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Nothing quite sums up a mother’s love like hand-rolled lasagna and sugar-dusted creme puffs. The bigger the dish, the bigger the love, and no other restaurant captures this sentiment quite like Grammy’s Goodies in Wheatridge, CO. Located on a street corner and wrapped in a white picket fence, the cozy, red, checkered table-clothed restaurant tells a story of familial love. 

The story begins in a vibrant coastal town on the Southern border of Italy.

Abruzzo, Italy, known for its lush green plains, scenic views and decadent cuisine, is where Lucille Acierno, AKA “Grammy” was born. Lucille learned the art of cooking from her mother, who learned from her mother, and so on. By the time she was twelve, Lucille migrated to the United States and brought her love for cooking with her. 

As a devout Roman Catholic, Lucille was faithfully devoted to her church. She was the head of the Altar and Rosary Society, prepared all the meals for the organization, and her outstanding cooking soon earned her a reputation. According to her great-granddaughter Joeylyn and co-owner of Grammy’s Goodies, “She was the shit, pretty much. I don’t know how to put it any other way. I always joke about how she taught me to make our waffle cookies when I was five or six. When I was little, she used to teach me to say hail Mary in between making each cookie. Now, I make hundreds of dozens of cookies and I still say “Hail Mary” between each one.” 

With tears in her eyes, Joeylyn says, “I still get choked up thinking about her while making them. All of our recipes come from Grammy, and although we put our own twist on them, you can still taste her cooking in everything we make.” 

As Lucille grew older, her diagnosis of arthritis left her hands unable to work the same way they used to. Jocelyn says “She taught my mother, Vickie, everything she knew about cooking and baking, and soon my mom became her new set of hands.” 

Just like her grandmother, Vickie fell in love with cooking, and ended up meeting her husband, Jeff, in a restaurant where they worked. They had two children, Joeylyn and George. Jeff was a truck driver, and Vickie was a stay at home mother who followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and became known for her ridiculously good cooking skills. In 2005, a friend who was more than familiar with Vickie’s infamously addictive Italian Christmas cookies, asked her to share his booth at the Festival Italiano in Lakewood, Colorado. Vickie tirelessly baked each cookie by hand, teaching her kids how to make them along the way. Her cookies sold out within a few short hours, thus setting the outdoor, farmers’ market style of “Grammy’s Goodies” into motion. 

Vickie and Jeff found great success once they Americanized Grammy’s recipes, making the cookies as big as plates and pizzas as big as tires. Huge portion sizes became a consistent theme for Grammy’s Goodies.  The successful business put both Joeylyn and George through college at Colorado State University. During the siblings’ time in college, Grammy’s Goodies was growing as an outdoor food business.  “My brother and I would come home on the weekends with his fraternity brothers and my friends to help work the food stands,” says Joeylyn. “By my sophomore year, we were participating in over seventy-five festivals around Colorado. But, in 2015, my mom saw this open lot go for sale. When you do outdoor events you have to have all sorts of licenses, so we thought it would be a good spot to park all of our trailers.”

About a year after purchasing the lot, Grammy’s Goodies opened as a restaurant. Joeylyn says, it kind of “blew up from there.” The inside is decorated with photos of Grammy and her husband, as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who run the restaurant. People quickly fell in love with Grammy’s cozy atmosphere, decadent pizzas, pastas, buttery garlic knots (you get them free the first time you visit) and authentic Italian pastries. 

In 2019, just before the pandemic, Grammy’s Goodies received a mysterious email that at first, Joeylyn says, “we thought was a scam.” 

The email informed them that some of their customers from the past few weeks had been working for Guy Fieri’s famous TV show, “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” According to Joeylyn, “They began to call all hours of the night, asking for recipes and photos until they let us know we had been picked to do the show. My mom and Guy really hit it off. But like I said, none of us are professionally trained as chefs. We all just learned from Grammy. It’s kind of funny because if you watch the episode you’ll see our section is very homestyle with my mom and Guy just having a good old time, and then you see how at the next restaurant, he’s talking to like, a professional chef. We’re just not that. We’re a family.” 

The show propelled the restaurant during a difficult time for small businesses, and Joeylyn says that “without the airing of that show, we might not have made it through the pandemic. We are forever grateful for that experience.” 

Aside from the home cooking and cozy-quaint atmosphere, what makes Grammy’s Goodies so special is the family’s commitment to working with each other and keeping Grammy alive through her recipes.. Vickie, Jeff, Joeylyn, George, and George’s wife, Kylie, work at the restaurant every single day.

“I’m very blessed that I get to be with my family every day,” says Joeylyn. “I feel like whether you work with family, friends, or strangers you are going to have ups and downs. But when it comes to working with family, when the good days are good, they are really good. When the bad days are bad, I’m fighting with my brother as soon as we walk in, ready to beat him up.” 

Joeylyn goes on to say, “my brother and I chose this for a reason. My brother got a degree in HR management, and I got a degree in interior design, but we chose here. And the reason we chose here is because of family.” 

