Skip navigation

Developing a Healthy Food System

Many businesses and jobs in Denver are involved directly in the food system. For example, one of every 10 workers is employed in the local food system. The food system is responsible for six percent, or $7 billion, of Denver’s total economic activity.

Despite these impressive figures, business owners and entrepreneurs are well aware of the challenges to running a successful enterprise within this industry.  Financial viability often requires difficult decisions with significant environmental, social, and even health implications.

Denver residents play a large role in the food system. Our high quality of life depends on many factors, including accessibility to food vendors, healthy food options, job opportunities, safe food preparation, and even awareness of where food comes from and how diet affects one’s health. 

At its best, the food environment (i.e., what food is supplied, processed, and grown in the community) reflects and supports the values of residents.   

The food system does much more than just feed people. The food system impacts (and is impacted by) everything from city zoning policies and economic development to diet and well-being. The ripple effects of a vibrant food system are felt beyond grocery sales and local production; it means better standardized test scores in our schools, a higher quality of life for community residents, greater equity among residents, and stronger economic growth and resiliency for our city. 

Economic Impacts: as Denver continues to grow, demand for grocery stores, restaurants, specialty markets, and commercial kitchens grows as well. This in turn creates jobs and helps build strong local businesses.

Health Impacts: access to convenient, affordable, healthy foods are goals that when adopted by a community, can decrease rates of chronic disease and premature death.  In a city where one in five adults are obese and one in three children are either overweight or obese, reducing such health complications is a top priority. Such challenges can begin to be addressed when the food system is considered holistically.

Community Impacts: people want to live in communities that have convenient, affordable food stores with fresh food choices. People also want to feel proud of their neighborhood and feel connected to the people and businesses located within walking distance. The food system plays a large role in a neighborhood landscape and how community members come together.

This can include school or neighborhood gardens beautifying a block, or a corner store stocking fresh fruits and vegetables for local patrons. However, not all communities experience these benefits equally and large disparities exist between neighbors and neighborhoods.

Resiliency Impacts: resiliency refers to our community's ability to withstand significant and often unplanned events like extreme weather. Strong food systems support resiliency of our community in an uncertain future.


A “food system” is the process of how food gets from a farm or ranch to an individual and their family. The food system begins with the land, water, seeds, and tools that farmers and ranchers convert into food. The food system also encompasses the cleaning, moving, packaging, processing, repacking, distributing, selling, and cooking that happens between the farm and your plate.

Consumers play a crucial role in the food system. Our purchases inform the system about what to produce . . . and how.

Elements through the food cycle include:

Food Production: farms and ranches, suppliers of critical inputs (land, water, seeds, technologies, capital), community and school gardens, and farmer and gardener education

Food Processing and Manufacturing: packaging, snacks, ready to eat foods, preserves, and beverage manufacturing

Food Distribution: food aggregators, distributors, and brokers; grocery and related product merchant wholesalers; farm product raw material merchant wholesalers

Food Retail/Grocery: supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, specialty markets, specialty food services, farmers markets

Food Retail/Restaurants: restaurants, cafeterias, schools, hospitals, other residential facilities with dining services, food trucks

Community Food Services: food banks, food pantries, hunger relief organizations, food assistance (SNAP, WIC, senior) enrollment

Food Consumption: healthy food access, diet-related health outcomes, food-oriented community engagement, consumer education and empowerment



There's a key ingredient that we need to make Denver's first-ever Food Plan a success: YOU!

Everything you need to know about upcoming meetings is available here.

Why do we need a food plan for Denver?

- Food system plans have helped many other cities
- We'll build on the past work of other initiatives (Denver SEEDS, Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council, Denver FRESH, Food Sustainability Goal, along others)
- It will help us tell our collective story as a robust/model urban farm system
- It will foster a common food agenda with shared definitions, metrics, and indicators
- It will identify clear, specific actions, timelines, and accountable individuals/organizations
- It will encourage collaboration across industries, nonprofits, and communities
- It can guide ongoing actions and investments (philanthropic, government, private)
- It will help attract new investments (philanthropic, government, private)
- It can cultivate strong buy-in across a wide range of food system stakeholders
- It can stimulate innovation to address our biggest food system challenges
- It will further position Denver as a world-class city where everyone matters


The Denver FRESH program is an innovative approach to helping small retailers open, or expand, their food retail stores in underserved areas. Learn more here.

Learn more about the city's Healthy Corner Store Program, delivered through the Department of Environmental Health, here.


OED is offering a mix of grants and loans to projects proposing fresh approaches to addressed a range of problems involving healthy food access in the neighborhoods of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. The "Healthy Food Challenge" will award up to $250,000 to projects addressing one or more aspect of healthy food education, fresh food retail, or food-related microbusinesses, and up to $1 million is available as competitive loans.

For grants, the RFP and all instructions are available here.

For loans, the pre-application and instructions are available here.


Denver Food Vision

The draft Denver Food Vision is now available for public comment through Jan. 31, 2017. Feedback on the vision will be gathered at the following public meetings:

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, 3-4:30 p.m. at Mile High United Way, 711 Park Ave. W.

Thursday, Jan. 12, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Commons on Champa, 1245 Champa St.

Feedback can also be submitted via the following online survey, or by emailing questions or comments to