Thank you to everyone who made this year’s Gather ‘Round such a success! We felt your love come together last Thursday to celebrate the impact of community gardens and highlight the work of community leaders in six impact areas: Community, Climate, Health & Wellness, Food Sovereignty, Ancestral Foodways, and Skill Building.
We are extremely grateful for our wonderful volunteers, who made the night a smooth and joyful celebration, and to all the community members, partners and supporters who made this event possible.
This year, we were honored to celebrate the work of:
– Sistaotey, the garden leader at Montview Community Garden for her continued dedication to building a strong Community
– The students at Denver Public School working on climate action to make the district more environmentally and socially responsible
– The food sovereignty work of the East Denver Food Sovereignty Initiative
– The commitment to Ancestral Food Ways by the community leaders at the DUG Pecos Garden
– The continues work of our partners The Giving Grove to promote skill building in fruit tree education across the country
– And the work of Dr. Jill Litt to elevate the positive health impact of community gardens through her research
Colorado has the fourth fastest-growing population in the United States.1 At the same time, Coloradans use 208 gallons of water every day, while the average national per capita water use is 179 gallons per day.2 In Denver, landscape irrigation accounts for 55% of residential water use, and the EPA estimates that more than 50% of water used in outdoor landscapes is wasted due to poor irrigation practices.3,4 Because of the enormous potential for improvement, water conservation programs often target outdoor water use.
Denver Urban Gardens encourages community gardeners to take water conservation into their own hands by watering smarter.
The first step is becoming aware of how we use water and how water is used by the soil and plants. In the vegetable garden, we can follow a few simple guidelines and become experts at reading our plants and environmental indicators so that we use just the right amount of water, no more and no less.
Water when the plants and soil need it, not out of habit.
With the exception of the beginning of the season when young plants and seeds are establishing themselves, vegetable gardens should only need to be watered 2-3 times per week. Even in the heat of summer, gardens do not need to be watered daily. Though it may not be intuitive, we are actually watering the soil, not our plants. Plants absorb water through their roots in the soil, and plant roots grow towards water in the soil. When a gardener provides smaller amounts of water on a frequent basis, the roots have no reason to expand into a strong, expansive system. This practice can be very detrimental to plant growth and is an ineffective use of water. The smarter technique is to water less frequently, but deeper. This practice, especially employed early in the growing season, encourages plants to grow deeper roots that will help them to maintain strength during the hotter, dryer periods later in the growing season.
In the heat of the day, plants may look droopy, and soil often looks dry from the surface. Before going straight to the hose, take a moment to dig into the soil to determine if the buried soil is as dry as the surface. If so, it’s time to water. Before doing so, use a hand tool to lightly break up the crusty surface of the soil between plants so that water can easily penetrate. This can be done on a weekly basis to encourage soil health throughout the season.
Get to know your soil.
Water must first be able to enter the given soil, and then the soil must have the capacity to hold the water so that it is available for the plants. Clay soils are dense which makes it difficult for water to enter the soil. Once water does percolate into the soil, clay soils will hold water much better than sandy soils. Water percolates through sandy soil very quickly, but also dries out faster, so plants will require more frequent watering. Learn more about how to determine what soil texture your garden has here.
Whether you have clay or sandy soil, adding compost breaks up dense clay soils making it easier for water to penetrate and improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils. Soil enriched with compost can result in a 20% decrease in water usage. Add 1-2 inches of compost to the garden in the springtime.
Water by hand.
The EPA estimates that gardeners who water by hand use 33% less water than those who use automated irrigation systems.5 Hand watering allows gardeners to respond to changing soil moisture conditions as watering occurs. For instance, when water begins to pool on the surface, stop watering. Wait for the pool to disappear and then try watering again. If the soil accepts the water, then continue watering until water has penetrated just beyond the root level. You may need to dig around with your hands initially to get a sense of how much water is needed for your soil. This practice uses water more efficiently by getting water into the target area, which reduces fugitive water and is more beneficial to plant health. Be sure to target water towards the soil at the base of the plants, being careful not to water the plant’s foliage.
Reduce water loss.
