Arts & Culture Community Commentary Featured Fara Illich April 24, 2013

GROWop-smallRecently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kenny Barrett, one of the cofounders of GROWop Collective in Downtown Phoenix, to learn more about his urban farming and local artist-inspired concept.
What seed was planted that fostered the idea of GROWop Collective? “The community garden known as Growhouse is what started it all,” said Barrett. Growhouse is a community-based revitalization experiment that embraces food, art and handmade goods and sits on a quarter-acre piece of land in downtown Phoenix.
In 2008, Barrett and long-time friend, Kelly Placke, lived in the Roosevelt Growhouse, where they started, along with friends and other artists, the garden and hosted gallery shows on First Fridays. Two years ago, the Growhouse, in partnership with Joshua Hahn, Ashley Eaton and a collective of artists, sprouted a new concept, GROWop Boutique, a cooperative retail space inside the 1920’s bungalow situated right in the middle of the garden.
“Kelly and I were friends with some of the founders of the Roosevelt Row Arts District and we frequently discussed how great it would be to create a community garden,” Barrett said. “One day, we finally decided to proceed. At the time, the location was just a dirt lot with patchy grass. People thought we were crazy. Little by little, we kept working on that dirt lot giving it the love and attention it needed and now, four and a half years later, we have a flourishing garden that sits on a community plot where locals can plant their own food and take their harvests home.”
In addition to Growhouse, Barrett and team cultivated another local complementing concept known as the GROWop Boutique. The boutique was designed as an incubator for locals to develop and grow their small businesses – GROW(ing)op(portunity).

“The GROWop Boutique includes 25 members that either makes handmade items, collect vintage items for the boutique, or sell designer clothing at the boutique,” said Barrett.
I asked Barrett to tell me more about the property in the beginning days of Roosevelt Growhouse. “While we lived in the residence portion of the house, we rented out the remaining space as a gallery for Downtown Phoenix’s First Fridays art walk,” explained Barrett. “That’s how we paid for water, seeds, and tools for the garden. Once the garden began producing enough vegetables, we would sell them at the farmer’s market and to local cafés so we were able to offset costs. As a result, we began dreaming up a new concept for the gallery space – a cooperative retail space inspired by the garden – and that’s how the GROWop Boutique and collective concept began.”
Barrett added, ”We modeled the structure of the cooperative boutique after successful art galleries and businesses in the area such as Eye Lounge Gallery. One of the reasons so many of the galleries have been successful over the years, even during downtown’s ‘darker days’ is because the nature of the collective or cooperative allows its members to share the heavy load of overhead cost. If we all pay a little bit of the expense, in turn, everyone is more profitable and these budding, grassroots businesses that we all love thrive.”
Roosevelt Row and Downtown Phoenix are experiencing a rebirth right now. What comes to mind when you think about what’s happening? Barrett replied, “Roosevelt Row is this incredible budding arts district where the barriers of entering are fairly low right now. As an individual with an idea, motivation, and inspiration you can start something here. We are not a city where the barriers to enter are very high. You can start modestly and build it over time. That’s what makes this area very special.”
Explore Roosevelt Row and you will pick up on the exciting and creative energy. What’s more is that you will find one-of-a-kind items that cannot be found elsewhere and at affordable prices when compared to larger cities such as Chicago, New York City, or Los Angeles. Explore your core and see everything Downtown Phoenix has to offer!
GROWop Collective
902 N. 6th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004