Seeds Café founder spreads charity and cheer all year
Chef Lyn Harwell’s pay-as-you-can dining concept, Seeds Community Café, exemplifies the spirit of Christmas all year long; no one is denied a meal for lack of funds and everyone is given the chance to develop work skills in exchange for food. Most of the protein on the menu comes from Ranch Foods Direct and the produce is lovingly chosen and often locally sourced.
Q. When it comes to food at the holidays, are you traditional, unconventional or a combination?
Probably a combination. It’s nice to have the traditional turkey or ham, but it’s also a great time of year to use roasted filet mignon, pork loin or lamb. Those are great items to create a holiday meal around.
Q. Is there a special food you can’t do Christmas without?
I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do without, simply because there’s always so much new stuff to try. I’m somewhat eclectic. I’m trying new recipes all the time. Working with local farmers and ranchers, like Mike Callicrate, there’s always something creative coming out of the meat case that I can work with. I like to see what those new things are. A winter stew, using lamb or different cuts of beef, can make a great hearty holiday meal.
Q. Talk more about the pay-as-you-can model, which you introduced in Colorado Springs two years ago.
I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio. The seeds for Seeds Café came from that. Back then, we traded our fruit to other farmers for their produce and meat. In grade school, the other kids told me I was a poor farm kid, but I didn’t feel that way. I ate like a king! It was a way of life we’ve lost in America, of living and working together and spending time together over meals.
The really neat thing I love about this concept is that since we don’t put prices on the menu, no one really knows who is paying what. So you have people of very different socio-economic status sitting together, sharing a meal and talking to each other. We have some folks who come in and pay $100 because they know we’ll pay it forward. It breaks down barriers, and I think that’s phenomenal.
We see lives changed here. Forty percent of folks who come in exchange their meal for service. Over the past two years, 30 people have been able to obtain living wage jobs after working here. That’s feeding a million dollars back into our economy. I see the food industry as a vehicle for empowering people. But we’re still a new concept. A lot of people haven’t eaten here because they think we’re a soup kitchen. But I say: just come try us. We are a nonprofit social enterprise but we’ve also won a bevy awards for our fresh, local cooking.
Seeds Cafe provides traditional full service catering which also creates jobs for those in need of developing vocational skills.
Meanwhile, Mountain Pie Co. offers “drive-by” catering: “We bring everything already bagged up and ready to display,” says Mountain Pie’s Matt Campbell. “We make sure everything looks good and then the party takes care of itself. We do a lot of business lunches but we even did a wedding recently.” What makes it an affordable option is that you pay for the food you buy with only a small delivery fee added.
Either choice is healthy for your guests and supports the local economy.