Evaporation is water loss from the soil surface and transpiration is water loss from the plants’ foliage. To limit evapotranspiration (ET), plan your garden so that the leaves of mature plants are just barely touching. This limits the amount of exposed soil that is susceptible to evaporation. Mulch so that you have little to no soil exposed on the surface. Mulch reduces the amount of soil exposed and in turn reduces the amount of water needed, particularly in sandy soils. Newspapers, straw (my personal favorite), dry grass clippings that have not been treated with chemicals are all relatively inexpensive and free mulch options. As mulch decomposes, it increases the organic content of the soil, which provides a consistent source of nutrients throughout the season. ET is highest during the heat of the day. Watering before 10am or after 6pm allows plants to better access the water provided to them, opposed to the water evaporating before it gets down into the plants’ root zones. Water loss can also occur from loose hose connections. Make sure to tighten your hoses and use o-rings in the base of the hose so that water isn’t dripping unnecessarily. O-rings can fall out of hoses or dry up in our climate, but replacements can be purchased at any hardware store.
So this summer, push your plants to their limits. It will make them stronger in the long run. Water deeply, only 2-3 times each week. Challenge your fellow gardeners to model responsible gardening practices by collectively using as little water as possible. For example, set up a watering schedule for common areas in your community garden so that overwatering does not occur. Water conservation will help your garden have less weeds, lower water bills, and help to maintain a positive image of community gardens across the city. Every drop saved is one more drop saved for a time when we may need it even more than now.
Gardeners Joanna Hudson Lundquist and Dan Lundquist shared this awesome montage of their plot at West Washington Park Community Garden. It’s called “One Garden, Three Seasons, Three Years,” and chronicles the life of their plot over three years.
DUG’s West Washington Park Community Garden is located at 2nd and Grant in Denver, across the street from the The Art Students League of Denver. For a complete list of community gardens in the Denver Urban Gardens network, click here. For a map of all DUG gardens, please click here.
EcoSalon just had a great piece on urban farming, outlining a few urban agriculture projects on the west coast, and ways to get involved.
Urban farming can certainly increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables to city dwellers but we need to look at how the food is distributed and find creative ways to get the food to the people who most need it. The most sustainable way of all to provide food is to teach people how to grow their own.
Through community gardens in neighborhoods and at Denver schools, and through our urban community farm, our Free Seeds and Transplants Program, and our education and outreach programs, DUG is working to meet the needs of metro area residents and act as a resource for individuals and organizations in Denver and beyond. Volunteer and donor support are critical to our mission- contact us at email@example.com to learn how to get involved!
Denver Urban Gardens was featured in Breaking through Concrete: Stories from the American Urban Farm. Check out the gorgeous photos and narrative here, and the videos here.
The mission of Breaking through Concrete is to document the American urban farm movement, and “bring to life the diverse projects that are, in distinct ways, transforming our built environments and creating jobs, training opportunities, local economies, and healthy food in our nation’s biggest cities.” Learn more about Breaking through Concrete here.
Rosedale Community Garden. Photo credit: Breaking through Concrete
Join us for a film screening tomorrow evening at The Denver Botanic Gardens! This event, supported by Chipotle and co-hosted by Denver Urban Gardens, features The Garden, and is free with a suggested donation of $10.
The Garden has the pulse of verité with the narrative pull of fiction, telling the story of the country’s largest urban farm, backroom deals, land developers, green politics, money, poverty, power, and racial discord. The film explores and exposes the fault lines in American society and raises crucial and challenging questions about liberty, equality, and justice for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.
A recent post by designboom features a design for a community garden in a vertical spiral. From designers Benet and Saida dalmau, Anna Julibert and Carmen Vilar:
We wanted to build a new environmentally-friendly town where the environment is considered as an important part of everyday life. We propose ‘spiral garden system’: a public sustainable place like a green heart, easy to maintain and self-sufficient, created by a joint population that will stimulate social interaction among neighbours. A light, spiral structure protected by a transparent and suggestive mesh, the project encourages the city to create sustainable exchange spaces in different ways. This spiral contains an ascending garden where native vegetation can coexist with urban orchards, shared and planted for the neighbours for easy maintenance and serving also as a green outdoor walk. ‘Spiral garden system’ increases social interaction between people, provides a place for exchanging natural products, and becomes a way for local residents to get involved with their neighbourhood. to sum up, we propose an ecological project in a way to give sustainable change to daily city lives, where humans and nature can coexist.
They describe their garden concept using the same language we often use to describe traditional community gardens: a shared space for neighbors to connect, a green sanctuary in the city, and a source of fresh, healthy produce. To create a successful community garden, you don’t need much more than a little space and a lot of care from the neighborhood. Even so, we’re excited to see these creative takes on on urban gardening. Take a look:
Spiral garden system in a park. Spiral garden interior.For more renderings, see the full post at designboom.com.
