Enthusiasm abounds on the Seeds team, from left: Anne Blair, Lyn Harwell, Leslie Wirpsa and Beth Alexander.

One diverse crew of locals hopes to plant the seeds of change in Colorado Springs with their branch of a national community café movement that will soon hit the streets of downtown.

Seeds Community Café is scheduled to open in mid-August at 109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., and the folks in charge have a vision of how the socioeconomic environment could benefit from fellow humans breaking bread together.

“It’s about loving people in the community,” said Lyn Harwell, co-executive director of Seeds. “There’s a lot of love here and a lot of community. And we need the community to support us and be a part of us.”

The growth of social and health consciousness throughout the United States has created an effort in the Pikes Peak region to end hunger and to promote community, and the Seeds crew thinks it’s grand.

Eat, pay what you can, love

The up-and-coming bistro is one of more than 30 “community cafés” in the country, but Seeds is the first to introduce the “pay-what-you-can” model to the Colorado Springs market.

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And if you can’t pay anything at all, the solution is simple: Customers can fund freshly cooked meals by doing such things as washing dishes, cleaning up, preparing food or volunteering at a local farm, garden or greenhouse.

Harwell and Co-Executive Director Leslie Wirpsa, both of whom volunteer their time, energy and creativity to the blossoming business, say that Seeds is just what this community needs to grow.

“Everyone these days looks for the return on investment,” Harwell said. “None of us are in this to become a wealthy restaurateur. There is wealth created in other ways, and that is the riches of helping the community and putting people to work and creating a local economy.”

When the shop opens in a couple of weeks, coffee and breakfast will be served in the morning, lunch in the late morning and afternoon, and occasional events — including six-week cooking classes — will be offered on some evenings.

But it isn’t all just about sharing a meal.

Harwell and his team decided to set up the restaurant in their hometown of the Springs mostly based on regional need. Data from the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado indicates that more than 31,000 El Paso County households use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what used to be known as food stamps.

Wirpsa said that the first step to giving people who are struggling with food insecurity their dignity back is by providing them a choice.

“Instead of a soup kitchen or somewhere that gives handouts, it’s more about helping people and engaging people,” Wirpsa said. “The first step to dignity when you’re in the drags is having a choice in something.”

Securing success

Although the café is a nonprofit effort with minimal funding, Harwell says that Seeds’ business model is both realistic and financially viable.

He said that the requested donation will vary depending on the menu, and that offerings will depend on season- and contribution-related conditions. But although the going rate may climb to nearly $10 a plate, patrons of other community cafés often “pay it forward” so that others may fill their bellies.

“Folks come in and enjoy a meal no matter their ability to pay,” he said. “Some folks will come in and pay it forward; they’ll pay a little extra.”

The majority of the shop’s funding will come from customers who decide to pay more than their meal is worth. In the past, 60 percent of patrons at community cafés have paid more than their meal. Other sources of money include fundraising projects, contributions and grants. Seeds also plans to fund the joint with revenue from its for-profit catering company and by renting out the restaurant space for special events during some evenings.

Seeds has received an estimated $75,000 in donations, including in-kind donations of fruits, vegetables and other foods from local farmers and gardens. Colorado Coffee Merchants has agreed to provide hot and cold drinks, including fresh juices, and healthy teas during breakfast hours, and opportunities developer Anne Blair said that she would like to teach barista classes at the café.

“I think that this encourages people to use their artistic talents and be able to do something that gives them confidence,” Blair said. “I think that the vision behind Seeds is that every individual who walks through the door has an opportunity to give love and receive love. Because that’s what we’re all about: loving the community.”

Then, now and later

The Seeds team strives to create a platform for community, philanthropy and survival — and the group is not alone.

The idea behind Seeds developed out of One World Everybody Eats, a 501(c)(3) organization that claims to serve 1.3 million meals a year. Denise Cerreta started the company in Salt Lake City in 2003 and holds all 34 affiliated businesses to seven core tenets:

Pay-what-you-can pricing;

Variable menu;

Patrons choose own portion size;

Healthy, seasonal foods;

Patrons can volunteer in exchange for meals;

Volunteers are used to their greatest extent;

Paid staff earn a living wage.

And the staff at the Springs’ own location plans to do just that — and more.

In the creative pipeline, Seeds has plans to completely recreate the former Mexican restaurant space to add a children’s play area, a greenhouse on the roof, and to be as sustainable as possible.

“We want to help connect people back to themselves, and each other, and to food,” Harwell said. “Food is just a better way. There’s nothing better than breaking bread at a table and having a conversation.” n CSBJ


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