Nonetheless, she says, “I think what makes us special is that no matter what, we’re always here, everyday. You can come in tomorrow, we’re all here. If you come in next week, we’ll be here. My sister even brings her two kids here every single day. It’s never strangers running the business, it’s family, and it all started with Grammy.”

Nothing quite sums up a mother’s love

Between now and the end of the summer you’ll be seeing our team at Bucket List Community Café in your neighborhoods and at your festivals. Come up and talk to us. We’ll have this real tasteful refrigerator magnet to give you. We want to tell you about our online community journalism site that serves North Denver. I know when we meet you will have questions.

I get asked all the time, where is Bucket List Community Café?  Ugh!  When I explain that there is no brick and mortar location the next question is why did you name it Bucket List Community Café if it’s not a café?  I wish I knew then what I know now, but as I’ve considered changing the name (it’s trademarked and that was a pain) I always come back to NO.  This perfectly describes the purpose of our community journalism site.    

A bucket list is things to accomplish before time runs out.  It was on my bucket list to open a cafe/photo gallery/book store.  A place that brings community together.  I figured I’d do it after I retired from my career in television but when I moved to North Denver from the suburbs several years ago, I found so much of interest, I created it online.  I imagined it as a place to get to know each other and what’s going on around our community.  A place of information, inspiration and interaction.  A place where we tell our stories.  

Look at these photos.  Don’t you want to know their stories?  Or what stories they were telling to one another?  Two women sharing intimacies on a bus.  A bartender and a customer talking across the bar in RINO.  What do they have in common to spark a connection?  The dancer at Cinco de Mayo looks so proud celebrating her immigrant story.  Bob looks so proud sharing his classic car. Doesn’t it make you want to know more? 

That’s what we do at Bucket List Community Café. We cover news, issues, culture, events, arts, and places to eat and play in the unique neighborhoods of North Denver.  Most important, your neighbors tell their stories and how they fit into what’s going on around us today. We like to say we are journalism by walking around because we are so close to the neighborhoods.    

We are building this together. Bucket List Community Cafe is community inspired and supported.  Help us envision what community journalism can look like by taking our survey.  I know.  Surveys.  Blah!  We only send them out once a year and it really helps guide us to make the experience better for everyone. We collaborate with residential neighborhood organizations, non-profits and small businesses. Share us with your friends and neighbors too.     

You can also subscribe to our newsletter which comes out once a month and features our newest journalists and storytellers.  Bucket List Community Café is bootcamp for college juniors and seniors who work with us on editorial and engagement.  They are fanning out all over North Denver helping tell your stories. Mentorship is one of our values.  Journalists stand on the shoulders of others, and it is important that our shoulders carry the next generation.  

Finally, you can contribute to help support Bucket List Community Café.  We do not have ads and paywalls and memberships and subscriptions.   We want everyone to have access to Bucket List Community Café.  If you like what we’re doing, please click here to contribute and help us grow.  Help us find sponsors for our social media, newsletter and website. Contribute during our fundraiser in July.

In the meantime, we will be seeing you at the following events.  Tell us your stories.  We build community by telling our stories.  

5/6      First Friday on Tennyson Street 

5/7      Regis Horseshoe Market   

5/7      Cinco De Mayo 

5/28    Denver Arts Festival 

6/4      Park Hill Art Festival 

6/4      Urban Market 

Leaning on quotes inspires storytelling.  In her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou writes “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Telling our stories can make Denver a better place. Let’s get to know one another. If you have stories you want us to know about and suggestions on how we can collaborate reach out to vicky@teletrendstv.com. See you online and around North Denver.       

Between now and the end of the

Growth often kick starts change and development. In 1929 Denver first opened as a small municipal airport and eventually Stapleton airport helped put Denver on the map. Some of the airlines that flew into it are long gone. Remember Braniff, Western, Continental? Today the old tower is one of the few remnants left of the airport. But what’s old is new again as an aviation themed brewing company gets ready to land in the shadow of the old tower this summer. But first a nod to history.

The old Stapleton Neighborhood in Denver and it’s namesake airport, were named after former Denver Mayor Benjamin Stapleton after World War II.  It was renamed to Central Park after the Stapleton Master Community Association voted in favor of the name change in June of 2020 because of Mayor Stapleton’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan. But for 65 years it was Stapleton Airport and people have memories (albeit noisy ones) of watching the planes land only three miles from downtown.  

Gregg Looker, who previously worked at the Stapleton Airport and was a long time resident of the area, said that he got his start at the airport when his job working for the city and county of Denver ended. 

“My position was being abolished and the day it was going to be abolished, a person in the mayor’s office decided to create a temporary position for me to do a new accounting system for public works,” Looker said. “Stapleton used to be a division of public works, so I jumped at the chance.”

He started on November 1, 1982. He began implementing a large word processing network that eventually evolved into the first local area network in the city and county of Denver.

Looker worked at the Stapleton Airport until it closed and then moved to Denver International Airport (DIA) when it opened in 1995. He said his favorite part during his time working at Stapleton airport was watching the expansion and growth. 

Looker joyfully recalled a story about a fourth-floor bar that was a part of the Stapleton Airport and how it became a closing-time hub for airport employees. 

