On Saturday, heirloom tomatoes, courgettes and plump peppers moved from farm baskets to customer bags under a roadside tent in Elyria Swansea. The land behind this pop-up market was once a fenced industrial yard. Today, it is a huge apartment building that will be occupied, in part, by a community health care clinic managed by the Tepeyac Community Health Center. Soon, vegetables like these gathered by the East Denver Food Hub will be on sale all the time in a store slated to move to the first floor of the building. Noir Market will be the first real grocery store in this neighborhood for a very long time.
Shabasa Sayers and her daughter, Anjanet, have been working at Noir Market for a year. It all started with pop-up events in Montbello, a place where residents could buy produce, cooked meals and gifts made by black entrepreneurs. They recently moved their operation to Elyria Swansea; Saturday was their first appearance in the region.
In 2020, city council member Candi CdeBaca began convening a “Food Desert Solutions Stakeholder Advisory Group” to work on access to healthy food in her district. This effort gave birth to the East Denver Food Sovereignty Initiative, a collective of community groups, farmers and distributors who aim to pay fair prices to local producers and get their produce to the neighborhoods that need it most. . The organization helped the developer Colombia Group to connect with Noir Market in a process that Sayers said started a few months ago and happened extremely quickly.
“We heard about the place from Councilwoman Candi and started checking it out,” he told us. “As soon as we started meeting, things went 100 miles an hour.”
Stakeholders visited the space last month and submitted a bid. Sayers said construction would begin soon and they were “pushing hard” to open in June. It plans to offer food on a ‘pay what you want’ basis one day a week, a concept it has tested in its pop-up markets.
Sayers also told us he wants to provide credit for families who make too much money to qualify for food stamps, but still need help buying groceries. It’s a situation that has become more common since the start of the pandemic, as evidenced by massive spikes in demand at local food pantries. Food insecurity has long been a problem in parts of Denver, Sayers said, so a grocery store that prioritizes access is a big deal.
“It was supposed to happen for years. The pandemic has just shown our weaknesses in the city,” he told us. “People must have been hungry.”
Council member CdeBaca told us that Elyria Swansea hasn’t had a grocery store since the construction of the now-demolished I-70 overpass in the 1960s. She said Columbia Group has worked with her group access to food to ensure that the needs of the community were met with their development.
Although projects in Elyria Swansea always come with ‘enormous concerns’ that the development could spur gentrification, she said the contribution of long-time neighbors and access to space represents a fundamental shift in their social power. She said neighbors scrutinize every new project and demand that the changes be beneficial.
“The neighborhood’s focus has moved so far away from surface demands,” she told us. “This is the new model. The community wants to own our food economy. We don’t want to be subjected to racist, elitist formulas that will always lock us into poor access to food or gentrification at our own expense, and c It’s a way for us to really solve access to food and health at the same time.
Al Goodman, who works with the East Denver Food Hub which will provide much of Noir Market’s produce, said the organization will prioritize local growers so they can keep their small farms going. Currently, the Food Hub distributes more than $15,000 a week in products to food access organizations like food pantries and delivery services, and they expect that number to grow significantly. this summer.
It’s about more than providing healthy food in a food desert, Goodman said. It’s about overthrowing a corporate food system that disenfranchises small vendors and forces Denver residents to depend on grocery chains that historically haven’t built stores in underserved neighborhoods.
“We seek to build a food ecosystem in which farmers are supported and consumers are supported,” they told us, taking a break from selling juicy heirloom tomatoes grown at Longmont. “We don’t like to see injustice and we don’t like to see a lack of progress.”
So with that in mind, Goodman’s organization has worked to help give their products a permanent home in the neighborhood.
Sayres said he was excited to launch this new venture. Anjanet, his daughter, called it one of his “heart projects”. She canvassed homes in the neighborhood with flyers about the grocery store, and she said many residents are grateful and excited to see it open.
In addition to the Noir Market, a health clinic and housing, the new building will also house a restaurant run by a local restaurateur and a curator’s kitchen to help neighborhood entrepreneurs turn their culinary talents into income.