How do you get healthy food on the table when you can’t find any?
This is a question that Ortilia Lujan Flores had grappled with many times before.
She wanted affordable, nutritious food, but lived in a neighborhood that didn’t have an accessible grocery store.
Flores couldn’t drive, which limited the few food options she had. “There was nowhere to go,” she explains.
Flores isn’t the only one that’s struggled with this problem — 41 million Americans don’t have consistent access to nutritious food.
But when she moved to Denver’s Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, she discovered a nonprofit that made all the difference.
This nonprofit is called The GrowHaus, and it takes a community-led approach to tackling food insecurity by giving neighbors the tools they need to improve their access food.
The GrowHaus knew that their community’s challenges went far beyond a lack of grocery stores. They looked at everything from local food production to food waste and education, and they found that the issues residents were struggling with all seemed to be connected.
To address the food crisis in their community, then, they needed to think bigger.
That’s why The GrowHaus partnered with Denver Food Rescue, an organization that rescues food from donors (like stores and restaurants). Volunteers travel by bike and deliver that rescued food to The GrowHaus, where volunteers then distribute it to local families — ensuring it can be eaten rather than thrown away.
And that’s no small potatoes. According to a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, there’s great potential to expand food rescue in Denver.
The NRDC found that under optimal conditions, 4,232 tons of additional food could be rescued each year — equivalent to 7.1 million meals — from retail, institutional and restaurant locations within the city. When organizations like The GrowHaus take advantage of rescued food, everybody wins.
But that was just the beginning of their efforts. The GrowHaus also wanted to ensure that residents like Flores could actually access fresh food more conveniently, too.
So they established a neighborhood market, Mercado de al Lado, which has fresh produce as well as meat and dairy products, most of which is organic and/or local. The market uses a tiered pricing system to ensure that the food is accessible to everyone, including SNAP recipients.
“I saw that they sell organic, nutritious things,” Flores explains. She was surprised to see this kind of food in her neighborhood, especially after struggling to find it for so long.
The GrowHaus also has a solution for residents, like Flores, who can’t drive to the market. They offer a weekly food box filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and dry goods sourced from as many local farms as possible and deliver right to their doors at affordable prices.
“It has what people need,” Flores says. “Vegetables, potatoes, sometimes they bring eggs. So, things that nourish us.”
If you’re not a cooking aficionado, The GrowHaus also offers weekly bilingual cooking classes. Every week, volunteer nutritionists teach residents about the importance of healthy eating and how to prepare different foods.
After sharing a meal together, participants get to fill a box with produce to take home from The GrowHaus’ free food pantry. By sharing unsold produce from their market, The Growhaus helps to ensure the sustainability of their own food system.
The GrowHaus is even growing their own food and empowering other residents to do the same.
They now have multiple urban farms, all of which focus on sustainability and education.
There’s a hydroponics farm, which grows plants in a nutrient solution or in eco-friendly perlite or gravel instead of soil. The farm produces around 1,200 heads of leafy greens per week but manages to use 90% less water than a conventional farm.
They also have a seedling nursery to help residents establish their own gardens. And for community members still working on their green thumbs, there’s a Growasis — a permaculture farm. Here, residents can also learn more about sustainable practices, like how to compost or even raise chickens.
“They are always looking at what we need,” Flores explains.
Tackling food insecurity isn’t easy. But thanks to organizations like The GrowHaus, people like Flores are able to create their own solutions.
Community members in Elyria-Swansea are now growing their own food, educating one another about nutrition, feeding their neighbors, and best of all, ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table, no matter who they are.
Up to 40% of food is wasted in the United States, yet millions of people are unsure where their next meal is coming from. Redistributing just 15% of the food that is currently discarded could feed 25 million people.
And The GrowHaus hopes that by modeling that impact, they’ll show what is possible for communities around the country.
For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot – or will not.
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