According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a food desert is defined as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents have low-access to a super-market or grocery store.” One of the most severe food deserts in Denver is located between Federal Boulevard and Interstate 25. Sun Valley, one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, has historically experienced higher poverty rates and consistently lower access to food than the majority of the city. According to a 2018 article by Westword, the annual median income for Sun Valley residents is $9,874 which means nearly 85 percent of the neighborhood’s population lives below the federal poverty line.

The Sun Valley neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. Photo courtesy | Westword
The Sun Valley neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. Photo courtesy | Westword

The prime issue with food deserts, as mentioned above, is one of availability and access. Many community members in Sun Valley rely on public transportation, making seemingly simple tasks like buying groceries a challenge. The closest grocery store to Sun Valley is approximately two miles north, which makes grocery shopping time consuming and difficult for anyone without reliable transportation. There are currently only two options for families living in Sun Valley: a 7-Eleven convenience store and thankfully today, the Sun Valley Community Kitchen.

Sun Valley Community Center and Kitchen was founded in 2015 by Glenn Harper in response to the dire need for healthy food access and community youth programs in the neighborhood. The organization is a nonprofit restaurant and community space, offering programs for community benefit.

Originally from central Illinois, Harper moved to Denver nearly 20 years ago. Before relocating to Sun Valley, he operated a food truck selling French fries and other fried treats to festival goers. While scouting for new locations to open a physical location for his business, he came across a vacant grocery store in the center of the Sun Valley neighborhood. Complete with a commercial grade kitchen, the property was seemingly a perfect location to transition his business. However, after quickly discovering that Sun Valley residents had very few options for healthy and accessible food, Harper decided to offer residents a solution.

The Sun Valley Kitchen is now a fully functioning restaurant with affordable and reasonably priced dishes. In addition to its reputation for serving incredible food within a practical budget, there is also a community center providing local residents with a place to feel supported, safe and connected. The Center focuses on youth engagement and after-school programs, such as cooking classes and choir lessons where youth can gain experience making their own meals, learning culinary skills and expanding their creativity. These programs are targeted to cultivate skills that go well beyond filling stomachs.

Sun Valley Kitchen in Denver, Colorado. Photo Courtesy, Alana Romans
Sun Valley Kitchen in Denver, Colorado. Photo Courtesy, Alana Romans

“It teaches kids teamwork and different social skills that they might not have at home,” explained Harper of the community center’s programs. “A lot of families in the area are really large and might not have space for a dining table. So just sitting down, eating together and having a conversation around the dinner table are all very important experiences.”

To help combat the problem of food access in Sun Valley, the nonprofit also partners with organizations like Denver Food Rescue and We Don’t Waste to run a no-cost grocery program, helping bring fresh produce to the community.

Harper’s hope for the future of the neighborhood? “I hope that Sun Valley stays a family oriented, affordable and diverse neighborhood – that it’s a place where people want to move to raise their families.”

The Sun Valley Community Kitchen and Center is a powerful symbol of what can be accomplished when individuals work toward a mutual community benefit. Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) is proud to support the Sun Valley neighborhood following our acquisition of the Social Enterprise Foundry, a 44,000 square foot community serving warehouse located in Sun Valley. The Foundry provides affordable rental warehouse space for organizations serving the Greater Denver community. Tenants include Energy Resource Center, Blue Star Recyclers and Mile High Youth Corps. ULC is thankful to be a part of a larger network of community serving organizations in the Sun Valley neighborhood, and are very proud of the incredible impact the Sun Valley Kitchen and Center is making on the local community.

Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center is located at 1260 Decatur street in  Denver. Low-cost breakfast is served to the public Mon – Fri, 6 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. and Low-cost lunch is served Mon – Fri, 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Fore more information please visit: feedingsunvalley.com

An Energy Resource Center crew members providing weatherization services to a Colorado home. Photo Courtesy | Energy Resource Center
An Energy Resource Center crew members providing weatherization services to a Colorado home. Photo Courtesy | Energy Resource Center