“I remember that there was a portion of the terminal on the fourth floor that had a bar that was run by the maintenance center employees. After Friday was done, they go kick back in their own bar,” he said laughingly. “On city property!”

The proximity to downtown made Stapleton International Airport extremely popular, but as Denver expanded, the city was forced to relocate the airport to the east. Some wish that the airport was still the same distance from downtown, but Looker said that relocation was inevitable. 

“It never was a problem for me. I knew that the airport needed to move. I was living, for 22 years, at 16th and Adams so every 30 seconds I would see a plane landing on 26th Avenue,” Looker said. “So, the airport needed to be built.”

Today, the original airport buildings are gone, except for the control tower which has become a relic in Central Park. Looker said he enjoys being able to see the control tower still and it allows him to reminisce.

“Well, you know, when I worked in Stapleton, you’d walk past the FAA front door when you went into work. And that was the control tower. The FAA building was the base of the control tower,” he said. “I just loved it. It’s two blocks away from me to walk to, I like the lights that they use to light it up now.”

FlyteCO Brewing, a local aviation themed brewery, recently acquired the property that stands on the old airport grounds right next to the control tower and they plan to open their second location there this summer. 

FlyteCO Brewing was started in 2008 when owners Eric Serani and Jason Slingsby were engineering students at the University of Colorado Boulder. They were both drawn to the science and process that it takes to make beer. In 2013, Morgan O’Sullivan moved in next door to Jason. Their shared passion for beer led to Morgan joining the two Buffs and helping to establish FlyteCO. 

In the beginning, before FlyteCO was established, the trio hosted backyard barbeques to showcase their brewing expertise. Their barbeques quickly escalated into hundred person tastings. 

“I said, hey, this beer is pretty good. We should invite some people over and try it. And so, we did. We would just have, you know, get togethers we would have everybody over in the backyard. We would make all the beer. We’d make all the food, didn’t charge anybody anything. Just wanted to, you know, throw the most epic summer barbecue we possibly could,” said O’Sullivan. “And it started to grow. I mean, it went from 20 people to I think at its peak, we had about 200 people in the backyard.”

After having a ton of backyard success, the trio created a business plan in 2014. After roughly five years of planning and fundraising, FlyteCO Brewing was created. Their first location, which is located at 4499 W 38th Avenue in Denver, is solely a brewery. After acquiring space at the old Stapleton Airport, they will be expanding to serve food too. 

“I thought this was such a unique opportunity, because we are an aviation brand and to have the opportunity to take over a building that already suited our existing brand, it was just an interesting take” said O’Sullivan. 

Central Park is now estimated to be home to over 30,000 residents. The residents are responsible for creating a tight-knit and lively feeling to the community. Farmers markets, concerts, and a variety of small businesses populate the landscape. FlyteCO will be joining other local businesses and hopes to capture the attention of both Central Park and Denver residents. 

“We’ll have a full arcade inside, darts, giant Scrabble, all of those fun things. It really allows us to express the experiential side of our brand that has always been there, but just taking it to a new level.”

Looker said that Central Park is full of references that remind him of the old Stapleton Airport. He said that FlyteCO’s theme and location at the old control tower should become a hot spot for north Denver residents.

“I’ll be there as soon as it opens.”

Growth often kick starts change and development.

I am a television producer because I like to work in the background. That said, one of the realities of publishing a community journalism site is you have to let people know what you’re doing. With the encouragement of Stephanie Snyder at LION Publishers, I am posting our press release to let you know how Bucket List Community Cafe is putting University of Colorado journalism and marketing students through a real world bootcamp. Reach out if you’d like to know more and if you want to help shape how community journalism can look please take our survey. Thanks for your support and contributions. With gratitude, Vicky Collins

Contact: VICKY COLLINS 
NAME BUCKET LIST COMMUNITY CAFÉ 

TITLE    PUBLISHER

PHONE 303-881-0621

EMAIL   vicky@teletrendstv.com


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM SITE BECOMES A BOOT CAMP FOR 

ASPIRING YOUNG JOURNALISTS

Bucket List Community Café provides mentorship to journalists as they wrap up 

their college journey

DENVER, April 12, 2022 – In starting up her own community journalism site, Bucket List Community Café, veteran television producer Vicky Collins never envisioned that her site would double as an incubator for the next generation of ground-breaking journalists.

Bucket List Community Café is an online community journalism site that Collins launched when she moved from the Denver suburbs to the Sunnyside and then Berkeley neighborhoods.  It gets its name because a “bucket list” item for Collins was to build community by having a coffee shop/book store/art gallery.  Rather than a brick and mortar location, in 2019 she built the space online and it now covers the neighborhoods, small businesses, non-profits and people of North Denver.

“We build community by telling our stories,” says Collins.  “We stay close to the grassroots and the neighborhoods.   “We call it journalism by walking around.”

As the site grew in popularity and reach, help was needed but, on a start-up budget, Bucket List Community Café turned, as many small businesses do, to interns to help shoulder the load.

