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As climate crisis worsens, a Denver urban farm uses sustainable practices to combat food insecurity
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DENVER  "Tikkun Olam" is a simple concept in Judaism, one that Yael Shalom thinks society needs to understand.

“‘Tikkun’ means fixing and creating something new, and ‘Olam’ means the world,” she explained, saying that the phrase’s definition in Hebrew translates into "a group of actions used to repair society to make it equitable."

“So if we all come together in this beautiful piece of urban land and help each other to grow, we fix each other by growing and helping, not just ourselves, but also people who are in need,” Shalom explained.

Shalom works for Ekar Farm, an urban farm in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood that sits next to Denver Academy of Torah. The farm opened 14 years ago, mainly serving the Jewish community. But in 2020, the COVID-19 led to the farm doing outreach across the city. Now all of the produce that Ekar grows is donated to people in the metro area who are experiencing food insecurity.

“All of this food does go to pantries and food boxes for people who don’t have the extra cash to buy expensive produce,” Shalom added. 

Colorado Voices

Ekar Farm finds solutions to increase crop yield despite heat wave

High temperatures provide added challenges

Shalom said since 2020, about 22,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables have gone to approximately 18,000 individuals and families who don’t know where their next meal will come from. According to the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado, one in three Coloradans don’t have access to nutritious food.

“You should not be in a position where you can’t afford the fruits and vegetables that you need to sustain yourself; everyone has a right to eat healthy healthy food,” said Shalom.

But the rising temperatures due to climate change continue to make Ekar’s mission more challenging. Emma Alanis is the farm’s outreach and program manager.

“Starting in April, May and June, really high temperatures drastically affect our conditions,” she added, explaining that Colorado’s already dry weather forces them to constantly adapt and reevaluate their farming methods at Ekar. “Should we be using different seeds or should we start growing in different times? Are the seasons changing too much where it’s not even aligning with the almanac anymore?”

Sustainable farming to the rescue

Despite those challenges, Ekar’s associate farm manager Chantae Shor is excited because she says they’ve been able to double their crop yield with organic and sustainable farming practices, like building up the microbes in the soil.

“They are the little micro bacteria that are able to communicate between the roots and the plants to let them know that the nutrients in the soil are more bioavailable to them,” she said, adding that at Ekar, they also don’t practice tractor tilling. “We do all broad forking, so essentially we are taking our broad forks and we are irrigating. We’re not turning over the soil; we’re disturbing the soil as little as possible and those are organic practices.”

Mackenzie Marcus, chairperson of Ekar’s board of directors considers Ekar Farm a communal space.

“It’s kind of a little sanctuary," Marcus said. "Everything just melts away when you step on to the farm you really start to notice that the mindfulness kicks in of the bees and the birds.” 

For Shor, those community connections are what keep Ekar Farm going. “It definitely takes a community bond, 'it takes a village to raise a chard' the saying goes in the farming community.”


Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at danaknowles@rmpbs.org.

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at lindseyford@rmpbs.org.

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