Seeds Community Café: One Mouth at a Time

 

Seeds Community Café blossomed from Lyn Harwell’s simple vision to help the homeless and impact food insecurities within our community. Lyn was raised on a farm in northeast Ohio, where he recalls sharing fresh grown produce, eggs, dairy, pigs, and chickens with neighbors. Offering individual contributions and partaking of other’s hard work and efforts, in the form of delicious food, helped to fortify and strengthen their community, a way of life Lyn feels is all but forgotten in America. From a young age, a seed of altruism was planted within Lyn that flourishes and drives him to get involved. Lyn graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and worked in the restaurant industry for many years before his involvement in local non-profit organizations drove him to leave commercial restaurant work. While volunteering, the experiences he gained, the people he encountered, and the need among the homeless compelled Lyn to take action. He envisioned a community café where “sharing local great food around a community table can change the world we live in by impacting food insecurity and building community.” With a dream to open Seeds Community Café in Colorado Springs for five years, it became a reality in September 2013 when the doors officially opened.

Nestled in downtown Colorado Springs, Seeds Café utilizes a pay-what-you-can concept to provide healthy, restaurant-quality meals to anyone, regardless of their ability to pay. The murals and bright colors add to the hip and happy ambiance, while quotes like “The miracle is not in what we do, but that we are happy to do it” and “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one” border the walls to serve as reminders of the café’s mission. The menu beams with healthy options as nearly everything is gluten-free and most ingredients are locally grown. The entrées include soup or salad and a drink and offer something for everyone as they change almost daily and range from selections such as Peaceful Pesto Pizza, Stuffed Vegan Wrap, and New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp. A monetary donation may be offered upon placing your order. The cashier might suggest the standard donation, which ranges from $8 to $10 per meal; however, $19 is the average donation from those who can afford to pay.

These generous donations fuel Seeds’ mission as they make up for the meals of those who cannot afford to pay. Anyone can come to Seeds and enjoy excellent food and kind service without having to pay a printed price on the menu. Those who cannot pay are asked to exchange an hour of their time by volunteering to clean tables, serve food, or wash dishes. The concept appears foreign at first, to both paying customer and volunteer, but it works! Seeds Community Café has introduced a profoundly holistic approach to feeding those who hunger and the improvement and unification of our community.

A sense of service fills the restaurant as purposeful awareness of a valuable objective lies behind the smiles of paying customers and struggling volunteers. The volunteers provide gracious service, regardless of their age or lack of professional training. Seeds Café not only provides anyone with the ability to volunteer in exchange for a delicious, healthy, quality-grade meal—a demonstration of functional skills and work experience may lead to future employment opportunities. Replacing servers and the bulk of their staff with volunteers permits the restaurant to operate with limited operational expenses, allowing the focus to remain on unifying the community.

Few things in life can bring people together like eating a fulfilling, nutritious meal, regardless of your social class or culture. Upon entering Seeds, guests feel a gravitational pull to contribute to the café’s mission and form a partnership that inspires those who can afford to pay to donate additional monies. These donating customers leave with a sense of fulfillment not sold on a restaurant menu.

The menu itself boosts volunteerism and involvement in our community as most ingredients for the food originate from local, community gardens such as Pikes Peak Urban Gardens and Ivywild Urban Farm. A Gazette article mentions that “A rooftop garden at the restaurant is in the plans as well.” Made with fresh, organic, gluten-free ingredients, the food does not disappoint and is well worth any donation. Seeds Café acknowledges their prompt success as their website states they have received “two Bronze awards from the Gazette’s Best of the Springs: Best New Restaurant and Best Vegetarian Restaurant.” The Pikes Peak Community Foundation has also awarded Seeds Café with an Ingenuity grant “for having one of the best ideas to improve the quality of life in the Pikes Peak region.” The Ingenuity grant matches every dollar donated and once again proves its motivation to get people involved.

This ingenious plan has not been in action for long but the history of its concept proves sustainable. The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation has practiced this model in its own Soul Kitchen Community Restaurant located in Red Bank, New Jersey.  Soul Kitchen has been successfully open for three years and continues to address the needs of those who are less fortunate. A reporter for Fox 21 News mentions that “It isn’t about free or hand-outs. It’s about being conscious of what community really means.” It works because it tugs on the intrinsic desire people have to help one another. A visit to Seeds Café fulfills a variety of needs—no one is left to wonder if they’ve done enough or done too much to help another.

Business savvy individuals may question the potential success of the café.  What if people just want a meal without pressure to donate more than they might normally spend? Most customers are aware of the mission of Seeds Café before dining. In fact, the mission itself urges people to experience and play a role in their success. For those who do not wish to help those who hunger and simply want to pay five dollars for a quick lunch, fast food restaurants are easy to find. Seeds Café offers catering services and may be rented as a party or meeting venue to help its bottom-line. Those who are skeptical of its concept should visit and see for themselves that its success is fueled by our community.

I recently joined a friend for lunch at Seeds and experienced its energy first-hand. I enjoyed everything about it, from the short walk down the alley covered in murals of gardens and Colorado landscape, to the orange and thyme flavored water they serve. The staff and volunteers beamed with joy and excitement, as did the other customers. The food was fresh and delicious. In my opinion, service did not lack on any front, and I will return at my first opportunity.

Seeds Community Café has a way of leaving you wanting more and addresses the needs of all types of people in our community. It provides those who struggle day-to-day with work experience, a healthy and satisfying meal, the opportunity to serve and socialize with others, and the chance to come back the following day to do it all over again. To those who can afford to pay and choose to dine at Seeds Café, a trendy place to dine with friends or strangers, a great meal, and an easy yet effective method for helping those less fortunate is provided. Dorothy Day, known as a champion of the poor, once said, “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” Seeds Café offers more than just food; it offers an experience that feeds the soul. It benefits all who enter and absorb themselves in its mission to feed the hungry and unify our community, one mouth at a time.