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Q&A with Lyn Harwell, Seeds Community Cafe

By: charise simpson Special to The Gazette
April 15, 2014 Updated: April 15, 2014 at 1:40 pm
photo - Lyn Harwell
Lyn Harwell 

Lyn Harwell

Executive Director of Seeds Community Caf?/p>

Lyn Harwell grew up on an orchard in rural Ohio, where the farming community traded locally grown food with each other. His family wasn't well-to-do, but Harwell felt he ate like a king because his family had access to nutritious, locally grown food. Harwell later trained in the culinary arts and spent many of the ensuing years working for restaurants. He came to Colorado Springs in 2003 to work for the Texas T-bone restaurants and also started volunteering for the Colorado Springs Rescue Mission - an experience that changed his life as he saw what was going on with homelessness and poverty. He ended up working for several local nonprofits, but dreamed of starting a community caf?in Colorado Springs. His dream came true in September when he opened Seeds Community Cafe at 109 E. Pikes Peak Ave.

Question: What is Seeds Community Caf?about?

Answer: Seeds is a nonprofit social enterprise, a community caf? We serve great organic, locally sourced food to anyone regardless of his or her ability to pay or not to pay. The catch is, if you can't pay, it's not a free meal. We want to engage you in some kind of service, whether you come in and help us roll silverware, clean some tables, bus at lunch or help us wash some dishes in the kitchen. In the spring and summer, I may send you to Pikes Peak Urban Gardens to do an hour of gardening. If you give us an hour of service, you'll get a great meal. If you can pay a little more, then you pay it forward. If you pay the average donation, that's OK, too.

Q: How many people does Seeds employ and how do you utilize volunteers?

A: We have only three full-time employees. Everything else is done through volunteers. We have about 18 volunteer shifts in a day. Since we opened in September, we have served over 14,000 meals. Over 4,000 of those meals are folks who couldn't afford to pay, including the trade-out meals, the people that give us their time and talent in exchange for a meal. So, the concept is really working well. We're definitely fulfilling a need.

Q: Where did the idea for a community caf?come from?

A: The original idea probably came from Denise Cerretta. She opened a caf?about 11 years ago in Salt Lake City called One World, Everybody Eats, with the idea to serve local food to anyone regardless of their ability to pay. There are 30 of these community caf? around the country now, and two in Denver. I sat on the national board of One World, Everybody Eats for several years, so I'm very familiar with the caf?concept, opening them and what it takes to do that.

Q: Have you achieved your goal of sustainability at Seeds and what are your plans for growth?

A: Certainly we'd like to see growth happening. We're a fledgling nonprofit, and like any nonprofit we're always looking for funding to keep things going. As far as sustainability of the concept, it's been really positive. Our day-to-day operations have been sustainable. We have a small amount of pre-opening debt that we have to retire and are working on. We have a sustainable catering program where we work with men and women in drug and alcohol addiction recovery. We work with Pikes Community College to help teach them culinary arts. We pay them a living wage, through Colorado Springs' first organic vegan and vegetarian caterer. We cater events in the mornings and evenings in the caf? and also travel throughout the city.

Our growth plans include a second caf?and a mobile Seeds, or lunch truck venue. We're also talking about putting a Seeds model in Launch, a new alternative high school. The students there would learn to create the business plan, operate the caf?and actually understand how a social enterprise works.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Colorado Springs business climate?

A: I think our community needs an investment tool or instrument to invest in local business for entrepreneurs and local social enterprise. It's going to take us working together with government and business, with other nonprofits and the private sector to create those types of venues, where we can invest in folks who want to maybe drop out of the corporate world and do their own business. It's important to consider how can we support that, because that can create local economy, create local jobs.

Q: Do you have a personal formula for success?

A: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Be focused. Be honest. Be ethical, and really try to do the right thing for people.


Edited for space and clarity.

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