Working with students from the University of Colorado’s College of Media, Communication and Information and CU Denver, Collins was not only able to find journalistic talent but to also realize that the real-life experience is priceless for these up-and-coming reporters and strategic communicators.  

Recent stories covered by the students include how Afghan refugees are adjusting to day to day life in the Denver area, a small Ukranian church concerned for those fighting and fleeing in their homeland, and the return of the high school musical at Denver School of the Arts (after COVID derailed the program for two years). 

 The students go out in the field, write and are also responsible for photography and videos.     

Marin Fallon, is a senior who will graduate in May.  She has worked on the engagement side and believes she is now well prepared for what comes next.

“The six months that I’ve spent working with Bucket List Community Cafe have been extremely beneficial to both my current and future work. I’ve learned a lot throughout my college career and Bucket List allows me to put my skills to the test. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working so closely with such a talented team of students, along with our mentor.”

Noah Anderson, a junior on the journalism side, has been writing for Bucket List Community Café since the fall of 2021.  This summer he signed up again for a 3-credit internship.  He’s noticed his writing transform.  

“While working with Vicky at Bucket List Community Cafe, I have gained valuable, real world reporting skills. I have connected with sources and have developed strategies for writing efficiently to meet deadlines. Meeting impactful individuals in the community has been inspiring and has allowed me to write meaningful stories.”

“Mentoring is an important part of our values.  I was mentored as a young journalist and I think it’s very important to help bring up the next generation,” says Collins.  “Community journalism is part of the news ecosystem and we’re putting our soon to be graduates through a journalism boot camp.”

ABOUT BUCKET LIST COMMUNITY CAFÉ:

Bucket List Community Café is an entrepreneurial venture and is looking for partnerships to scale, collaborations, and sponsorships.  In 2021 it was one of 26 Colorado community news organizations that was selected to receive a $5000 matching grant from the Colorado Media Project.  To learn more about Bucket List Community Café visit our website or contact Vicky Collins at vicky@teletrendstv.com

### 

I am a television producer because I

Ekar Farm, an urban garden oasis at 6825 East Alameda in the heart of Lowry, fights food insecurity in Denver through education about food systems and by reconnecting thousands of volunteers and students a year to the Earth. It’s mission is to connect, grow, nourish and repair and the easiest way to do that is simply to get your hands dirty. 

 

“When we frame what we’re doing, we’re doing food and environmental justice and we’re trying to accomplish systems-level work, says Sue Salinger, the Executive Director of Ekar Farms.   We know that giving people food is a form of direct aid.  Education is a part of changing the systems. So we work with kids from preschoolers through college, and adults as well.” 

The one and a half acre farm is hidden behind the Denver Academy of Torah, between apartment buildings and suburban housing. It bustles with activity starting early every morning during the growing season.  While many are getting ready for spring and summer planting in their home gardens, the season of community farming is a year-round job for Sue, her team, and volunteers. 

“It matters for the people who receive the produce.” says Salinger. The farm grows culturally appropriate food “for the people we’re giving it to, high quality, organic vegetables that are beautiful and nutrient-dense because we’re taking care of the soil.”   

In Hebrew “Ekar” means “the most important things.” Those things are environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual connection.  In the Jewish Tradition, the ability to see the connection between our bodies and the Earth starts with repairing our environment and food. People support and celebrate each other with food, and with the growth of urban farming, it’s also supporting the environment. 

Ekar Farm grows lavish gardens of produce for food banks and donation centers. Acorn squash, potatoes, varieties of lettuces, carrots, and radishes. And sweet to tart fruits of raspberries, blueberries, and more from their apple and plum fruit trees.  

The importance of community gardens was highlighted during COVID-19 with the growing issue of food insecurity among Denver residents.

“People did start to panic, and it was a good wake-up call that our food system is broken. Our food system locally is very dependent on food being brought in by trucks from all over the world.” says Salinger. “So this is a fix.” 

 

Salinger shared about the lasting impacts of food insecurity following the COVID pandemic and how it pulled the curtain back on how our food is unevenly distributed to Denver families. “The food system connected itself and rallied. It really showed an example of how we can respond to a community in crisis to meet people’s needs. That’s a lesson that I think is going to serve us well as the climate emergency intensifies.”

According to the Colorado Health Institute, “in 2019, approximately one in 10 Coloradans experienced food insecurity, defined as eating less than they felt they should in the past year because there was not enough money for food.” 

A Denver food Pantry hosted by Jewish Family Services will go through up to 100,000 pounds of food a week. Sue discussed the work that can be accomplished with an acre of land annually. In the climate of Colorado. With the soil provided, an acre of agriculture can produce anywhere between 18,000 to 20,000 pounds of food that can be sold, donated, and distributed to those experiencing food insecurity. 

“We’re going to need to work together to make sure that people are able to have their food needs met.” says Salinger. 

The land that was renewed by Ekar Farm used to hold a factory for destruction, a World War I and World War II air force base that manufactured bombs. The specific site that lays beneath Ekar Farms was part of the cement depot, causing the soil to be high in alkaline where chunks of cement found their way back to the surface throughout the farming season as the plotting beds were shaped. 

