All farmers markets are meant to build community, but R&B’s Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace does so to the best beat. Not that music is a stranger at such events, but it tends to be folk or singer-songwriter. When I went to the Wednesday night market at The Garden in Park Hill, the DJ was playing funk and I never wanted to leave.
Wednesday night market in Park Hill
I walked up on the porch of the 1892 house, asked for some chard juice from Beverly Grant, Mo’ Betta Green founder, and waited while she made it for me in a small blender. It was refreshing, and Grant knows how to welcome the people who come to her markets. She thanked me when I told her I wanted to write about MBG and encouraged me check out all the vendors and the garden beds overflowing with produce and adorned with colorful signs. On my tour I met Chris, one of the owners of the “neighborhood farmhouse,” who told me, “My house is your house,” and showed me the hops plants, twice as tall as I am, on the 35th Street edge of the corner lot.
The Garden is one of four Denver locations where Grant holds her pop-up markets in 2015; the others are in Highland next to Little Man Ice Cream (Monday nights), at Conservatory Green in Northfield Stapleton (Thursday nights), and at Sonny Lawson Park in Five Points (Saturdays from 9 to 2).
Five Points, where it all began
On a Saturday in late August, the park was full of groups lounging in both shade and sun, listening to the tunes spun by DJ Cavem, and going over to the market to chat or get some juice or watermelon tea. Grant was handing out chunks of lemon cucumber, a more delicately flavored, round version of the typical green cucumber most common in grocery stores. Everyone seemed to know each other, and there was a comfortable feel in the air as the vendors broke down their booths.
I arrived in the early afternoon that Saturday, just in time to take some pictures and talk more with Grant about the origins of Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace. She decided to start a farmers market after realizing that the northeast Denver neighborhood where she grew up was a “food desert,” lacking a store where residents could buy healthful foods for a reasonable price.
In 2010 Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace opened at 25th and Welton twice a month, using the time to remind customers of the way Americans used to get their foods—from local gardens. When the first Five Points location went under construction, MGB moved a couple of blocks to Charles R. Cousins Plaza, next to Sonny Lawson Park. (For several decades Lawson ran a pharmacy in Five Points, and Cousins invested in real estate and served on the Denver city zoning board and the U.S. Olympic Organizing Committee.)
Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL)
Now MBG sells fresh produce in four different neighborhoods where the “built infrastructure doesn’t allow grocery stores.”
But selling food is only a small part of Grant’s mission: what she wants most is to change eating habits. She loves handing someone a cucumber or some spinach and watching them fall in love with the taste. And the farmers markets enable her to introduce people to new foods, to grab a yellow zucchini or an eggplant or a tomato and say with a brilliant smile, “Here! Take this home and cook it.” And if they don’t know how, she also does cooking demonstrations.
The women selling produce at Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace wore T-shirts that read “Healthy Eating, Active Living” on the back. HEAL is one of Grant’s rules to live by, along with her belief that food should be of traceable origin, organic, local, and delicious (see the photo at the beginning of this post).
Grant obtains her produce from Denver Botanic Gardens and Sister Gardens (an Urbiculture garden at 52nd and Elm in Chaffee Park). In most years, she has sold her own produce as well, but the weather this spring washed out her garden.
She just started getting eggs from a farm in Bennett, Colorado, and from Lilly Creek Livestock in Byers. At the Wednesday market, I met Blake from Lilly Creek, and he told me that it was his first farmers market. He can’t make Saturday markets because he has a full-time job in addition to running a farm, and he needs to tend to it on Saturdays.
Mentioned in this post
The Garden is located at 35th and Albion, just south of the Park Hill Golf Course. Originally established as a restaurant, it is now a community food and events center with a commercial kitchen available to licensed caterers. The Garden is a membership-based “neighborhood farmhouse” for “a new generation of activists and entrepreneurs who support farmers and families in our own neighborhoods as well as across our entire food shed.”
Lilly Creek Livestock is a 35-acre farm in Byers, Colorado, run by Blake and Julia Bell, that specializes in grass-fed lamb and pastured poultry and eggs.