James Grevious had never planted a garden before, let alone run a farmers' market. But this 38-year-old father of three is successfully doing both, and plans to keep the momentum of good, clean food going in his Aurora neighborhood.
"As far as Aurora goes, people actively need access to healthy food," he says. "I spoke to Mo Betta' Green [Marketplace], and I wanted to bring something like that to Aurora and follow in her footsteps."
So Grevious founded his own business, Rebel Marketplace, a monthly, seasonal farmers' and local wellness market that opened this past spring in Aurora's Del Mar Park at 312 Del Mar Circle. Under the slogan "Feeding our community, one garden at a time," this small market started with a lot of gumption on Grevious's part after his several years running his own urban farm project, Rebels in the Garden. But between COVID-19 and an initial permit denial from city officials, the public market almost didn't happen.
"You can't tell James no," says Desiree Fajardo, Grevious's girlfriend and a fellow gardener. "I think they are going to say no, and if you just accept that no, you won't get anywhere," she say about the city agencies in charge of licensing and permitting.
As she predicted, Grevious did not take no for an answer, and asked for a meeting with the city to discuss the issues they had with starting an outdoor market at the park. He found out that there weren't any restrictions he couldn't overcome, and they were all able to work together to set up a plan. Then the pandemic hit and the rules became trickier to navigate, but still Grevious pushed on.
"If we didn't have COVID, I think it would have taken off, but then I wouldn't have all of this without COVID and staying home," says Grevious, gesturing to his vast garden. "Also, the market drew people who might not have come out if it wasn't for the pandemic."
The seeds for Rebel Marketplace were planted in Grevious's own back yard with Rebels in the Garden, a project he launched to engage his kids, nephew and a family friend in 2015. The idea, he says, was to do something meaningful in response to the shooting of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. At first it was mostly just good reason to hang out, grow food and have healthy snacks together at his home in Montbello. But the gardening and socializing went well enough that Grevious decided to continue his urban farm the next year. Unfortunately, the timing was off, and the Air Force master sergeant and F-16 mechanic got deployed to Japan. The garden had to be put on hold.
In 2017 he moved to his current location in Aurora's Highland Park neighborhood. His large back yard was perfect for the new farm, and by the 2018 season, the Rebel kids had painted the fence and planted greens, tomatoes, basil, radishes and other vegetables and herbs. That growing season went so well that Grevious was planning a farm stand so the kids could make a little money. But work got in the way for the second time, and he got deployed to Spain in the middle of summer 2019.
With his goals once again interrupted, he decided 2020 was the year for Rebels in the Garden to sell to the public. But the gardener couldn't find a farmers' market near his neighborhood; all the major markets were in Denver. Then the pandemic shutdown pushed him even more to get a neighborhood farmers' market going.
"I had a goal and the time to do it," he says. "Then I wondered what would happen with our food, and I wanted to help the community."
To get the public project started, Grevious launched a GoFundMe campaign and raised enough money to pay the city's fees for using the park. And by covering those fees, Grevious knew he wouldn't have to charge other vendors to set up at his market. The first Rebel Marketplace started in June and has since included an array of local purveyors such as Kerr Urban Farm, Creme De La and Thirsty Murphy. The market started with a handful of vendors and now has around eighteen, though the lineup changes each week.
Of course one of the groups selling produce is Rebels in the Garden, which Grevious still maintains with his kids, who help pick, clean and load vegetables and herbs into the truck. Then the family sets up a stall at the market, sells the produces and cleans up afterward. Once home, Grevious makes a large meal, and they count and divvy up the profits.
Although his urban farm has been successful, gardening wasn't a natural transition for the Aurora resident, who still works full-time in the Air Force. Grevious says he had a bit of a macho side that made him look at gardening as unmanly. But then he saw a TED Talk from Ron Finley, the Gangsta Gardener. "He cusses and he is funny, and he's a manly dude," says Grevious, who became inspired to get his own hands dirty. "Once you start doing a garden...it's amazing."
Fajardo lives nearby with her three kids and helps Grevious with the farm and market, and also grows tomatoes, pumpkins, corn, onions, herbs and peppers in her own garden. And she designed Rebels in the Garden tote bags and T-shirts (which Grevious proudly sports).
"For me, this is an economical model and also a spiritual path," says Grevious, who finds working in the garden calming while making him feel more connected to food, his family and the land he lives on. Plus, he built everything in his backyard farm himself, from the rain-collecting barrel system to drying racks for lettuces to the two hoop houses.
Grevious hopes to add more days to the market next year, noting that it's the only farmers' market around and the best way for locals to get fresh and organic vegetables at a low cost. There's also the social side: Farmers, gardeners and home cooks talk about what to do with with radishes, beet greens or chocolate mint, for example, while shopping. The gardener also wants to expand his urban farm to the front yard, as well as add chickens and grow a wider variety of vegetables in the hoop houses. He encourages more people to get into gardening, both to expand the farmers' market and to show them that they can grow their own good food.
The last Rebel Marketplace of the season will take place at Del Mar Park on Saturday, October 3, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Grevious will be spending the off-season planning an online version of the market so locals can access fresh food and community vendors from home.