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Can Food Help Build a Better Denver?

First county-wide Food Plan underway with neighborhood meetings

The Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) is hosting a series of community meetings throughout the city to explore the challenging issues of food insecurity and healthy food access. Designed as a platform for community residents to propose solutions they think would be the best in each neighborhood, the free, public meetings are planned to culminate in the development of the first county-wide Denver Food Plan.

“There is a great need in many of our neighborhoods for healthy food access. Through a strategic Food Plan approach, we can capitalize on new opportunities around local and healthy foods and create the right environment for the city to make a major difference in our neighborhoods, and in the lives of many residents,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock.

The Denver Food Plan will likely encompass strategies for improving healthy food access, as well as targeting business development and job creation related to the city’s food system.

“Taking a host of socioeconomic, mobility and cultural issues into account, the issue of healthy food and food access is anything but simple,” said Paul Washington, OED Executive Director. “So many people assume it’s just a matter of opening a supermarket, and while that is desirable, other integrated solutions are necessary as well.”

Improving the food environment in Denver’s most challenged neighborhoods will likely require multiple strategies, Washington said, including shifting household shopping, cooking, and eating behaviors to include more fresh and healthy foods; reducing the distance required to travel to access fresh and healthy foods by improving small “corner” stores and farmers markets; and launching micro-enterprises or other new food-related businesses that increase household incomes and provide jobs.

The calendar of meetings, along with background material on Denver’s food access issues are available online at

Concerted coordination on food issues is a priority throughout city government, with Denver Environmental Health leading on food safety as well as with its Corner Store program and facilitating the Mayor’s food commission, the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council.

“We have parallel challenges in Denver, where half of adults and a third of children are at an unhealthy weight, yet we also have extraordinary food insecurity and hunger, with about 1 in 5 children who do not have enough to eat. The potential of the Denver Food Plan, with a new integrated and strategic approach, provides for new opportunities,” said Bob McDonald, Executive Director for the Denver Department of Environmental Health.

Food is a critical driver of local economic growth, as there are 2,200 companies throughout Denver providing jobs (restaurants, retail, and food manufacturing) with strong ties to entrepreneurship. Currently 1 in 10 Denver jobs are food industry-related, and OED is hosting meetings with various industry groups as well as the public.

To set the stage for this plan development and engagement of community residents and grassroots organizations, OED recently completed a baseline study of all resources in Denver’s “food system”—the complete spectrum of how food gets from a farm or ranch to a plate, including cleaning, moving, packaging, processing, repacking, distributing, selling, cooking, and serving.

Improving fresh and healthy food access is one element in OED’s JumpStart 2016, its annual program of work.