DENVER – The Huerta Urbana Farmers Market, a pay-what-you-can weekly grocery option in Denver’s Swansea neighborhood is serving twice as many customers this year compared to past years.
“I think its larger than what we thought it would ever be,” Karen Bustillos, Huerta Urbana Farmers Market manager said.
Bustillos is also a program specialist with Focus Points Family Resource Center, the nonprofit that operates the market.
“The pay-what-you-can element was added in order to help with the affordability,” said Bustillos. "Right now, the way that we work our market is we give out market bucks, so each family gets $20 worth of market bucks and they’re able to spend it throughout our market. We have 7 vendors that accept market bucks and that’s just $20 we give out to the families so they’re able to make that purchase."
Bustillos said the pay-what-you-can model is made possible by donations and sponsorships from companies like Kaiser Permanente.
Bustillos said vendors also accept SNAP benefits and WIC vouchers. Customers can also pay more than market rate to "pay it forward."
“Swansea and the GES community is considered a food desert and what that means is just that there is no local groceries,” Bustillos said. “People are like well, you know, just put a grocery store here and its like, 'Yeah, but that’s still not going to help because any produce, that you know is organic, it's just going to be too much for them and they’re still not going to be able to afford it.”
Bustillos said the farmers market is a part of the larger, Huerta Urbana program which teaches residents how to grow their own food.
“We can teach the community how to grow their farm, how to start their business, sell their produce and, at the same time, help the community so we’re able to feed them healthy organic food that’s accessible,” Bustillos said.
Deisy Bustillos and her mom started growing flowers with Huerta Urbana three years ago.
“Suddenly we just thought, 'What if we could sell these?' So we started making flower arrangement to sell and they’ve been a hit,” Deisy Bustillos said.
When Deisy isn’t selling her arrangements, she’s buying items from fellow vendors.
“We’re helping one another out. It helps us getting fresh vegetables and fruits and it’s helped our business as well,” Bustillos said.
Less than a year ago, Huerta Urbana was serving just 30 customers a week.
Karen Bustillos said this is partly due to the farmers market being at a lesser-known location.
“But right now, every Friday I’m getting 80 to 100 (people) and that’s been increasing every week that goes by,” Bustillos said.
Bustillos said the economy and new location have attracted more customers to the market.
The Huerta Urbana Farmers Market is open every Friday through October 28 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Focus Points Family Resource Center.