Founded under the initial name Embracing Horses in 1993, The Urban Farm at Stapleton was established to provide equine education and interaction for 15 inner-city youth. In the 25 years since its establishment, The Urban Farm has expanded its programming. They now offer educational opportunities in animal husbandry and agriculture.

The original goal of the organization was to “work with inner-city kids get them experience riding horses, develop them, make them more responsible, build respect for the animals.” Executive director, Mike Nicks explained that the present mission stays true to the farm’s origins. “We use practical work experience in the farm setting to inspire excitement for learning while fostering respect, responsibility, curiosity, caring and grit.”

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The farm sits on 23 acres and is home to horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and a few cows. A beautiful community garden yields fresh fruits and vegetables. Their new greenhouse provides warmth and humidity for aeroponic towers and aquaponic systems to grow leafy greens and herbs.

Though The Urban Farm was started as only an equine education program, Nicks explained the hope to expand the farm’s other programming. “We’re really trying to develop an agricultural side,” Nicks commented. One of the ways the organization achieves that goal is by enabling local kids to get involved in the Adams County 4-H program. Participants come to the farm a couple of times a week to help take care of the goats and sheep that they will show at the competition. 

Partnering With Local Nonprofits

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This year, The Urban Farm received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado or GOCO, that helps them achieve their goal. GOCO’s funding not only enables the organization to offer more scholarships for their programming, but they have since started partnering with other organizations who received GOCO funding.

“It’s been a really great collaboration for us,” Nicks commented as he explained the partnerships with Groundwork Denver, Mile High Youth Corps, and the Boys & Girls Club that GOCO facilitated. “We get to work with some great organizations.”

The Urban Farm intern Jai Phillips mentors kids from Groundwork Denver as they help out around the farm. This partnership, Phillips explained, “employs youth to learn different trades on the farm” including building part of the aquaponic system in the greenhouse.

The farm also hosts The Boys & Girls Club regularly. On Mondays, groups from the club travel to the farm to learn equine care and etiquette. Nicks couldn’t help but comment, “those guys are cute on the horses,” especially those that have never seen a horse before visiting the farm.

Nicks and his team utilize every aspect of their farm as an educational device for kids. Their new aeroponic and aquaponic systems teach alternative farming and gardening in small spaces. The Urban Farm also hosts school field trips and service learning trips for middle and high schools. On Mondays, they take animals out to Aurora schools for after-school learning programs.

The Urban Farm stays true to their original mission

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The farm partners with another group of kids that realizes the organization’s original mission: Denver Public Safety brings in at-risk kids. Nicks explained that most of these kids have “been kicked out of school, they’re really pre-trial and at risk of going into the court system.” Phillips works with these groups, teaching them soft-skills on the farm, including how to work with adults and other people, learning how to use farm tools and how to work with the animals.

Nicks takes pride in the opportunities The Urban Farm provides for kids who need it. “The farm is a nice, safe place where they can come out and almost in a way be a kid again. The curiosity drives them forward,” and they develop responsibility and respect for the animals.

Providing learning opportunities for kids and families who cannot afford it is what Nicks loves about his work at The Urban Farm. “I think our goal would be to do 50% scholarships and 50% paid,” Nicks said, to ensure everyone has access to fun learning opportunities on the farm. The GOCO grant allows for more scholarship experiences, and Nicks hopes to continue working with Great Outdoors Colorado in the future.

Rain, snow, and freezing temperatures don’t phase the farm workers or dwellers. Stop by The Urban Farm for self-guided tours Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Visit its website to learn more about 2019 summer camp opportunities, service learning and 4-H involvement. While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up fresh chicken and duck eggs along with other fresh produce harvested from the gardens.

The Urban Farm at Stapleton is located at 10200 Smith Rd, Denver.

All photography by Sam Hines.