Claire Westcott, Sous Cook at Comal Heritage Food Incubator, and Gisela Juarez at the “Pay-how-you-can” farmers market. (Provided by focus points)

Before the pandemic Gisela Juarez worked to improve her cooking and English skills with the dream of opening a restaurant. But by March she was unemployed and, like thousands of other Coloradans, was struggling to pay for rent and food.

Juarez still has a lot of patching up to support her family, but a new farmers market in her neighborhood, Globeville Elyria-Swansea, has become an important resource.

“We eat everything healthy,” she said. “There are no chemicals, no fast food, everything is organic.”

Juarez found the market as a participant in the Comal Heritage Food Incubator, a restaurant and job development program for immigrants and refugees from the Focus Points Family Resource Center. She also helps at her food stand to provide healthy food to other members of her community.

Focus Points – a non-profit organization that offers programs and services in northeast Denver – is one of the organizations behind the Café Lost City, which is behind the farmers’ market “Pay-how-you-can” and East Denver Food Hub. The weekly market opened on July 1st and takes place every Wednesday through October from 5pm to 8pm.

The Lost City Market has 15 vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to bread and flour. Comal Heritage Incubator sells salsas and specialties like Venezuelan potato salad. The East Denver Food Hub offers fresh produce from immigrant-run farms that are often excluded from popular farmers markets. Juarez said her favorite piece is her Rebel Bread sourdough bread. what she has for breakfast every morning.

To create a “Pay-How-You-Can” market, Michael Graham, Lost City owner said some people are spending more than they normally would while others are paying less or nothing. Community members can also donate to the market or volunteer, especially if they speak Spanish.

The market extends from the Denver Metro Emergency Food Network, another partnership between Lost City, Focus Points and other organizations in Denver. Since March, DMEFN has delivered more than 250,000 meals to families, elderly residents and other people in need.

A family is shopping at the new farmers’ market. (Provided by Focus Point)

Jules Kelty, The chief executive of Focus Points said the farmers market and emergency meals arose from the high demand for accessible, healthy food in Globeville Elyria-Swansea and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We had to adapt to the needs of the members of our community,” said Kelty. “We realized at the beginning of the pandemic that food security was one of the biggest problems.”

Focus Points and Lost City are neighbors in Globeville Elyria-Swansea, and the market takes place on the terrace of the cafe and in the parking lot they share at the TAXI development.

Globeville Elyria-Swansea is considered one of the largest food deserts in Denver with no access to affordable, healthy meals in grocery stores. Kelty described systemic problems that lead to food insecurity, such as transportation injustice. The I-70 runs directly through Globeville, and the bus routes barely make it to the low-income, mostly non-white district.

“As a ‘foodie town,’ people may not see food insecurity right in front of them, but it’s right next door,” said Kelty. “It has created so many barriers for our community to get the food they need to feed their families.”

It’s also not the easiest time to be a restaurant or non-profit organization. Kelty said her organization needed to adjust staff and resources as demand for programs like food insecurity skyrocketed while regular operations came to a standstill. However, she added that thanks to the hard work of her team and the support of the philanthropic community for their direct response efforts, the focus points have gradually stabilized.

In March, Graham said he made the difficult decision to close his cafe and focus on helping people hardest hit by the pandemic in the community.

“We shut down and said, hey, if we want to go out with a bang, we want to bring meals to people who need it,” said Graham.

When campaigning for DMEFN, Graham emphasized the strength of the community members in Globeville Elyria-Swansea. Focus Points and Lost City were deliberately hiring people from the neighborhood to deliver emergency groceries, and the same team is helping with market entry, he said.

“It is only inspiring to see (local residents) support their own community with such grace and resilience,” he said.

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