Nestled next to a warehouse in one of Denver’s industrial districts sits a custom-built freight container, equipped with everything to grow 8,000 plants. For the past two years, Bonverts Hydroponic Farms has been growing greens, herbs, and edible flowers on vertical panels that hang inside the environmentally controlled container providing clean, safe food year around.
“When you love people, you feed them good food and a lot of times we don’t get good food at grocery stores. This is what we need to be doing, feeding people healthy good food,” said Anne Espenan, the co-founder and owner of Bonverts.. “I’m growing for them; I want to make sure people are getting good nutrition and that their children are learning to eat food that tastes good.”
The energy-efficient freight container is controlled using technology that consistently monitors temperature, CO2 levels, and wind speed. Inside the container, you can hear fans mimicking natural wind, helping the plants become sturdier. LED light panels replicate sunlight and a recirculating drip irrigation system waters the plants every 35 minutes.
“The water runs into the gutter and goes down into the reservoir in the back, recirculating into the filter, gets clean and it comes back around again,” Anne said. “In this controlled environment we don’t have to worry about E. coli or salmonella, I don’t have to use any pesticides, so I can very carefully control the amount of nutrition that these things have. I can give people good food that is truly nutritious and that lasts a long time.”
Anne and her brother Paul created Bonverts with the idea of sharing fresh food with people. She said nearly 40% of food is wasted because it gets old and loses its nutrients. By creating this space they believe they can help solve that problem.
“We harvest and deliver right after we harvest, and it can last up to three weeks,” Anne said.
With very little experience, Anne took over Bonverts when Paul left it in her hands after receiving a job offer. For the past two years, Anne has learned her way around the container and meticulously managed to create an environment where lush greens can grow safely.
“I basically learned by doing. I wouldn’t call it trial and error. I would probably call it error, error, error,” she said.
During the pandemic, Anne set out to find a space for the container in Denver. She told her realtor she really only needed about four parking spaces. Bonverts’ new home became a strip of unused land next to a wine storage system warehouse at 4690 Joliet St.
“I feel like this is what I was supposed to be doing in this neighborhood. We started to talk about food deserts and Montebello is a food desert,” she said. “So, this is what we are supposed to be doing for people.”
The farm grows several varieties of lettuce—like Red Oak and Red Butter—that are normally not seen in grocery stores. Other crops include Thai basil, rainbow chard, Red Dragon arugula, and watermelon radishes. For Anne, it is important to share her fresh food with the community.
“Once a week we donate to Struggle of Love [and] Rocky Mountain Food Bank. I love donating to Metro Caring. We take the same stuff that we sell to our customers,”
Sustainability is also important for Bonverts. Food in grocery stores often travels thousands of miles in fuel-guzzling refrigerated trucks. Anne does her part to cut down on emissions while still providing fresh food to customers by offering pick-up or delivery within a 10-mile radius. Customers can place orders on their website or through the Too Good to Go app.
Bonverts also offers an internship program for students interested in sustainable farming, giving Anne an opportunity to pass her knowledge down to the next generation. But Anne is hoping to get folks even younger excited about growing their own food.
“Kids will eat this, especially if they come to tour the farm,” she said. “They come in, put on gloves and lab coats, and they go up and down the aisles trying everything. Kids get excited, it’s also why I want to give people the growing kits so they can grow at home.”
Bonverts will begin opening to the public on Saturdays from 12-2 p.m. to share free lettuce mixes, plants and hydroponic experiments. Anne is very passionate about her work and takes pride in the food she grows and shares with the community. She also experiments with different plants to create recipes for her customers. Food is her gift to the community.
“Since this is a passion, feeding people seems more important than trying to figure out how to save a penny here and there,” Anne said.