“We’re turning an area that used to produce bombs into an area that supports life, community, and putting that life back into the soil.” says Salinger. 

“Ekar farm became one of the Rocky Mountain seed hubs and we distributed 17,000 packets of seeds through food pantry partners and into community garden groups,” explained Salinger.

Ekar Farm is a new form of urban gardening to provide communities with fresh produce and even their own plot to rent out for the growing season.  There is a half acre comprised of 40 ten by ten foot plots that can be rented to community gardens.  Some are rented by school kids where students are able to participate by watching their own plot of land produce vegetables, and nearby residents are also able to rent out their own personal garden patch and have the space to grow their produce.

Community gardens, food pantries, hydroponic gardening, and new systems to distribute food are only expanding for the future needs of the population. Community gardens are non-profits and farm equipment, seeds, harvesting, and distribution are bolstered by donations, community funding and grants.  

With bees helping to pollinate, the smell of fresh soil, and educated farm hands directing the projects, consider giving back this Earth Day to Ekar Farm or another community garden near you.  By supporting local community gardens and reforming our food system, communities can come together to not only reduce food waste but bring connection between people and the Earth. 

Ekar Farms continues to bring the Jewish tradition of connecting back to the Earth by improving the environment around them. Support community farms, gardens, and help build a network of personal gardens to reduce reliance on distributed produce in grocery stores. Ekar Farms is a nonprofit and is accepting donations as well as time spent through volunteer work.

Ekar Farm, an urban garden oasis at

On this Earth Day let’s honor the great Denver Mayor Robert Speer.  Elected three times to lead Denver (1904-1912), he was an ardent supporter of the so-called City Beautiful Movement. 

Speer and other Denver leaders recognized the importance of trees, the evaporative cooling they provide as well as the beauty they bring to a city.  They sought to make Denver the Queen City of the Plains, an oasis amid the high altitude grasslands east of the Rockies.

Aside from the cottonwood trees that grow on the banks of the South Platte and local creeks, virtually every tree you see in Denver has been planted by someone.  Against the odds of a semi-arid climate, trees have been nurtured by humans in an area where, on their own, they would likely die.

The fact is many trees did die. Dutch Elm disease, lightning strikes and development over the years have all taken their toll.  The Park People have a great resource guide to help people in Denver understand what trees have the best chance of survival on our prairie.  

https://theparkpeople.org/Learn/Best-Trees-for-Denver

The Park People, through their program Denver Digs Trees, recognizes our need for trees and this weekend volunteers will fan out across the city to plant more than a thousand new trees in 28 low income neighborhoods.  In neighborhoods in dire need of shade, it can cost as little as ten dollars. Watch for the 2023 sign up to be announced soon so you can jump on the tree bandwagon.  

Now, as Denver continues to grow and more concrete and asphalt is poured, the city’s tree canopy is woefully lacking.  While most Denverites live within a ten-minute walk of a park, trees shouldn’t be relegated to just parks.  Treelined streets will keep our homes cooler and make our city more beautiful.

Trees are not a magic bullet for combating climate change but they are a good start. There’s much to be done.

Let’s begin with downtown Denver where an estimated 1,800 trees cover about 4 percent of the area. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says Denver’s tree canopy ranks downtown at the bottom of the list of America’s 20 largest cities.

As the 16th Street Mall undergoes revisions, there are plans to add 400 to 500 trees at a cost of $9 million. You can’t just plunk trees in the ground here. Trees must have proper access to irrigated soil to survive. In the high-rise jungle of downtown, that’s expensive.

As Denver races against the climate change clock, The Union of Concerned Scientists says by 2050, the city will experience 20 to 35 days a year of 95 degree or hotter days. The City Forester’s Office says Denver is planting about 6,700 trees a year but that’s not near enough to reach a goal that would increase the citywide tree canopy from 13 percent to 20 percent.

Tree equity gaps exist in Denver.  A recent study by the Nature Conservancy says neighborhoods lacking tree canopy are 14 to 15 percent hotter than neighborhoods with trees and lawns. Sadly, many of those neighborhoods lacking trees are low-income neighborhoods like Globeville-Elyria Swansea.  Perhaps the worst example is Sun Valley where approximately 90 percent of the people live under the poverty line.  American Forests says Sun Valley’s tree coverage is a low 3 percent.  Compare that with West Highland with a tree canopy of 18% and only 12% of people living in poverty.  

Denver’s efforts on trees and green space could use improvement. Citywide, the Trust for Public Lands says just 8 percent of Denver’s 155 square miles is populated by parks.  That compares to 21 percent in New York City and 13 percent in Los Angeles.  There are initiatives to create more parks but mostly on a small scale. 

A voter-approved measure to require rooftop gardens on buildings was watered down by the Denver City Council and most new developments plant few trees and have little green space.  A 2006 vow by former Mayor John Hickenlooper to plant a million trees in Denver fizzled.  Only 225 thousand were planted.

