One of Denver's top warriors in the battle against food deserts and food insecurity has been dealt a major blow. The GrowHaus, a nonprofit indoor farm, market and educational center headquartered in the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, has been forced to close its multi-use building at 4751 York Street because of structural issues.
In early February, the organization was planning some construction projects for the sprawling building, which includes a large greenhouse area, several offices and classrooms, and a small community market that sells produce and other locally produced foods. An engineering team discovered multiple issues with the structure, and after tests were performed, it was determined that the building was unsafe and didn't meet city standards, so the space was temporarily closed.
After weighing options, last week the GrowHaus board of directors made the decision to close the building indefinitely. Reinforcing or rebuilding the site were not viable short-term solutions because of time and cost, but they could be part of the solution at some point down the road, according to executive director Kayla Birdsong.
While the closure of the building has put an end to fresh produce coming from the greenhouse and temporarily eliminated the food market, most of the organization's other core functions remain intact. "The GrowHaus organization is as strong and committed to the community as ever," Birdsong notes. "We're more than just a building. GrowHaus is running programs remotely...and we've even stepped up our home visits to educate people on nutrition and wellness. We're reaffirming our deep commitment to the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville communities."
Chief among the GrowHaus's immediate goals is expanding its weekly food-box program, which functions much like a CSA membership. Produce, eggs, bread and other foods are sourced from organic Colorado farms and producers, then packed into boxes of differing sizes based on customer requests. Basic memberships start at $15 to $20 each week, to which various bundles — fruit, eggs, bread, more veggies — can be added for an additional $1.50 to $7 a week. Birdsong says that an online store with home delivery is also a possibility; as at the original market, customers who live within the 80216 zip code will receive a discount on all goods.
The GrowHaus launched in late 2009 in what was once a carnation greenhouse with a small flower shop attached. The nonprofit bought the 20,000-square-foot building from its previous owner and created classrooms and office space in addition to the indoor farm and market.
Adult education classes have now been moved to the Johnson Recreation Center and Valdez-Perry Denver Public Library branch in Elyria-Swansea, and a free pop-up food pantry has been relocated to the Focus Points Family Resource Center at 2501 East 48th Avenue, where it will continue to give away food at least through the end of March.
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While a timeline for creating a plan for GrowHaus's future has not been set, Birdsong says that will be a key topic at next week's board meeting. "I want to make sure we have a thoughtful approach to repurposing or rebuilding that will take the cost into mind," she explains.
Whether GrowHaus fixes its current building, rebuilds on the site or finds a new location altogether, Birdsong says the most important goal is ensuring financial stability so that the organization's projects can continue.
Thanks to its many partners, the GrowHaus calendar is still filled with classes in home brewing, beekeeping, pickling and other food-related activities. This weekend's tenth annual seed swap for home gardeners was canceled, but not because of the closure of the GrowHaus's building. Coronavirus concerns caused the cancellation; the seed swap was scheduled to take place at the Valdez-Perry Library, and Denver Public Library has temporarily halted public gatherings.
Visit thegrowhaus.org for more information and to make one-time or ongoing donations. También, GrowHaus's monthly giving program, allows donors to set up recurring payments for just a few dollars a month, Birdsong notes.