Revision International was founded in October 2007 by Joseph Teipel and Eric Kornacki, who met at the University of Denver. It was while traveling through Nicaragua together on a service learning project that the seeds of Revision were planted. The exposure to extreme poverty opened their eyes to the injustice of globalization and the degradation of the natural world. Together they felt a calling to develop a new approach to economics and community development that valued relationships amongst people, community, and nature. Their passion began to focus around the vision of developing a global network of locally-created, self-sufficient and resilient communities. They had a strong conviction that every person has the ability to become an agent for creating a better world - all it takes is planting seeds of awareness, and nurturing through intentionally caring and investing in one person and one community at a time.
While both set out to develop a globally-reaching initiative, hence the name Revision International, they quickly realized while planning an international bicycle journey that they were repeating a common mistake in international development - developing solutions from outside the community. Changing course in 2008, Eric and Joseph, along with their newly created board of directors, began focusing on local problems in Denver communities. Revision developed a comprehensive and holistic approach to create sustainable and self-sufficient communities beginning by relocalizing and rebuilding a community's local food system, leveraging the resources and assets that already exist. Through this approach, Revision began developing a model that could be scaled and replicated around the world.
In 2009, Revision launched its first program, Re:farm Denver, to address the lack of affordable and accessible healthy food in low-income communities by converting household yards into organic vegetable gardens. The Re:farm model was designed to empower low-income families and vulnerable communities to overcome the barriers to growing food - namely resources and knowledge - and to use food as a spark to ignite wider economic and community development.
Revision first initiated the Re:Farm program in the Westwood neighborhood, located in southwest Denver. Westwood is one of Denver's poorest and most at-risk neighborhoods, and is considered a food desert. And yet, Westwood boasts a rich cultural diversity that is unique to Denver. Revision immediately built partnerships with community organizations, residents, stakeholders, and elected officials, who all provided valuable input into the need for healthy food. In the spring of 2009, Revision's first 7 families signed up for a backyard garden. Through word of mouth, a local middle school heard of the Re:Farm program and reached out for help to start a school garden, and, with assistance from Revision, one of the first urban farms in Denver was launched at Kepner Middle School.
Revision's commitment to food justice and a community-led approach quickly gained local recognition. The Denver Post ran several articles featuring Revision's work teaching families to grow their own food, and for their work using gardening as a way to reach at-risk teenagers. Despite it being their first year, the Colorado Department of Agriculture selected Revision's urban farm at Kepner Middle School as the media site for its annual day to promote Colorado Agriculture - Colorado Proud Day.
Recognition began to lead to interest from new funders, and, in 2010, Revision, along with partner organizations, received an $80,000 2-year grant from the National Convergence Partnership piloting gardening as a violence prevention strategy. Through its summer youth food justice program, Revision received a national grant to plant a 40 fruit tree orchard at Kepner, becoming Denver's first urban orchard. The Denver Office of Economic Development, the Denver Office of Strategic Partnership, and the Anschutz Family Foundation also awarded grants to further support Revision's work. Demand for the Re:farm Denver program was also increasing, expanding to nearly 40 backyard gardens and developing a waiting list.
Perhaps most significantly, Revision launched its promotora model, hiring three residents as gardening and nutrition community health workers. This decision would quickly pay off as promotoras began community organizing and developing a social infrastructure that would become the foundation of Revision's community development model. A highlight in 2010 was a visit from the Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum. She toured Revision's community farm at Kepner Middle School and spoke about the inspiration Revision was providing not only to Westwood, but to others around the world. In 2010, Revision co-founder Joseph Teipel stepped down from the Board of Directors to enlist in the Peace Corps with his wife, Ashley. In recognition and appreciation of his dedication to the organization, Revision created an award in his name to be given annually to an individual that best exemplifies his commitment to community service.
Revision’s work finally caught the attention of The Colorado Health Foundation; with Revision's largest grant to date, the backyard program grew to 87 families, with another 50 placed on a waiting list. The Denver Office of Economic Development provided an additional $53,000 grant for Revision to expand the production of its urban farm at Kepner, and to build a greenhouse for year-round food production. Revision's promotora model began developing a reputation for an effective approach to community development, and in 2011 Revision was awarded a $149,000 grant from the Denver Energy Challenge to help low-income households improve their energy efficiency.
Revision’s work continued to gain accolades, earning a three-year appointment by
then-Mayor John Hickenlooper to Denver’s Sustainable Food Policy Council, and
international press coverage for the impact of its backyard garden program in
Hispanic communities. In 2011, Revision gave its first Re:visionary Award to New Belgium Brewing Co-founder and CEO Kim Jordan for her commitment to building a progressive and environmentally-responsible company. Revision also awarded the Joseph Teipel Distinguished Service Award to Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez, a champion for underserved and marginalized families in southwest Denver.
2012 was a year of big change and growth. Revision moved its headquarters from downtown Denver to a converted restaurant on Morrison Road, an industrial street running through the heart of Westwood. With a multi-year grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, the Re:farm backyard garden program grew to 167 families, employing nine promotoras. With its new community office space, Revision began holding more workshops, training seminars and community meetings. Perhaps the biggest development came in the spring of 2012, when Revision was approached by The Denver Foundation to ask for help in finding urban farm land for a group of refugees from Somalia. Call it serendipity, but Revision was actually in the process of trying to acquire vacant residential property in Westwood to convert into an urban farm. After meeting with the Somali Bantu community and realizing how important farming was to their traditions and culture, Revision felt compelled to work with them. Bringing in key partners and stakeholders such as City Councilman Paul Lopez, Denver Water, The Trust for Public Land, Denver Public Health, and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Revision secured a land-use agreement, and began converting the vacant lot into a farm. This included constructing an off-grid solar-powered irrigation system, major soil amendments, and building several high-tunnel hoop houses. A late-season crop was planted, just in time for Revision's First Annual Harvest Festival, where Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was awarded the Re:visionary Award for his vision to promote urban agriculture through his Denver Seeds initiative. Revision celebrated its 5th anniversary on the first of October.
So far, 2013 has been a huge year for Revision - in April, Revision won the Slow Money Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and a $50,000 award from Slow Money and Mama Chia. Voting was conducted online through Facebook leading up to the annual gathering, where 25 entrepreneurs from around the country took the stage for five minutes each to pitch their company. Audience members and a panel of judges made up the final two thirds of the vote. Revision presented its Re:Farm program and the soon-to-be-launched Westwood Food Cooperative - and won the $50,000 prize! Shortly after the Slow Money victory, Revision was notified it had been awarded a $300,000, three-year award from the US Department of Agriculture Competitive Grants Program. Revision submitted a proposal to launch the Westwood Food Cooperative in conjunction with a community-owned commercial kitchen in Westwood. Out of 150+ proposals from all over the nation, Revision was ranked #4! Revision is excited to move into the next phase of its history by forming the Westwood Food Cooperative, helping provide ownership opportunities to over 200 low-income families in southwest Denver, building a Food Hub that will increase the access and affordability of healthy, locally-grown food, and by beginning to look towards developing a community-owned neighborhood marketplace. Stay tuned as Revision continues to relocalize communities from within!