The bottom line is that, like the past, it takes work to make the Denver the Queen City of the Plains.  It also takes commitment from its citizens to plant and maintain trees on right-of-ways and yards.  Trees cool our neighborhoods and help conserve energy.  They help keep the air healthy and reduce flooding and heat related illnesses.   

On this Earth Day, let’s pledge to make Denver cool and green again, for everyone.

On this Earth Day let’s honor the

Eleven years after receiving an unforgiving marijuana citation, things have come full circle for Daniel Morgan as he opens Denver’s first social equity dispensary, Social Cannabis, at 5068 N. Federal Boulevard across from Regis University. 

“It has been such a long, hard process to get here, but it feels like a dream come true. It doesn’t even feel real.” 

Denver’s marijuana social equity program received its first application from Daniel, a University of Denver alumni, who left for Wyoming his senior year and came back with a career-altering marijuana citation. Morgan has not set foot in Wyoming since. The citation during his final year of study in business, came with lasting impacts that stretched far beyond his sentence of a year-long term of probation and a steep fine. 

“It was terrifying. At the time of the citation, cannabis was a lot more frowned upon. Since it was essentially during the tail end of my senior year, it was a time when I was applying for a lot of jobs, and companies started asking me for background checks. I would get all the way to that point, but then I would never hear back.”

 

For years, the cannabis industry has been criticized for barring those who have been harmed by the war on drugs. People served extended sentences in prison for petty marijuana charges while others made millions from Colorado’s lucrative industry. As a result, consequences of marijuana convictions fell harder on marginalized communities and people of color. According to a report by the ACLU, Black Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. This while, marijuana use is roughly consistent across all ethnicities and 75% of dispensaries in Denver are owned by white men.  

In April of 2021, a social equity marijuana bill was signed into law which could lead to the most expansive change in the history of Denver’s marijuana industry. Its comprehensive social equity program aims to break the barriers to entry for those who have been negatively impacted by marijuana laws. The program also makes the application process more accessible to all by waiving or reducing initial licensing fees, which can cost several thousand dollars.

Denver aims to more accurately reflect its demographics in the cannabis industry by removing the city’s marijuana retail license cap exclusively for social equity applicants who meet one of the following criteria: Individuals may qualify if they have lived in an Opportunity Zone or Disproportionately Impacted Area for at least fifteen years between 1980 and 2010. Individuals may also qualify if their annual household income does not exceed 50% of Colorado’s median income, or if they, a spouse, parent, guardian or child has been convicted of a marijuana offense in the past and have not had a previous retail license revoked. 

According to Dr. Tristan Watkins, program manager for Colorado’s Cannabis office, the social equity program is also vitalizing Denver’s marijuana delivery industry by exclusively taking social equity applicants until 2027. This bill applies to individuals who wish to open their own delivery business or partner with existing dispensaries. 

Because of the time consuming application process, only nineteen out of Denver’s 206 dispensaries are licensed to have delivery services provided by the social equity program. However Dr. Watkins believes the business is headed in a great direction. “Although it’s not popular yet, it is happening, and licenses are being rewarded.”

Michael Diaz Rivera is one of those social equity licensees with his marijuana delivery company, Better Days Delivery.  He was busted for possession and accused of distribution.  Because of the conviction her served a couple months in jail. The new laws have given him opportunities to succeed in the marijuana industry.  “By focusing on the communities most impacted we can begin the healing needed to transform. In my situation, in particular outside of my family community, I am grateful for the people who pick me up after my mistakes and hold me accountable. Now that I am in the position that I am in, I feel as if it is my duty to pay it forward.”

Discouraged as he felt by his bust, Morgan found the silver lining to all of this when he started getting involved in the cannabis industry, budtending for minimum wage at a local dispensary right off of DU’s campus. Morgan found a home in the industry, and quickly grew fascinated with the cultivation side of retail cannabis. 

“After I moved on from budtending, I was washing pots, transplanting, cleaning–really taking on all growing responsibilities.”  Morgan continued to climb the industry’s ever-growing ladder as an executive with Starbuds. 

“I was extremely focused on cultivation early on,” says Morgan, “but when the company I had been working for transitioned and sold a lot of its cultivation, I started getting into the business side of the industry. I started doing a lot of consulting work and helping open up stores all around the United States.”  

Everything changed for Morgan when Denver’s social equity marijuana bills were signed into law, offering priority licenses to those who had been convicted of marijuana charges in the past. Morgan no longer had to forfeit his dream of owning his own marijuana business, but the application was just the first step of a very challenging journey.

“It was a very, very long process. It started with applying to the program, then applying to the state, then applying to Denver to have it approved for processing. After that, I had to attend a hearing in Denver where I met a lot of nearby residents and company owners.” 

Dan says, “There was zero opposition at the hearing, and many of the business owners believed that opening up Social Cannabis would benefit their companies as well.” After the hearing, Morgan had to pass several different extensive inspections in order to arrive at the grand opening of Social Cannabis. 

Morgan is partnering with over twenty cannabis vendors participating in the Social Responsibility Give Back Program, a plan designed to increase the vitality of Denver’s diverse areas by partnering with local businesses. One of the participating organizations is Ananeo, a program that provides housing, coaching, and mental health resources for those re-entering everyday life after prison. Morgan is truly passionate about giving back to the social equity program and helping others that want the same things he does. 

