By Hannah Wallace
Armed with a boom box and a blender, hip-hop artist Ietef Vita is using a typically tough-guy art form for a very wholesome purpose: urging Denver youth to eat their veggies. In the video for his track "Wheat Grass," the charismatic 27-year-old, stage name DJ Cavem, talks a young brother down from buying chips. "Kids have to take care of themselves to be fresh and fly," Vita says. "I hope they see food as medicine."
If not for his health-conscious parents' influence, Vita might have grown up on candy and soda like most of his peers in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. Instead, he says, "I planted my first crop at age 4 -- two apricot trees in my backyard." By age 15, he was vegan and eating tofu for dinner.
About ten years ago, seeing the spread of obesity and diabetes in Five Points, Vita began channeling his interest in green living into songs about the flyness of growing your own food. He mixes mellow beats with playful lyrics ("I can't get enough of that brown rice and that broccoli") and workshops the songs in Denver schools and at a summer camp. "You need a little swagger with these kids," he says. "This genre creates lots of gangstas; why not gardeners?"
When the kids aren't rapping in the classroom, they're out planting lettuce, visiting farmers' markets, and even drinking green smoothies. "Making the juice themselves takes away the 'gross' factor," he says. "They end up writing down the recipes." One former student is even selling the vegetables he grows. DJ Cavem doesn't think it's hurt his street cred one bit.