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Healthy Food Access

Gardening PhotoAccess is an essential first step in empowering consumers to purchase and consume healthy foods. Healthy foods must be affordable, plentiful, and easily obtained to be considered accessible. Cities and towns have powerful planning, economic development, and public relations tools that can be used to attract healthy food to underserved neighborhoods. Municipalities are putting these tools to use to attract healthy food grocers and farmers markets and to support and protect community gardens, urban farms, and food production on open space.

Community & Backyard Gardens

Backyard, communal, or collective gardens are essential to the local food system; they help to promote access to healthy foods for families and neighborhoods while educating youth and supporting local ecosystems.

Backyard gardens and community gardens are thriving in our rural and urban areas. These local gardens can provide affordable produce to residents, neighborhood green space and places for physical activity. Cities and towns can support and promote community gardens by defining them in their comprehensive plan and zoning code, and allowing for accessory uses, and/or donation or sale of garden produce.

While there are many forms of backyard, communal, or collective gardens, they are all essential to the local food system and help to promote access to healthy foods for communities. They provide fresh produce for the gardeners and their neighbors, foster an understanding of the source of delicious fresh food (especially for young children), and even support ecosystems and encourage physical activity for people of all ages.

Examples of Local Policies

Ordinance 1491 in Wheat Ridge, CO made several zoning code revisions and necessary clarifications allowing community gardens, farmers’ markets, and produce stands are in any zone district.


  • Denver Urban Gardens’ Best Practices Handbook for Creating and Sustaining Community Gardens provides a tangible road map and technical assistance directions for creating a sustainable community garden.
  • ReFarm Denver teaches backyard gardening to families in underserved areas. They train community members who have been through the program to provide the training to others in their community.
  • Colorado Master Gardener, a program of CSU Extension, provides gardening resources and numerous publications on weed management, compost, and fruit and vegetable planting.
  • Policy Link’s Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens Toolkit provides data and maps, highlights successes and case studies, identifies challenges, and explains policy approaches to support urban agriculture and community gardens.


Food Production on Public Lands

Public land generally preserved for recreation and municipal purposes can be used for farming and ranching, thereby benefiting the land and the community through food production and community education.

Publically owned lands are generally preserved for recreation and municipal purposes. Some communities are beginning to open these areas up (or return them) to limited farming and ranching, particularly in locations with historic agricultural uses. Examples of public lands could range from medians and greenways to community parks to significant open space acreage. With careful planning and strict guidelines, this land can be used for crops or as pasture, and can benefit both the land and the community through food production as well as community education. Municipalities can amend construction guidelines and the development code to prioritize food production in parks, medians, and other open spaces along with xeriscaping or native plants. Cities can also develop lease agreements for vacant lands to be used as gardens or small farms.

Examples of Local Policies

  • City of Aurora – DeLaney Community Farm, established by Denver Urban Gardens as a community supported agriculture (CSA) project, is a non-profit farm on historic farmland provided by Aurora Parks and Open Space.


  • Colorado State University’s Food Producer Resources includes a list of helpful links for producers in Colorado, including information on food safety, local markets, and food labeling.
  • UrbanAgLaw provides guidance on the process of accessing public lands, best practices and case studies for food production on urban lands, and urban farming land inventories from cities around the country.


Farmers’ Markets & Produce Stands

Farmers’ markets and produce stands are the backbones of a thriving local food system, helping to support local producers while increasing access to fresh, healthy food for nearby residents.

Farmers’ markets, produce stands, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), mobile vending, and other innovative means for increasing access to fresh produce are all critical aspects of healthy food retail. Cities and towns can support local agriculture and bring healthy food to residents by defining farmers’ markets in the comprehensive plan and zoning code and encouraging direct markets to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.

Promoting all types and sizes of fresh food retail — from a small one-farmer produce stand to a multi-farmer market — can help provide more accessible fresh and healthy foods where they may otherwise be scarce, and can provide more opportunities for food and nutrition programs such as SNAP, WIC, or the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Promoting community-produced food also keeps small producers competitive and taps into burgeoning markets for direct sales of fresh foods.

