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In February, GrowHaus got the news: There were structural issues with the Elyria-Swansea greenhouse that has housed its nonprofit indoor farm, marketplace, and education center for the past decade. For the safety of the organization’s staff and community, GrowHaus would have to indefinitely close its doors.
Since 2010, the GrowHaus has helped provide healthy, fresh food to its neighbors in Elyria-Swansea and Globeville, and Denver as a whole, through its low-cost community market, free grocery program, educational outreach, and urban farm food production. It serves thousands of residents living in one of the most polluted—and food-blighted—zip codes in the country.
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What happens to that community now? GrowHaus executive director Kayla Birdsong is on it. She’s been working in tandem with the organization’s board of directors, staff, and community partners to ensure that Elyria-Swansea and Globeville residents have access to GrowHaus food and services. Staff and volunteers continue to conduct home visits, hold culinary classes in partner facilities, and distribute healthy rescued food at no cost. The weekly CSA food box program is also operating.
“The Johnson Recreation Center has been amazing,” Birdsong says, “and we’ve been holding our after-school and adult community classes there, and officing out of that building, too.” Swansea Elementary is another site for existing after-school programming. The GrowHaus’ weekly Cosechando Salud (“harvesting health”) free grocery program has been moved to Focus Points Family Resource Center, and will continue there through at least the end of March.
As a silver lining to the relocation, Birdsong says that, in fact, home visits and community outreach is at an all-time high for the nonprofit, as a reaction to the on-site community market being closed. “We took a lot of the food from the market and our Promotoras (staff members) delivered it to our homebound families,” she says. “We’re doing more home visits than before in an effort to stay connected.”
Another unexpected benefit of the building closure is that plans to move the GrowHaus food box program offsite were moved up. “It worked out well,” Birdsong says. “That program had already outgrown our facility, so now it’s working out of a commercial warehouse. Food boxes can be picked up at Valdez-Perry Branch Library, where we’re also holding some classes, or get home delivery.”
Local restaurants cooking with GrowHaus greens and other produce weren’t so lucky, as there was no advance notice of the building closure, and orders had to stop immediately in mid-February.
As for next steps, Birdsong says that the top priority is to continue programming and remain present in the community. An online market is in the works, and the hunt is on for a temporary home base while a steering committee made up of board members, staff, and other experts tackles the question of what to do for the long term. “It’s a big opportunity,” she says. “We have been working out of this very old building for 10 years and adapting our programming to meet the needs of the space. Now we can think about what we need unrestrained by the space.”
Does that mean fixing the existing building? Repurposing it, or rebuilding on the same property? Finding a new location altogether? Birdsong doesn’t yet know, but she does know this: The GrowHaus is staying in Elyria-Swansea or Globeville, and is just as committed as it ever was in supporting that community. “The GrowHaus is strong, and we will prevail,” Birdsong says. “That building is wonderful and we love it, but we are more than that building.”
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