By Katy Snyder, JVA Consulting

The third in our series of Big Ideas for 2013, this blog features Eric Kornacki, executive director of Revision International, which empowers local actions that lead to global sustainability. Eric’s Big Idea is using community-led initiatives to grow sustainability from the ground up. Like Dana Miller, the focus of our last Big Ideas blog, Eric’s vision is currently focused on the role of home gardens as agents of social change. Eric is also a graduate of JVA’s Executive Director Academy. If you would like to attend our next EDA, which starts February 4, click here or more info and to learn how to make your own Big Idea a reality.

The Problem

While Eric’s Big Idea relies heavily on the idea of home gardens, the gardens are just one cog in a wheel that will work to overcome the larger issue of food deserts. Revision’s current efforts are focused around the Westwood neighborhood, which was formally labeled a food desert by the Colorado Trust and is home to a number of health and food disparities such as lack of access to a grocery store and the fact that the neighborhood has the fastest growing childhood obesity rate in the metro area. Most families in the Westwood community have an average household size of 5.5 members, but make less than $15,000 year. Rather than simply plunking down a big-box grocery store in this area, which would likely offer produce that was priced too high for residents to afford or starting community gardens, which require long hours away from home to care for, Eric and Revision dreamed bigger—what if residents could grow food in their own backyards, sell their own food and create their own jobs?

The Solution

Revision’s plan for Westwood incorporates a three-pronged strategy that starts with helping residents start their own backyard gardens, which residents are already undertaking with Revision’s help. While the gardens help residents get on the path to healthy eating—61% of those who started a home garden with Revision reported eating five to nine servings of vegetables each week, a 22% increase over the previous year—they also help residents save money on groceries—93% of past participants said that having a garden helped them save money at the grocery store.

Residents don’t just save money on groceries, however. In Revision’s model, a co-op will be created that allows families to make money as they sell their own produce at a community-owned grocery co-op. The co-op will also employee local residents, bringing living-wage jobs to the community and ensuring that the workers have incentive to see their store succeed. The co-op will initially be owned by Revision, but will then be handed off to the community and governed by a board that is made up of local community members who will determine how the coo-op is run. At the end of the year, producers will be paid a dividend based upon their overall involvement in the cooperative and its profitability. In addition, Revision will leverage its relationship with regional farmers and bulk buying to bring additional food products into the neighborhood, such as meat, milk, cheese, grains and other items that aren't being produced locally, ensuring that residents can access a variety of healthy foods at affordable prices.

Adding to the co-op, Revision also will add a food hub, which will include a commercial kitchen that will be used for teaching and for creating value-added products, such as salsa and jams made from garden products, as well as facilities for aggregating and storing food. Through Revision and partner organizations, business development services will be provided for residents to create value-added products at the facility.

Undergirding Revision’s model is the promotora model. Instead of using a top down approach, Revision uses the concept of promotoras, trained community members who reach out to their peers, friends, family, and neighborhoods, empowering them with trainings and info on how to start gardens, eat healthy, and begin to sell their produce. As residents learn new ideas, they can in turn share this knowledge with other community members. While the promotoras concept is nothing new—it’s been used in health care settings for years—its application to the urban farming arena is itself truly a Big Idea. It also encapsulates Revision’s overarching idea—giving communities opportunities to succeed doesn’t mean giving things, it means empowering them to make systemic changes that can last lifetimes.

If you have a Big Idea that you’d like to share with the world, let us know by leaving a comment below.