Over the hills and through the woods, under the I-70 overpass we go. While the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood sits only 15 minutes from downtown Denver, the landscape and demographic changes drastically over the short trek. This neighborhood, which has always been a hub for dirty industry, is the most polluted neighborhood in Colorado.
The GrowHaus, a converted garage covered in a vibrant artwork display, is the crystal gem of the neighborhood and held its seventh annual Seed Swap event on March 11.
Furry and Fang, two 8-month-old goats, beckoned patrons, bleating and noshing on pieces of hay served up by the plethora of kiddos at this family-friendly event. Once inside the Haus, the vibrance of the community created in this space to foster it was apparent.
Meme Lofton, executive assistant and service learning coordinator for GrowHaus, talked about the most crucial parts of the event.
“This is a celebration of the 2017 gardening season, and we have a lot of seeds donated so people can get them and trade them,” she said. “We also have seedlings, baby chicks, soil, gardening guides specific for Colorado. All the garden essentials.”
The event went from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and also offered a day full of classes. Novices could satiate their gardening queries with classes like herb growing and tinctures, while seasoned gardeners could learn about the advanced art of beekeeping.
The event also showcased the many offerings of the GrowHaus to a community classified not only as a food desert, but also as a food swamp. Development officer Nathan Mackenzie explained what made
Elyria-Swansea an even more at risk ZIP code than others. Not only does this neighborhood lack access to fresh, healthy food, but also it has a proliferation of quick, cheap and likely unhealthy fast food.
“The GrowHaus has taken a lot of time by word of mouth to get people here and learning what we are about,” Mackenzie said. “Seed swap is a good example to bring people to this space and surrounding the community with food, but it’s really all about the community.”
GrowHaus’ programs surround three programmatic pillars that encompass all of their outreach. Food production, distribution and education. Mercado De Al Lado is the GrowHaus Neighborhood market offering fresh local produce, meat and dairy of which most items are locally sourced, grown and sold. The market accepts SNAP, and prices are tiered to make food accessible to all. Cosechando Salud is the food pantry where cooking classes are also provided to teach the community how to make healthy meals from food found at the market and the pantry.
The GrowHaus’ most important mission is to also engage the community to learn the inner workings of their farming production and get residents running the food farms. Benjamin Tregembo, a former intern and education coordinator, grew up in the neighborhood and now works on creating sustainable landscaping.
“This is the fifth seed swap I’ve attended,” said Tregembo, who said he continues to return because he enjoys engaging with the community and watching the work they do with the young people.
The GrowHaus takes community inclusion to the next level, touting themselves as the voice for the community. The community is a majority low-income, largely immigrant Latino community and Seed Swap is geared for them. Son Trés, a live band, play salsa, merengue, son cubano and more. Seven local vendors served up the works for patrons, from pupusas to tamales and enchiladas.
Community resident Amina Syammach and her daughter Rebekah twirled on the dance floor.
“This place is like a second home for us and our community. We love it here,” Syammach said.