Examples of Local Policies

  • Wheat Ridge, CO – Ordinance 1491 made several zoning code revisions and necessary clarifications allowing community gardens, farmers’ markets, and produce stands are in any zone district.


  • Colorado Farmers Market Association offers guidance on starting new farmers’ markets, price and food resources for consumers, and a listing of current farmers’ markets across the state.
  • The Colorado Farm to Market website provides producers selling fresh produce at direct markets with federal, state and local food licensing regulations to help ensure food safety.
  • The 2013 Colorado Farm Fresh Directory, published by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, is the “go-to” guide for consumers and the media to find roadside stands, farmers’ markets, CSAs, agritourism activities and farms/ranches that sell direct to the public.
  • The USDA’s Farmers’ Markets and Local Food Marketing Service provides information on available marketing programs, services, and grants for farmers’ markets and local food. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a USDA program that works to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers through education and programming.


Community Food Processing

Facilities such as commercial kitchens, food hubs, and canning facilities provide producers with the opportunity to profit from value-added products and can create revenue generation and jobs for communities.

Small- to mid- sized food producers can increase their income and market presence by processing their food into value-added products. Facilities such as commercial kitchens, food hubs, canning facilities, and other processing facilities that allow producers to do so can contribute significant tax revenue and job opportunities to communities. Municipalities can remove zoning barriers that separate or restrict food processing facilities from agriculture, can encourage commercial food processing in mixed-use developments, and can promote food safety regulations that allow minimal processing and sale of “cottage foods”.


  • The Colorado Farm to Market website provides producers selling fresh produce at direct markets with federal, state and local food licensing regulations to help ensure food safety.
  • Colorado MarketMaker offers an interactive mapping system that locates businesses and markets of agricultural products in Colorado, linking producers and consumers.


Healthy Food Grocers

Grocery store policies, locations, and promotions can have a significant impact on the health of a community and supporting grocers in a number of creative ways can help to address food deserts and healthy food access.

Healthy Food Grocers

Many communities, often in rural and low-income neighborhoods, lack full-service grocery stores. Residents in these areas often must rely on convenience stores and small grocers for their food.  The supply and quality fruits and vegetables at these retailers can be poor, and they may also be more expensive. Attracting grocery stores, produce markets, and corner stores with fruits and vegetables is a complex endeavor that requires collaboration with community partners. The city’s role in this partnership is to coordinate and focus its economic development, planning, transportation, financing, permitting and, if applicable, redevelopment tools and assets to attract and support healthy food retail.


  • Healthy Food for All: Encouraging Grocery Investment in Colorado outlines policy recommendations made by the Denver Healthy Food Access Task Force to improve access to affordable, healthy food and stimulate economic development in Denver and throughout Colorado.
  • PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund created the Healthy Food Access Portal. The portal connects community leaders, healthy food retailers, policymakers, and advocates to an extensive array of resources, strategies, and ideas to improve and increase access to healthy food retail—from grocery stores to corner stores, farmers’ markets, and mobile produce trucks—in underserved communities.
  • Green for Greens: Finding Public Funding for Healthy Food Retail provides a comprehensive menu of local, state and federal public funding that can be used to attract and keep food retail.
  • The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) provides financial support to projects that increase access to healthy, affordable food in communities that currently lack these options.
  • Kansas State’s Rural Grocery Store Sustainability Initiative provides resources for grocers including best practices, the latest grocery-related research, and models for rural food retail development.


Food & Nutrition Education

Nutrition education helps promote lifelong healthy eating habits, and has the potential to reduce the impact of obesity and chronic diseases. Municipalities can lead in this area by including food and nutrition education as part of their course offerings through recreation and community centers. Cities and towns can also partner with others in the community to facilitate and promote such education.


  • MyPlate, a project of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, provides dietary guidelines and conducts nutrition research.
  • Cooking Matters is a community-based education program that teaches participants how to select and prepare nutritious and low-cost ingredients.
  • Shopping Matters helps families make healthy and affordable choices at the supermarket through grocery store tours, budgeting strategies, understanding food labels.
  • SNAP-Ed through Colorado State University encourages low-income individuals to make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles.