If you want to eat local, in season, often-organic food at a local café in Colorado, you can. And guess what? It doesn’t matter if you can’t pay. Seeds Community Café has a pay-as-you-can, pay-it-forward model that helps people with what they call a ‘hand-up,’ not a hand-out.
The cafe never turns away a hungry person.
Seeds Community Café founder Lyn Harwell says that after working in the food and hospitality industries, he became overwhelmed by the amount of help needed from individuals, as well as the number of those who were actually food insecure. He was also shocked at how much food was wasted in the hospitality industry. He merged the two and came up with the idea for Seeds.
About 1 in 6 people in America are defined as ‘food insecure,’ which means that they don’t know where their next meal will come from. Approximately 17.5 million households either don’t have access to or can’t afford enough food to eat. Surely, Seeds Community Café is making a dent in that number, for the better. 
The cafe is similar to other businesses either recently popping up or having been established for years now. SAME café, short for So All May Eat, started 10 years ago in Denver, Colorado with a simple premise. The food served was to be mostly organic and locally-sourced, and if you couldn’t pay for it – well, that doesn’t matter. They just ask that you give what you can, and volunteer to help out.
We need more of these establishments popping up around the country.
Interview with Seeds Community Café Founder Lyn Harwell
What type of cuisine do you serve at your restaurant, and how do local and sustainable ingredients factor into your menu?
Seeds serves a variety of cuisine, but our emphasis is on food that is healthy and food that is fresh. So, an omnivore will find organic meat choices, a vegetarian will find several vegetarian choices and a vegan will also find vegan choices. We make all of our own recipes, but many of the recipes we use are tweaked from family and customer favorites. Early on in life, Chef Lyn helped make up the family menus and learned the art of making “something for everyone.”
Depending on fresh produce that’s available, you’ll find dishes that are delicious and locally sourced, such as our signature Vegan Veggies, the Incredible ABC Burger, vegan gluten free pizza, Grilled Chicken with Spinach and Artichoke, Colorado Calabacitas and Kale Caesar Salad.
As for how local and sustainable ingredients factor into our menu, the answer is simple. We use fresh local ingredients whenever possible. If it’s in season in Colorado, you’ll see it on the menu at Seeds.
And as for our support of sustainability, we work with local small farmers as well as backyard gardeners to develop and grow sustainable crops–and we are constantly looking into ways to support the use of greenhouses and other alternate growing scenarios so that more fresh product will be available in Colorado than our own normal short growing season would support.
About how many meals do you serve a day? How big is your staff?
The numbers of meals we serve each day varies, as does the number of meals paid for by donations as opposed to those traded for volunteer service. An average of meals for us would be about 65 paid, 20 in exchange for volunteering, so an average of 85 to 90 meals total a day. We have only four paid staff members, but we make up a daily schedule that includes a maximum of 18 volunteers.
Our mission is to empower people to own their own lives again through the power of food. For us, a delicious, healthy meal is just the conversation starter. It’s really all about empowering people through the power of food.
How often do you and/or your staff visit your favorite farms and/or farmer’s markets?
We visit farms and farmer’s markets as often as we possibly can. We sometimes have far more invitations to visit farms than we are able to make visits, but when we can go, we always are thrilled to see what local farms are doing. We have arrangements with several farmer’s markets in town as well as with Colorado Food Rescue to receive unsold produce after the markets close and from larger grocers who would otherwise be wasting good fresh organically grown food.
How do you communicate your commitment to sustainability to your customers and the community?
We have strong community partnerships with other organizations that are working in the Local Food Movement and for sustainability, such as Colorado College, UCCS, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, Colorado Springs Food Rescue, etc.
Our commitment to keeping it local and sustainable is obvious on our menu (which changes daily). We keep literature about our involvement in sustainability in the café and often have volunteers who hand out our literature to passers-by. We are also part of the Green Cities Coalitions and we are regular participants in the yearly Local Foods Week in the Springs.
If you are in the Cafe’ for more than ten minutes, it is likely you will hear the words “sustainable” or “local”.
Describe your local food community in four words.
Passionate, engaged, healthy, growing.
Are there other sustainable aspects to your establishment (water/energy conservation efforts, composting, etc.)?
We are involved in composting at Seeds. We also recycle and would like to eventually be a zero waste facility. We use Kangen water for all of our water needs.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.