“Going through this process and facing all of the difficulties and hurdles I have been through, I realize that even though I finally got through it and am opening up my own business, it is still extremely difficult for other people to get here.” 

That is why Morgan is committed to creating a mentorship program that will help guide other social equity applicants through the process of opening their own businesses in the marijuana industry. As the first social equity dispensary owner in Denver, Morgan says, “I want to make it easier for other people. Although it’s my business, it’s not just about me. I want Social Cannabis to help other people and enable them to succeed.” 

He recently spoke with city of Denver officials who were very receptive to his idea, and he hopes to launch the mentorship program within the next month or two.   Morgan is proud to open up the first social equity cannabis store in Denver and hopes donations generated from the sale of select brands at Social Cannabis will help expand opportunities for others who have faced debilitating challenges.

“I ultimately want to maximize the potential of the social equity program and give back to the communities that deserve it.”

 A handful of other dispensary applications have been submitted for processing through the social equity program, but so far Morgan owns the only social equity dispensary in Denver.

“Without the social equity program, none of this would have been possible for me. Social Cannabis is essentially my proudest accomplishment.”

Eleven years after receiving an unforgiving marijuana

After a long career in broadcasting, you’ve decided to leave Tegna and 9News and leap into the unknown. Can you describe the excitement and trepidation you feel as you meet this moment?

I’ve been reacting to monumental change my entire career. My first job required typewritten scripts that were then taped together to be physically run through a teleprompter. Now there’s an app for that. There’s also a broadcast quality camera on the phone that houses that app. Instead of carrying a heavy camera with giant tapes and a tripod that weighed more than me, one can now shoot and entire TV story on a device that fits into my back pocket. Change is always scary but if there is one thing I have learned after 30 years in television is that change also breeds creativity.

What was it about these last couple of years that helped you decide to take this risk?

The pandemic has proven the need for a strong ethical media now more than ever. But it’s also changed how we live our lives.  How journalists adapt to this change will determine our success in the future. I want to be a part of leading that change.  On a personal note, both of my daughters graduate this year – one from high school, the other from college, so it is a good time to work on “me” and my future! 9NEWS has been supportive of my decision even as my team heads into the May ratings period. For the first time in my adult life, I will have my birthday off and will be able to spend uninterrupted time with my girl’s (whether they want to or not!).

Things are changing so rapidly in television news.  Was there a turning point for you where you felt you would be better served by trying something new?   

I strongly believe news is more important to our democracy than ever before, and my decision to try something new is built on that belief. So many people have asked if investigative journalism will suffer in the wake of the changes in our business. The only way to protect its future is to make it harder and harder to cut. We do that by doing a better job of being a watchdog in our communities. Luckily there seems to be a never-ending supply of stories to dig up!

You talk about betting on yourself.  What does that look like as you envision your future?  

I am not the first to jump. I am inspired by so many Colorado journalists reinventing the business model. Many of those people (like Vicky Collins who publishes Bucket List Community Cafe) have paved the way! I am inspired by the Colorado Sun, Colorado Public Radio, COLab, Open Media, there are too many to list. I am betting that I have something to lend to this spirit of entrepreneurship. I have often said I had the best job in the business. And, I did. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best journalists in the country and I will miss my colleagues so much! But inspired by those who have jumped before, I realized I have some new ideas I’d like to explore. I finally looked around and thought, who better to jump than me!

Many people are leaving their jobs and reinventing themselves in the wake of Covid.  What advice do you have for others who are considering a major transition at this time? 

I am not sure I’m the best one to answer that, since my story is still being written! Call me in 6 months 😊

After a long career in broadcasting, you’ve

You recently retired after a 45-year career in construction risk management.  How is it going so far?

I love retirement! It took me about a month to decompress and unwind from going to work every day.  Then I settled into a comfortable routine of house chores, health & fitness, biking and walking everywhere; along with re-connecting with friends beyond the on-line social networks used during the long pandemic and the busy holidays.  The key is to be financially secure and understand where money goes after retirement, and be able to re-adjust to the recent inflation and gas price increases.  Then I looked for ways to better connect with my community.  My favorite quote is “Think globally. Act locally.”   Finally, I am doing occasional professional consulting to help with the bills.

Lots of people start their days off with a cup of coffee but you’ve taken your morning joe to a whole new level.  Tell us about your coffee quest?

Back in early November while unwinding, and with winter approaching, I was looking for simple excuses to get out and about.  I make great coffee and I had a favorite coffee shop haunt near my house.  Out of curiosity I looked on-line and saw about eight shops in LoHi, some of which I had been to and some of which I hadn’t.  Since then I’ve been to 13 (not including several restaurants and cafes that also sell coffee.)  Some unique spots are Pinwheel Coffee which is managed by high school kids and shares a space with my bike shop, Queensberry Coffee which has as many dogs as people and Steam Espresso Bar which is in an historic Denver firehouse..    

What have been the benefits of getting out each week on your coffee runs? 

