“There’s little things we can do to all take a step in the direction of changing and localizing our food economy. I think only when we start there is there ever going to be change,” says Kathryn Ardoin, food distribution coordinator at the GrowHaus, an indoor open farm, education center, and marketplace located in a Denver-based food desert called Elyria-Swansea Globeville. If you recall from our first episode of “Sustain,” the GrowHaus is located in the same space as aquaponics farm Flourish Farms, helmed by Colorado Aquaponics. In addition, the GrowHaus has its own on-site hydroponic farm.
“We can sell all the food, we can grow all the food, but if people don’t know why or what to buy or how to prepare it, how to store it, how to grow it themselves, then ultimately we’re just another for-profit store with no mission,” says Ardoin.
Part of the GrowHaus’ mission is to provide the residents of Elyria-Swansea Globeville with at-cost crops. According to its website, the remainder of the crops are then sold to restaurants and specialty markets.
“It’s a really uphill battle to fight a system that’s been well established for many years by people with a lot of power and a lot of money and very loud voices,” says Ardoin. “What we’re trying to do is give the voice back to the common people. The GrowHaus is really trying to be that megaphone for the people that are so often not heard.”
The GrowHaus breaks up customer segments into three main zones. Zone One is the community of Elyria-Swansea Globeville; Zone Two are those living in other nearby food deserts or low-income neighborhoods; and Zone Three is the affluent communities throughout Denver and Colorado.
“We rely very heavily on having a strong customer base in Zone Three that help to support the economic efforts of the GrowHaus market,” Ardoin says. “For what we charge in the market to a resident of this community, we’ll charge maybe 30…40…50 percent more for that same product to somebody who is able to afford it.” She assures that if someone doesn’t feel comfortable paying the higher price, the GrowHaus will help them find something that works for them.
The GrowHaus’ hydroponic farm sits at 5,000 square feet, which is relatively small for a commercial farm, says Shannon Harker, the GrowHaus’ hydroponic farm manager. The farm, which uses nutrient film technique (NFT) tables, produces about 1,350 heads per table. Harker says bib lettuce (also known as butterhead lettuce) is what’s mostly grown there. One table is harvested per week “because we can control more of the input. We can control the temperature better, the light,” says Harker. “Basically, each time we’re harvesting, we’re looking for the most perfect plant.”
Seedlings typically spend five weeks in the nursery before being transplanted to the larger tables, where they live for about three more weeks before being harvested.
“Education is at the core of everything we do here at the GrowHaus, and we believe that has to be the case in any effort to make any sort of change,” Ardoin says. The GrowHaus has a strong internship program, which she notes is “an opportunity to educate people who also have the interest and the means to go on, to take the skills that they learn here, and maybe replicate our efforts in a different community.” Additionally, the GrowHaus offers workshops, with topics ranging from how to cook your own food to understanding what’s healthy. “We don’t come up with the programs, the community tells us, and we just help make it happen.”