Colorado Convention Center digs in by starting Blue Bear Farm

Designed as spaces where huge numbers of people can get down to businesses, convention centers can be cold, hard buildings -- each one very similar to the next. But the Colorado Convention Center and its caterer, Centerplate, are hoping to ground themselves a little more in Denver by starting a "farm" right on site, one that could be supplying fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey to conventioneers as soon as the end of this month.

Blue Bear Farm will consist of 2,200 square feet of raised beds, filled with 140 raspberry, currant and other fruit bushes; 593 herb plants, greens and other vegetables; 610 bulbs in a rock garden; and two beehives.

It may the first large-scale garden at a convention center in the United States, and could serve as a model for other convention-center farms -- possibly in San Diego, Sacramento and elsewhere.

"We've been wanting to do this for a while, but it didn't work out," says Centerplate vice president Laurence Rua, who notes that inexpensive land is hard to find in downtown. But the city's Arts & Venues department was able to make the formerly grassy area off Speer Boulevard and Champa Street, right by the convention center parking garage, available for the project.

"This works out fantastically because it is literally 200 yards from the main kitchen, so our chefs can go right out and work it," Rua says. In addition to supplying Centerplate's kitchen, the farm will provide produce for the Blue Bear Burgers and BBQ food truck that made its debut in February. (Both the farm and the truck take their name from "I See What You Mean," the forty-foot-tall Lawrence Argent sculpture in front of the center that's more commonly known as the Big Blue Bear.)

And while Blue Bear Farm will definitely be cultivating hops for a future beer - possibly combined with honey as well -- medical marijuana plants are not on the cultivation list. "We don't have our license," Rua says with a laugh.

The farm and the hives will be maintained by Produce Denver, which specializes in urban gardens. Blue Bear Farm is also tied in with Mayor Michael Hancock's Denver Seeds initiative, a proposed network of urban farms that could provide both fresh produce and jobs and economic-development benefits in certain parts of town. Because of that, Hancock will join in a ceremonial first planting at the center sometime in late June.