Trade your seeds and get gardening know-how at GrowHaus's fourth annual Seed Swap

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For GrowHaus, an urban greenhouse and marketplace, the objective isn't just to provide high-quality food for the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood it calls home -- it is to empower the community to grow its own, too. This Saturday, March 8, the garden and education center will host its fourth annual Seed Swap, a chance to get a jumpstart on spring planting and learn more about all of the programs GrowHaus has to offer.

See also: GrowHaus founder Adam Brock weighs in on permaculture elitism

Saturday's Seed Swap will serve as an open house for GrowHaus, which has recently undergone some hefty renovations. The facility had been offering tours of the grounds for a small donation each Friday and Saturday morning; those tours were suspended for the last month while construction finished up. This weekend, the progress on the renovated space will be officially unveiled as the tours kick off once again.

The Seed Swap will also include live music and food vendors preparing healthy snacks. "Because we are in a Latino community and our main focus is being resource for them, we try to make it apparent with the Seed Swap by having a lot of cultural food," says GrowHaus's Dakota Stranik. "We're expecting a big crowd from all over Denver, but we also want to highlight the culture that is present here."

That local emphasis helps determine GrowHaus's year-round programs. "Our main focus is having a positive influence and being a resource for members of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, which is where we are located. It is considered a 'food desert' because it has been founded out of the industry that sprung up here -- so it's more railroad tracks and factories than it is grocery stores and neighborhood organizations," says Stranik. "A lot of people buy food that is cheap and easy, like fast food. We're trying to provide a higher quality of food that is still cheap and easy, but is a huge bump in quality."

The "food desert" situation is aided by a sliding scale market that GrowHaus has set up in the neighborhood. "People from the community -- or really anywhere -- can come in and pay what they can afford based on our scale," says Stranik. "The low end of our cost is as close as we can get it to Wal-Mart and King Soopers prices. The higher end of our sliding scale is more similar to Whole Foods. The idea is that people who can afford it can pay the higher price and that allows people who can't afford it to get the lower price."

The greenhouse also has a Food Box program, which offers a weekly assortment of healthy food that can be assembled into complete meals, with a discount offered to neighborhood residents. Boxes usually include vegetables, fruit, eggs, bread or tortillas and grains or beans of some kind. "A lot of it is organic and local, though it isn't necessarily 100 percent in either direction. We distribute those weekly -- people within the neighborhood can buy the boxes for around half-price if they live within the GrowHaus's zip code. Anyone from outside the neighborhood pays the full price, and it is the same idea as our sliding scale access," says Stranik. "There's a bit of confusion around the idea that we produce everything in the market, but we don't. We produce the lettuce and greens here -- stuff like Bibb lettuce, a couple varieties of kale and herbs and edible flowers. About 20 percent of the greens grown go to our Food Box program and into the market," Stranik notes.

The rest of the food grown by the greenhouse operation is sold to Whole Foods and Marczyk Fine Foods as a fundraising effort. Growhaus is run mostly by volunteers and dedicated interns, and much of its funding coming from grants and donations -- but the end goal is to become completely sustainable off of its food production and distribution programs. The Seed Swap is a great way to keep that ball rolling, as it introduces more folks to all that GrowHaus has to offer.

Saturday's Seed Swap will include the food, tours, workshops on composting and planting and additional information on its detailed permaculture and micro-farmer education programs. There's a $10 charge at the door, which also gets visitors started on their own gardens with seeds from GrowHaus's stock, as well as seeds from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, a company based out of Missouri that the greenhouse works with.

"They are a great company that is in line with a lot of our values in terms of food activism and environmental stewardship," says Stranik. And the cost of admission drops to just $5 if visitors bring their own seeds to share.

The fourth annual Seed Swap and Teach-In runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, March 8 at GrowHaus. For more information on the event and its workshops or to learn more about GrowHaus's year-round food production and education programs, visit the greenhouse's website.

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