A Warm Sunday at Ekar Farm

From the moment I walked through the gate at Ekar Farm and joined the small group at the arbor, I felt comfortable. Executive Director Aaron Ney welcomed me, and after a few more volunteers of all ages had gathered, Aaron and Farm Manager Jay Plotkin explained the farm’s mission and told us what we would be doing: weeding beets and harvesting squash and garlic and shallots.

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Ekar takes up 1.5 acres of land next door to the Denver Academy of Torah (on the top left  in the photo), and a community garden fills another half-acre (in front of the apartment building)*.

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The Jewish principles of justice (tzedek)—in this case, food justice—love (ahava), and kindness (chesed), as well as the concept of sustainability, inspired the farm’s creation in 2009.

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Now in its sixth season, Ekar grows produce that it donates to Jewish Family Service Weinberg Food Pantry, SAME Cafe (So All May Eat), Metro Caring, and Kavod Senior Life. Most years it also sells veggies at a farm stand, but the incessant rain this May and the hail in June set back the harvest, so all the farm’s bounty will be donated this year. Aaron and Jay, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, hope to give away 8,000 pounds in 2015.

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The work was easier than at McGlone Elementary, since we were weeding with hoes instead of planting seeds, and the weather was pleasant. I turned the soil around some beets and built up the potato mounds, and I dug out a few heads of garlic. I liked the fact that we had to hunt through weeds to find the garlic—it seemed sensible to let that area be natural. Other volunteers weeded the bed in front of the arbor.

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A woman working across from me on the same row of beets said she had almost applied for an internship at Ekar. She wants to start her own small farm, but she knows the Western Slope would be more affordable than Denver. When Jay mentioned the shortage of land on the Front Range**, I asked him if Urbiculture’s model—growing produce in a number of micro-farms located in people’s yards or on vacant land—would help Denver grow enough fresh food to feed everyone in the city. He said no.

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Currently, less than 1 percent of the produce Denverites eat comes from Colorado.

Jay said Denver would need an additional 5,000 acres of farms to provide enough fruits and veggies for its population.

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If Denver could feed itself, I know it would be more secure than it is now, when any prolonged break in the food supply could cause severe problems.

We had been working for about two hours when Aaron went to get kosher pizza from Brooklyn Deli. The remaining volunteers, adults and children, finished what they were doing and gathered in the arbor for a meal.

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Aaron fed small bites of pizza and fruit to his son while pointing out that Ekar was a demonstration farm, designed to educate the public about growing food, rather than a production farm. I had noticed the wide paths between beds (filled with cover crops and weeds in the photos above). He said a true production farm would squeeze the beds together as tightly as possible (see the pictures from McGlone Elementary School).

Aaron speaking with a volunteer.

Aaron speaking with a volunteer.

Aaron also mentioned that Denver Academy of Torah plans to build a high school on this property. He thinks the farm will last another 5 years. Such is the nature of farming in Denver—the development pressures are intense. More land will become available for farming only when cities offer incentives to owners.

Jay relaxing under the arbor at lunch.

Jay relaxing under the arbor at lunch.

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*To rent a bed at the Ekar Community Garden, contact Denver Urban Gardens.

**The Front Range includes the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the cities that spill out onto the High Plains, from Fort Collins in the north to Pueblo and beyond in the south.