On the northernmost edge of Denver sit the sister communities of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. You have no doubt passed through these neighborhoods on your way to the mountains as they are divided by Denver’s two busiest freeways, I-25 and I-70. You may remember the smell of dog food originating from the towering Purina factory, located right in the middle of Elyria-Swansea, about half a mile from Swansea Elementary School. What you may have missed, though, were the neighbors outside talking to each other, children cycling on the sidewalk, and an overwhelming sense of community.
In the heart of these neighborhoods, steps from the train tracks that cut through the area, lies The GrowHaus, an organization committed to cultivating food justice. The GrowHaus is housed in this historic working-class neighborhood, primarily the Latinx neighborhood, and engages community members at all levels of the organization to offer truly community-driven programming to promote food access. With a focus on nutrition and general well-being, The GrowHaus provides healthy and affordable food to residents facing “food apartheid” (a term that many argue should replace “food drought” because it captures the disproportionate consequences of access to healthy food on due to systematic discrimination against people of color).
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, The GrowHaus had already worked for years with the vibrant community to offer resources and opportunities through youth programming, community outreach work, adult education and food distribution. This work was integrated as there is not even a full service grocery store for the 10,000 residents living in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. In this community where household income is about half of what it is in Greater Denver and adults have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer compared to the rest of Denver, accessing healthy is extremely challenging. food. This, along with a host of other factors, has serious consequences – a child’s life expectancy in Globeville is a staggering 13 years less than for a child a few miles down the road.
I was so lucky to fall over The GrowHaus in 2018 when I sought to get involved in the local food justice movement. As a nonprofit professional who started my career with the US branch of the UN World Food Program, I have always been driven by food access and hunger problems. My graduate studies in food systems fostered this enthusiasm, and my work with the international human rights organization ActionAid strengthened my dedication not just to access to food, but to food sovereignty. I was looking for a place where I could tie all those passions together and I quickly learned that The GrowHaus was a perfect fit.
The COVID-19 pandemic only further confirmed what I saw in The GrowHaus: anchoring, efficiency, and flexibility. Within weeks of the onset of the pandemic, GrowHaus began receiving notes on their doorstep from members of the community saying they did not have enough food. The organization quickly ran an assessment of community needs, finding that 76 percent of households reported a drop in income and that 83 percent reported having only enough food for a week or less. In a society where access to healthy food was scarce to begin with, The GrowHaus had their work cut for them.
The staff at The GrowHaus hurried to turn the organization’s programming around, as well as finding that the building where it started in 2011 – loved home to its aquaponics and hydroponics farms, mushroom den, community market and training center – did not fully meet urban and safety requirements. . On March 11, 2020, the day COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, The CEO of The GrowHaus sent a letter to supporters stating that the building should be closed indefinitely.
It was a heartbreaking moment for both staff and the community, and it would have been understandable for the organization to raise its proverbial hands and close the doors. Instead, the small but mighty team doubled and got going. They transformed the organization’s full efforts to provide food for community members while the pandemic raged. At the time of writing, The GrowHaus has provided 740,000 free meals and reached out to 650 families with culturally appropriate, healthy food since March 2020.
While this is a huge achievement that has made a huge difference to society, the pandemic is far from over. According to government health records, in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, where air pollution levels are higher than anywhere else in the Denver Metro region, there are also higher COVID-19 hospitalization rates. There have been about thirteen admissions per. 1,000 people in these neighborhoods, compared to only 1.4 admissions per. 1,000 people in Washington Park. GrowHaus’ continued work to distribute 400 free lunch boxes each week is therefore more important than ever.
To involve neighbors from all over Denver in this integrated work, The GrowHaus runs a program called También, which means “also” or “also” in Spanish. It started with the idea that people across the city could come together to support healthy food access for all. The program asks people to pitch what they can each month – whether it’s $ 10 or $ 100. The strength of this program is that we as an individual, a community and an entire city can make a profound collective impact. It is through reliable and consistent support like this that The GrowHaus can plan for the future and continue its support for our resilient neighbors in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea.
I could not be more proud to join The GrowHaus, and I hope you will consider joining me and becoming a member of The GrowHaus’ También program and affirming the right to food justice for our neighbors in this amazing city.
Meredith Slater holds a Masters of Arts in Food Studies from New York University. She has lived, made gardens and cooked in Colorado since 2014, and she has volunteered and donated to The GrowHaus since 2018. Meredith is Development Director at ActionAid USA, an international network that builds a just, equitable and sustainable world in solidarity with communities on the front lines of poverty and injustice.