This is more or less where we're at today! A clean blank slate - and you can see the beginnings of an urban farm too. 

This is more or less where we're at today! A clean blank slate - and you can see the beginnings of an urban farm too. 

The process of coming to a final Master Site Plan is still evolving - we know the overall components like Re:Vision's offices, a community courtyard and plaza, urban farm and greenhouse, a full-service grocery store run by the Westwood Food Cooperative, etc. However what has been evolving as more information comes to light is the best configuration and scale of these components on the property. 

We've finally come to rest on a Phased approach to the build-out of the property. While many details are still in the works and final timelines, budgets, and partners are not finalized, we are more confident than ever this is the best path forward.

These phases will be shared over the next few weeks - so check back frequently!

Co-op Update

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So much has been happening lately - we're so sorry we haven't been better about being in touch. But no time like the present to change that, so here we go!

As many of you know, we had elections for our board of directors in November and are excited to say we have 12 amazing and active board members - meet them here. In January, we had a board retreat where we all holed up in Re:Vision's offices for 9 hours and dove into learning about other co-op models, discussions around how other food co-ops that are trying to get started here in Denver may affect us (and how we can collaborate with them!), and ended with some intense discussions around membership recruitment strategies.

In February, the board approved a budget as drafted by the Finance Committee. As of now, we have around $14,000 in our bank account (all from member dues - thank you!). The budget approved minor expenses such as website and email hosting, membership meeting expenses, and other membership recruitment and fundraising expenses - such as t-shirts. 

In March, Joseph Teipel, our board president, was sponsored to present at, and attend, the 2016 Up & Coming Food Co-op Conference in Bloomington, Indiana. This was an incredible conference - attended by representatives from more than 60 other food co-op start-ups around the nation. Not only did Joseph present on the WFC story, but he was also able to learn from co-op experts and network with others from co-ops in similar stages of development. Bottom line is that the WFC is on track! With two years of formation under our belts and 225 members, along with a market study, we're on par with 'normal' food co-op start-ups. As an added bonus, Westwood Food Co-op was chosen at random from the other co-op attendees to receive a $1,200 grant to go towards expert consulting services!! The board has chosen to use this, along with matching dollars from Re:Vision, to engage a consultant to create a financial pro-forma. Stay tuned for future blog updates about what a pro-forma is.

Finally, we're excited to announce the co-op will have an intern this summer! The intern will technically work at Re:Vision, but will be focused on working with the co-op to boost membership, increase communication, and take us to the next level!

For even more info, please come to our Membership & Community Dinner on Thursday, June 9th at 6pm at 3738 Morrison Rd - the future site of the co-op!