Katie Ketchum doesn’t live on a farm, but she farms three different plots of land in Boulder. Ketchum cultivates thousands of pounds of fresh veggies, but they’re not for her to eat or sell.
Ketchum is a farmer with Community Food Share, which (among other services) grows and distributes fresh produce to Boulder and Broomfield residents in need. During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, access to food hit its lowest rate in two decades. And the shortage continues. More than half a million Coloradoans are expected to experience food insecurity this year.
Boulder and Broomfield counties are not immune to the problem, either. Local experts say more than 46,000 residents in the two counties don’t have enough food, and 12 percent of those people are children.
That need is what led to a new effort called the Food Security Project, spearheaded by local real estate agents Catherine and Andy Burgess, of Burgess Group/Compass. One of their listings is the historic 80-acre McKenzie Farm. With the land just sitting there unused and a desperate need to provide healthy food to the community, Catherine Burgess says they began brainstorming.
“How can we make this land productive? How can we figure out how this land can give back to the community and get as much food as possible to those in need?” she says.
First, the Burgess Group connected with Boundless Landscapes, a regenerative farming organization that was struggling to find enough land for micro-farms throughout Boulder in 2020.
The Burgesses asked the McKenzies if they would be willing to let Boundless Landscapes use a large plot of their farm to grow food. The connection was made, and the otherwise unutilized earth became a new source of growth.
Boundless Landscapes donated nearly 5,000 pounds of food (12 percent of the food it harvested) to different organizations and the city of Boulder in 2020.
Then this year, Boundless Landscapes changed directions and no longer needed the land at McKenzie Farm. (The corporation now offers coaching, plans, education and installations for people who want to create their own micro-farms but need a little help.)
The land was available again. The food shortage continued. And the Burgesses had a new idea.
This time, the Burgess Group connected Community Food Share to the McKenzie Farm. The 40-year-old nonprofit works to fight hunger by providing local people, from seniors to students, with fresh, nutritious food. The food bank has an on-site pantry, mobile pantries that deliver and also acts as a hub to deliver millions of pounds of food annually to other food pantries and groups.
The Burgess Group made a donation to the Community Food Share to help support hiring a farmer — Ketchum. Her job is to manage the one-third acre plot at McKenzie, as well as smaller gardens at the Community United Church of Christ and Boulder Public Library.
The food share is also contributing financially to the new project and distributing the produce that’s cultivated.
Boundless Landscapes stayed involved, too; it offered to share its farm tools.
Another nonprofit, Earth’s Table, is mentoring farmer Ketchum.
“One of the things I appreciate most about this job is our ability to grow food on underutilized land,” Ketchum says. “It feels like a good use of resources.”
The desire to contribute positively to the world is what brought her to farming to begin with. Ketchum was studying international studies and geography, when she ended up touring a nonprofit farm as part of an animal ethics and environment class.
“I never really expected to love farming as much as I did. I thought it’d be a stop along the way to help me be better with the other things I wanted to do,” she says. “But I enjoyed working outside, growing and producing food. Organic farming felt like a very ethical way to move about the world.”
She ended up working at Boundless Landscapes before moving to New York temporarily to work at a farm. When she moved back to Colorado, Boundless Landscapes recommended her for the new position at Community Food Share.
She wrote plans for what to plant, how much to plant and when to plant it. She helped start seedlings in a greenhouse in March. And now the harvest is booming. Volunteers help her harvest produce twice a week at McKenzie Farm, as well as once a week at the church.
Julia McGee, director of communicators for Community Food Share, says they were intentional about which crops they planted at the farm and across the other garden share sites.
“We surveyed the people we serve to find out what types of produce they want most, and that is what drove the selection of produce that we planted,” McGee says.
The top requests: tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, cucumbers, salad greens, peppers, tomatillos, beans and squash. In total, Catherine Burgess says the McKenzie Farm plot grows 20 different crops with 45 different varieties. Produce will continue to be harvested and distributed through October.
The fresh food helps the Community Food Share’s goal to distribute nutritious food, says McGee.
“It’s not just about how many pounds we put out into the community but also the nutrients. It’s not just about putting calories onto plates of those who we serve,” McGee says.
Seventy to 80 percent of the food distributed is fresh produce or high-protein items, she says.
“It’s surprising to many people,” McGee says. “Oftentimes, community members have outdated ideas of what food banks do: cans and boxes. But that’s really far from the truth.”
Really, Catherine Burgess says, the Food Security Project is an example of the kind of a positive impact you can have when the community works together. And fittingly, as the heart of the movement is the McKenzie family, one of the founding families of Boulder. The McKenzie Farm, located about 2.5 miles from downtown Boulder, was founded in 1893.
“It’s the starting point; the project would not have happened without the McKenzie family. I feel such gratitude to the McKenzies for their thoughtful leadership and charitable nature,” Catherine Burgess says.
In addition to the land, the project uses the McKenzies’ greenhouse, water, road, barn, produce cooling building and electricity.
Catherine Burgess encourages others to do whatever they can to help with the food shortage. You can plant just an extra row of produce in your home garden or donate extra fruits and veggies to the Community Food Share. Start a container garden or launch your own full micro-farm, she says. (If you’re not sure how, Boundless Landscapes can help.)
“Three to four extra tomato plants in your garden can make a huge difference in food insecurity. Or turn your front or back yard into a pandemic victory garden. A little strip of land can produce so much food,” Catherine Burgess says. “This is the year that it’s really needed and easy to do. And it’s fun.”
She notes she finished college early to attend chef school and cooked professionally for a period of time, so food is a passion of hers.
You can also donate money to the food bank or volunteer time working on the farms.
“We felt a moral obligation to do this,” she says. “We have strong feelings about corporate social responsibility and this ties into that.”
How To Help
Help the Community Food Share. You can:
- Grow a row. That means growing an extra row of produce at home to donate, or donating your surplus food.
- Join the gleaning program. Harvest produce that is otherwise going to waste.
- Volunteer at growing sites, like McKenzie Farm. The Community Food Share also has a plot at Whimsy Farm.
- Learn more about how to support Community Food Share’s Garden Share program (including how to donate produce from your own garden) at communityfoodshare.org/garden-share.