The Grocery Store Gap: Denver's Food Deserts

July 5 2013, 10:30 AM

Few people know that there’s a desert—several actually—in the middle of Denver.

“Food deserts” are urban stretches where low-income residents have little or no access to grocery stores within walkable or bikable distance. And Northeast Denver is particularly plagued by these areas (see a map of Denver's food deserts here). But not for much longer if the GrowHaus, a nonprofit urban farm in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, can help it.

The GrowHaus’s new Mercado de al Lado (your market next door) program distributes food boxes full of fresh fruit, veggies, grains, eggs, and more to residents in the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods for a mere $20 a week. The same ingredients at, say, Walmart, would cost upward of $45. 

“We grow about a quarter of the ingredients, but most of our production is greens," says GrowHaus executive director Coby Gould. "So we supplement with stuff that people in the neighborhood have asked for.” Many of those items are donated by suppliers such as High Plains Food Co-Op, Golden Organic, Bluepoint Bakery, among others.

The program launched in February with the help of a two-year grant from the USDA’s farmers’ market promotion program (GrowHaus is one of only two organizations in Colorado to earn one). Currently Mercado de al Lado supplies about 20 boxes a week to local residents, who pick them up at the GrowHaus. Gould hopes to see this grow to 150 boxes before the end of the year.

“Our goal is to be a food hub for access to healthy food for that community and for greater Denver,” Gould says.

Bonus: You can help. Even if you don’t live in the two neighborhoods the GrowHaus serves, you can order what’s called a “sponsorship box” of the same fresh, organic ingredients. You’ll pay a little more for it ($37.50, still lower than supermarket prices), but your payment will help supplement the program for others in need. Get your weekly groceries and a warm and fuzzy feeling? Not a bad deal if you ask us.

Follow senior editor Kasey Cordell on Twitter (@KaseyCordell).

Image via Shutterstock