I visited The GrowHaus – a 20,000 sq.ft. greenhouse in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood of Denver last week on November 8th. Located in a worn-down industrial area, a railroad track passes right by the side of the greenhouse. In a gathering of representatives from community and non-profit groups, and members from the neighborhood, I was there to discuss Food Justice, and what it might mean for this community. The area clearly qualifies as a food desert, with the nearest full service grocery store – a Wal-Mart — located three miles away. I am told that many of the nearby homes have existed here for more than a hundred years, and that the predominantly Latino residents of the area struggle with finding fresh, healthy foods for their families. But all that is changing with The GrowHaus.
Originally owned by a flower company, the facility was purchased by a local developer last year with a vision to transform it into a community resource providing fresh, healthy food and teaching neighborhood residents about gardening and healthy eating. The vision is progressing well, with five local families already growing carrots, cabbage, cilantro, and lettuce inside The GrowHaus. Additional plots will be made available to community members, providing a means to grow and access delicious, healthy produce throughout the winter. Every week, residents are offered free tours of the facility to check out the wonders of growing food in a greenhouse, and how it can become a reality for their families.
Three aquaponics systems have been installed and are starting to produce foods. Lettuce, chard, spinach, watercress, tomatoes and basil are already sprouting and tilapia and perch are flourishing in the water tanks. High schoolers are encouraged to get involved by taking up jobs in the greenhouse. Additional jobs will be created for community members as plans for starting a local foods market in the front section of the greenhouse materialize. Pilot efforts at marketing products have been successful. For example, last month micro greens from The GrowHaus were sold to SAME Café’ (So All May Eat), a local establishment that uses locally grown, all organic food in its donation-based meals. SAME Café’ is based on the OWEE or “One World Eats All” model featured in the Food Justice book. Many more restaurants are expected to feature The GrowHaus products on their menus in the winter.
The GrowHaus is a striking example of how growing healthy food is possible in an urban setting. It epitomizes the food justice approach for revitalizing neighborhoods – promoting access to healthier foods and lifestyles, jobs, markets and most importantly a sense of community brought together by food. Adam Brock, Director of Operations, says it well, describing his work at The GrowHaus as developing a “Growasis” in the food desert.