GrowHaus founder Adam Brock weighs in on permaculture elitism
This is part two of my interview with Adam Brock, founder of the GrowHaus; part one of my chat with Brock ran yesterday.
What do you grow at the GrowHaus?
Mostly leafy greens and herbs like lettuce, kale, cilantro, bok choy and basil. We have a commercial aquaponics farm run by Colorado Aquaponics, which uses the waste from tilapia and other kinds of fish to fertilize the greens. We're also just starting to build some tropical permaculture systems in the education space, so we'll be growing things like passion fruit, bananas and ginger -- but not on a commercial scale. A lot of the ingredients in our food boxes come from outside the GrowHaus, but we buy from local farmers whenever we can.
Where in Denver do you sell your produce?
You can find our lettuce and other leafy greens at Marczyk's and several Whole Foods in the area. We also sell to a few restaurants on a regular basis.
How does your organization meet the goals of the underserved Elyria-Swansea neighborhood in which you serve -- a neighborhood that you've described as a "food desert?"
Yeah, Elyria-Swansea is a really complicated place. It's appalling how much folks here have had to put up with over the decades, but it's also inspiring how they've managed to thrive despite all of the challenges. Rather than coming up with our own ideas of what we think the neighborhood needs, we'd rather help empower them to create a stronger community for themselves. We've known a lot of residents for years now, and we're working to bring more and more residents onto our staff and board of directors and help them gain whatever skills they need to be leaders in our organization and the neighborhood as a whole.
What's your definition of a food desert?
Any community where you can't access the food you need to have a balanced diet.
What are the biggest challenges of providing food to your neighborhood community?
It varies. For some folks in Elyria-Swansea, the biggest barrier is knowledge -- they don't know what "organic" means, or why it's healthier. For others, it's all about time. They'd love to eat healthier, but are working so hard just to get by that they can't find the time to cook. And there's just a lot of momentum for doing things the way that's comfortable. It's like, "You guys want us to buy our food where? And cook it how?"
What are the most pressing regulatory hurdles?
There are hurdles with zoning and permits, there are food safety and department of health regulations, and there are USDA and Colorado Department of Agriculture regulations. Fortunately, we have allies in all those places that have been really supportive at walking us through the process and making sure we're doing things by the book.
You obviously provide nutritional sustainability for your residents. Are there any other programs, skill sets or opportunities that you offer to empower them?
Absolutely. Even more than wanting nutritious food, we hear over and over that good jobs are a top priority for residents, so a big part of our vision is to create jobs -- not just hire residents at the GrowHaus, but incubate a whole ecosystem of food-based businesses that are run by residents. It's going be a long process, but we're starting this fall with a ten-week microfarm training program for residents. It's kind of a mix of urban farming 101 and business planning 101.
What kind of commitments, if any, do you expect from the residents in return for what you provide to them?
Not many, really, except for an open mind. We want to make what we offer as commitment-free as possible; we want it to be a no-brainer.