2023 Rising Stars: Nat Stein

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Nat Stein (Photo by Bryan Oller)

By Sarah McMahon

Nat Stein has dedicated their life to organizations that provide community wide composting, local food production, and gardening education. Stein’s work and vision have impacted our community, literally from the ground up.

Back in 2018 Stein founded Soil Cycle, as a pilot project (housed under Colorado Springs Food Rescue) that turned household food scraps into compost. At first, the organization was really just Stein and a small crew who would ride bikes around town collecting food scraps door to door.

Now, as part of a larger team — and with trucks — Stein has helped develop Colorado Springs Food Rescue (and Soil Cycle) into the larger, more encompassing Food to Power. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit works to build a sustainable, equitable food system in Colorado Springs. Using a “direct redistribution” model, Food to Power collects surplus healthy foods from supermarkets, backyard gardens and cafeterias and transports them to nonprofit and community-based grocery programs. It also built Hillside Hub, the city’s first neighborhood food center, which includes acres of gardens for urban farming.

At the gardens, Stein works as the director of food production, where they coordinate many processes, like formalizing and standardizing operations, organizing crop schedules and volunteer hours, and overseeing the community composting initiative.

They also help with other areas of Hillside Hub, which also provides a seed library and seed swaps, books and resources about gardens and farming, educational workshops, and fresh fruits and vegetables for the no-cost grocery program.

"We know that it’s a sustainable practice.”

As a leader, Stein is lauded for their ability to foster safe spaces for anyone with any ability. “Nat’s collaborative leadership style serves as a way to promote inclusion in the workplace as it enables every member of the team to bring their unique perspective and experiences,” says Jessi Bustamante, director of communications at Food to Power and one of Stein’s nominators. “Each person is honored for where they’re at, and adjustments are made to work to best reflect their strengths and to accommodate their situation.

“In addition, Nat reflects heavily on how composting and farming are inherently physical labors, which can create an exclusionary environment if not managed correctly,” Bustamante says. “They are proud of setting this work up in a way that accommodates the range of physical abilities on the team and creates a truly inclusive workplace for the variety of ability levels.”

Another of Stein’s ongoing efforts is to get more people to compost and to understand its particular benefits in our area. With the region’s climate and drought, composting can play a critical role.

“I think oftentimes, composting gets framed in a very general sense,” Stein says. “We know that it’s a sustainable practice, and it helps keep stuff out of the landfill, which is really important. But the actual application of compost, especially in an arid climate like this, acts as a sponge in soil. It can help retain moisture, which is critical when combating fires. We need to put down as much compost over as much area as possible as part of mitigating the drought in the warming and the erosion of our lands. It’s something that can help reverse those trends.”

Stein’s contributions to the gardens and the community continue to grow as they work to expand offerings at Food to Power, to encourage more people to get involved.

“It is clear Nat believes that real social change comes through one’s commitment to and in relationship with those with whom you are trying to affect change,” says Patience Kabwasa, executive director of Food to Power, and another of Stein’s nominators. “They lead with integrity, compassion and empathy and would never ask something beyond what a person found respectful. They are also practical enough to start right where they are coupled with the tools and skills to work one-onone with individuals from different backgrounds.”

Editor’s note: Patience Kabwasa is a columnist for Sixty35 news magazine.

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