Walking is always good for any reason even if winter weather.  Seeing more of the neighborhood was nice along with seeing more of old houses without the leaves.   I have lived in Highland for 22 years and still can visualize the old houses and businesses that are gone and disappearing so rapidly. Supporting local businesses and workers is very satisfying.

You say you know a good cup of java.  What conclusions have your reached about the coffee shops in North Denver?

I’m no connoisseur or snob when it comes to coffee.  I do appreciate the many variables involved such as bean, grind, water, time & temperature.  I drink mine small, black, light roast and with a double shot of espresso.  They seem to all have their distinct personalities and character from whatever old building or former business that was there.  Every barista or server I meet is super friendly!  Lots of people are working from their laptops.  Dogs are welcome.

What advice do you have for others who are looking to find new activities and purpose in retirement?

A couple of mantras I believe in are that ‘health is wealth’ and ‘sitting is the new cancer’ so just keep moving.  Getting involved and giving back to the community is something I’ve always done but I think retirees play a crucial role with their free time, experience, and passion.  Retirees should put a lot of time and energy in relationships, personal and professional.  I’ve found this hugely rewarding my entire life but more so in retirement.

You recently retired after a 45-year career

Tears spill from the eyes and stream down the cheeks of mothers, wives, and other family members as the men, and many women in their communities pack a small bag and head away from the frontlines of a war. A battle zone right in their own neighborhood. Children whimper with fatigue and hunger as their parents hold their hands and pull them along a muddy sidewalk or road. 

They sidestep bodies wrapped in bloody sheets. Some are neighbors. Others are strangers. Some are even children. Were they on their way to school the day they were killed by enemy gun fire?  The dead are young and old, men and women. Some are slumped over with their hands tied behind their back, a bullet in the back of the head. A cyclist lays in a pool of blood, stopped dead in his tracks by heavy artillery from a tank. Pregnant women hold their abdomens moving as fast as they can to safety as debris and shrapnel whiz past their heads. 

The International Human Rights Commission says civilians are the victims of rapes and executions, while their homes are looted by military soldiers.

These are not the tears of Ukrainian civilians under Russian attack. These atrocities are happening in other places in the world but you probably have not heard of them, at least not through hour-to-hour news coverage every day for weeks.


When I first sat down to write this piece I planned to express my disappointment and sometimes outrage at how much attention, both in the media and the international political stage, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has received compared to the minuscule if not complete absence of news coverage of the conflicts I just mentioned… the many other places where Black and brown people are victims of the bully next door, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, or a bully in their own country.

But I’d like to go a bit deeper.

I would like us all to move beyond our collective amnesia and remember we have been here before. We have seen this movie several times.

I’ve covered conflict zones and crimes against humanity since 2008 when I first traveled to the southern part of Sudan (before South Sudan seceded and became the world’s newest country). I’ve witnessed first-hand violent acts against women, children, men. Entire families killed. I know what genocide looks like. (PHOTO)

It never gets easier seeing my brothers and sisters suffer the brutality of a bully with power. There are no words to describe looking into the eyes of one of my ancestors, a grown man who has had his family, his home, and his dignity stripped from him. Or trying not to stare in shock at the once beautiful, now bloodied, black face of a young mother who reminds me of one of my cousins.

What the children of war from all ethnic and racial backgrounds have seen, bodies riddled with bullets, playgrounds that are backdrops for a killing field, should not be seen by anyone, anywhere.

My heart aches for the Ukrainians and my news colleagues who are at their side reporting this horrendous story, risking their own lives.

This does not have to be an either-or conversation. No need to compete to compare scars to see whose horrific experience is worse. We must focus on our shared humanity. We may come from different countries, speak different languages, eat different food. But we can all share compassion for one another. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

After the Holocaust, we said never again. After Rwanda, we said never again. After Cambodia, we said never again.

We even have weeks to heighten awareness of genocide and crimes against humanity. This month, April, we vow we won’t forget man’s inhumanity toward man.

And yet, here we are again.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vicious war against Ukraine is strikingly similar to other atrocities I’ve covered in the past 15 years.

To date, more than four million people have now fled Ukraine.

I have seen all of this before, firsthand in southern Sudan in the early 2000’s.

For far too long the international community and the media have had a tepid response to bullies in certain parts of the globe. While some may say the color of the skin of the victim may play a role in response and actions to help, I know my heart does not see color and aches for the people of Ukraine, the families torn apart in just a few days or hours as it does for my brothers and sisters in South Sudan, Rwanda, and other parts of the world.

I applaud my fellow journalists who have recently and openly said they feel that only now when they see victims that look like them they realize the lack of coverage and perhaps compassion they had for victims of crimes against humanity and genocide in Africa.

But now that we (all of us) know better, we can do better.

If we do nothing else during this Genocide Awareness month recognize a bully when you see one. Call him out. Everywhere. In. the. World.

                                                                                           

News reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWJpelrHuIY

Website:  www.TamaraMBanks.com

Email: Tamarataz@msn.com

News reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWJpelrHuIY

Tears spill from the eyes and stream