Justice House: The Torps
By Nicole Musgrave
Tanya and Christian Torp, owners of Justice House, are both RUX members who I had the good fortune of meeting during the Lexington community intensive. On the Saturday of the RUX weekend, I made an impromptu stop at Justice House with fellow RUX-er Tim Morton to talk with Tanya about the role their home plays in the community. During this conversation, I learned about the Heinz Breakfast, a breakfast the Torps host at Justice House most Saturdays that is free and open to anyone. Tim and I made our way back to the Justice House a few weeks later to attend a Heinz Breakfast and get a better sense of what it was all about.
The century-old house that Tanya and Christian live in is called Justice House, and it serves as a community gathering space within the East End neighborhood in which it's situated. The house was already known as a hub for neighborhood activity before the Torps moved in; it used to belong to their friends, the Heinz family, who wanted the Torps to take over the home and continue their vision for it. Tanya describes Justice House, saying,
"This is a place where people feel like they can come and just be themselves. We open up the doors, pretty much, and people can just come and hang out....We have classes that my husband teaches, like canning classes or working with bees, how to do gardening - he's a master gardener. We have a community garden out in the front and the neighbors tell us what they want us to plant, and we plant in that garden and our neighbors come and harvest. We have a garden in the backyard where we have an urban farm. So we have bees, rabbits, chickens in the backyard, and the occasional neighborhood cats are back there, too...We feel like this house is a place where people can come and do 'community' or learn to do 'community.'"
The Heinz Breakfast is one way of the ways that Tanya and Christian create space for people to "do community":
"Most Saturdays we have a breakfast called the Heinz Breakfast and it's from 10am to noon, and I make pancakes and waffles from scratch, and we have fair trade, organic coffee - sometimes it's donated from a local coffee shop and other times we just buy it ourselves. We use flour from a local mill to make everything, so Weisenberger Mills is where we get the flour. And we open up the doors and say 'come' and people come and just get to know each other and experience life together."
Tanya remembers before they moved into Justice House, they lived in a small apartment one street over:
"My heart's longing was the hospitality - that's my heart. I want people to feel welcome and to come into a space and feel like they can just belong and put their feet up on the couch and just hang out. And we longed for that but our apartment, we couldn't even fit people in it, it was so small."
With Justice House, Tanya and Christian now have the room to create a welcoming, inviting space, regularly averaging 40-50 guests during their Heinz Breakfasts.
When they first moved to the East End, Tanya and Christian, who identify strongly with their Christian faith, had plans to be 'do-gooders,' wanting to help solve the neighborhood issues they heard about in the news, such as crime, drug abuse, and prostitution. But when they began their efforts, they were surprised by the response they received:
"We moved into the neighborhood wanting to do good, to be do-gooders, and then [we] learned from the neighbors that there was already good happening and that we needed to sit down and listen. So we listened on a lot of porches....got to know a lot of people....And listening and trying to be a good neighbor became our call rather than moving to a neighborhood and trying to make a change or trying to inspire people. We just learned that we needed to be good neighbors."
After spending time sitting on front porches and listening to residents in the neighborhood, Tanya and Christian learned that it wasn't in fact crime that was the biggest issue:
"When we got here we found out that...the issues were not crime but food insecurity and gentrification. And so when we started to really hear that from people that gave us a lot of pause. And so it started with just sitting on a couple of people's porches and asking if we could hear their stories."
Tanya and Christian listened to their neighbors' struggles with food insecurity and decided to take action. The community garden was one thing they implemented in this regard. They also realized that while many shelters in the area were providing food for homeless folks, there wasn't much support for those who were housed and still dealing with this issue. The Torps became involved with Glean Kentucky, an organization who collects extra produce from grocery stores in the area and redistributes it to those in need:
"[Christian] is on the board of an organization called Glean Kentucky...They dropped off food in front of our apartment that we used to have on Ohio Street every week, and people knew to come. So we had 30 or 40 people that would come every week to get fed, to get fruits and vegetables that they could cook and use in their own lives."
Today, the Torps take extra produce from Glean Kentucky to a neighborhood corner market right down the street from Justice House, where neighbors can pop in and pick up free fruits and vegetables.
The urban farm in the backyard and the classes that Christian offers are other ways that the Torps address issues of food insecurity in the neighborhood. By teaching folks in the community methods for preserving food and by sharing insights into why rabbits are a rich and efficient source of protein, the Torps are providing creative ways to navigate life in a food desert.
When I asked Tanya what she sees for the future of Justice House, she explained they intend to keep traveling down the path they're on for now:
"We love this community we want to empower the community, listen to the community, not make any moves without them telling us what to do."