Winter forgets to nurture. Warmth seeps out from spaces in the soil and ice creeps in, uninviting beasts and plants from dark alcoves.
We meet Candice Orlando in a winter garden, one of UrbiCulture Community Garden’s numerous plots in Denver. It is barren. Daylight moseys out from behind a partial cloud covering. It is the kind of light that warms the skin but doesn’t make it as far as the bone within.
But despite the seemingly inhospitable state of the soil this February morning, we find ourselves in the company of a nurturer, a woman full with the possibility of the earth.
Candice is accustomed to the ebb and flow of abundance. She grew up in a state of flux, moving from Boise to Dallas to Lyons to Nederland to Flagstaff and back again. Her activist documentarian parents lived from film to film, and her parents’ divorce when she was eight only made finances tougher. Upon moving to the Boulder area, Candice realized she was accustomed to more diversity than the city offered, likely as result of moving around so much. “I identify more with different cultures and backgrounds,” she says. “That’s how grew up and then to not really have that was really interesting for me.”
She went to high school there, taking the bus an hour to school a day. Her mother continued to make documentaries during this time, turning her efforts to female themes including domestic abuse and an in-depth look at Sacagawea. Being exposed to her mother’s efforts throughout her life brought Candice into activism, and after a stint in Boise, she found herself in Flagstaff, AZ, where she met her husband, John.
“I met my husband through the Flagstaff Activist Network and it was right before the Iraq war started so there was a lot of energy around trying to make it so that wouldn’t start,” she says. “He and I met through putting together peace rallies and protests. I really grew in Flagstaff. It was the first time I really felt that community.”
Candice’s studies took the pair back to Boulder, where she moved back and forth between the University of Colorado and Naropa University. She realized that in the midst of her wanderings, that she had found a passion for soil.
“I started gardens in Idaho,” she says. “I ripped up the backyard of this rental and put in food. John and I had community gardens, and when I was at Naropa, I started studying permaculture and horticulture, and my thesis ended up being starting a multi-plot farm in Denver.”
Meanwhile, Candice had been working on a documentary with her mother, Lori, which culminated in Arise and featured female environmental activists. The duo realized that there were many environmental films that primarily featured men and wanted to open the conversation to women.
Over the course of seven years, Candice and Lori traveled all over the world conducting interviews with female activists.
“In Ecuador, we were with a Quechuan indigenous family and it was their first harvest of the season. They had this amazing garden,” she says. “They grew all of the food for their huge family. They invited us for their first harvest and they were drumming and playing their flutes, and then the women went out and harvested and I fell to the ground and started crying and it was like, I want to grow food for people.”
This realization helped Candice see her thesis to fruition, an idea that went from gardens in five yards to seven yards to 11 yards to becoming UrbiCulture in 2009. The nonprofit focuses on food access and food justice in neighborhoods that don’t have easy access to healthy food, and combines Candice’s passion for food, activism, and diversity.
“Growing food for people goes back to growing up not having that much money and not really having the availability of going to Whole Foods,” says Candice. “We grew up on TV dinners and canned food and that kind of stuff, what we could afford. Making this available to all people, whether they can pay or not, that’s been my biggest push. You see kids running through the garden picking their carrots and eating them right there. You just have people from all different backgrounds but they all come together for love of food. Love of good food.”
Candice offers healthy food to the communities where UrbiCulture has laid down roots in the form of Pay What You Can farm stands and by donating to local shelters, including those specifically dedicated to women. She has made it a point to be mindful of the community’s needs.
“You can’t do things without community input,” she says. “Imposing something that the community doesn’t understand or want is not going to work. You have to listen. You have to listen to what people want and really hear them.”
This compassion, a trait she says she inherited from her mother, is what makes Candice such an effective leader. We broach the topic of feminism and she voices frustration that women often have to take on male characteristics in positions of power.
“So what does it look like if we’re women in those roles?” she asks us. “What would be the difference in our world?”
I don’t say it then, but I think perhaps she is answering her own question every day. Suddenly the earth doesn’t seem quite so unfriendly as it did an hour ago. I’m reminded that life is an assortment of cycles, and while the earth has closed its doors for the season, plants are laying in wait, ready to burst forth at the onset of spring (if tended properly).
A world in which women lead, you ask? I see abundance.