And in case you missed it, check out last week’s post on Berlin’s portable community garden.
Posted by Emily Frost, Communications & Programs Intern.
Earlier this season, the Denver Post featured a story about the high price of healthy eating. Touching on food history, environmental influences and the politics of government subsidies, the article explores the complicated reasons influencing the cost of healthy foods, specifically fruits and veggies, and how that translates to one Denver family’s personal experience. The disappointing reality is that
“If Martinez wants each member of her household to have one peach, it’ll cost her about $3. If she chooses Kraft macaroni and cheese, she can get 18 servings — with 400 calories and 580 milligrams of sodium in each — for the same price.”
This illustrates perhaps why Americans are falling short of the CDC’s expectations that each American should The Denver Post cites that “only half the recommended servings of dark green vegetables are available”, according to the USDA findings as published in “Health Affairs”, March 2010. These greens were sold at the Fairview Elementary School Garden Harvest Festival.be consuming two servings of fruits and three of vegetables daily,as reported by NPR. However, it is not just a lack of affordability or accessibility—according tothe Post article, America does not actually grow enough fruits and vegetables to meet the 5-a-day goal, making consuming a healthy diet increasingly an issue of availability.
How are Americans responding to growing prices of food and corresponding growing levels of hunger and malnutrition? NPR gives an example in this storythat tracks one family’s experience of gathering food from a variety of assistance programs. At the national level, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, offers food stamps to those in need. In addition to using these stamps at grocers, SNAPs can also be used at many local farmers’ markets, increasing access to locally grown healthy food and supporting our local economy. Food Banks provide another option, as do local soup kitchens, for those cobbling together affordable means of feeding themselves and their families. Here in Denver, theSAME Caféis a unique restaurant that serves up a fresh, organic meal for donations or volunteer time exchanged in the kitchen, rather than set prices, and believes that everyone, “regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity.”
Of course another supplemental option is growing your own veggies through gardening. DUG has done plenty of research alongside the Colorado School of Public Health on the benefits of community gardening, specifically. The findings of the “Gardens for Growing Healthy Communities” community-based research initiative include, among other benefits, these facts specifically relating to the articles highlighted in this post:
More than 50% of community gardeners meet national guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, compared to 25% of non-gardeners.
95% of community gardeners give away some of the produce they grow to friends, family and people in need; 60% specifically donate to food assistance programs.
These children learn first-hand the value of working in community gardens.Additionally, there may be a financial benefit to growing your own grub. Rob Baedeker explores “What’s the Value of home-grown food?” in his piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. One gardener he interviewed found that his family of 5 saved $2000 over one year of home gardening. That gardener and the writer conclude that ultimately, monetary value is only a small part of the worth inherent in growing your own produce. The cultural exchange, first-hand learning, neighborly relationships, physical activity, and practice of living in community are all invaluable parts of the community gardening experience.
Read more about the inherent worth in community gardening, or better yet, get involved yourself! Check out the gardens in your neighborhood and contact your garden leader to get involved, or give us a call at the DUG office (303.292.9900) to explore volunteer opportunities.
Posted by Emily Frost, Communications & Programs Intern.
Change.org Sustainable Food writer Jason Mark tries to unearth the real benefits of urban farming in his recent article “If Urban Farms Can’t Feed Us, What Are They Good For?” Acknowledging that urban farming is unlikely to ever fully sustain us, he counters that community farming provides us with important intangibles that, though not quantifiable, are nevertheless invaluable:
There’s no doubt in my mind that urban farming is important. We should, though, be thoughtful about what we can realistically expect urban food production to achieve. At its best, urban farming is an important avenue for environmental recreation, a way to help protect farmland threatened by sprawl, and a chance to bring together diverse groups of people.
Mark also points out that having urban agriculturalists aim to harvest just a third of their total veggies, fruits, and eggs would allow surrounding farms to diversify their own crops. This would in turn expand the availability and spread of locally grown foods available to city-dwellers from farms that, though not urban, still exist within their food shed area, creating a more sustainable system for all.
Posted by Emily Frost, Programs and Communications Intern.
This past weekend, the National League of Cities hosted the “Congress of Cities” at the Denver Convention Center. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at the event, presenting praise and a challenge to the city officials in attendance as he represented the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity.
Among other things, Vilsack noted the importance of community gardens in creating healthy communitiesThese girls get moving as they bicycle around the Fairview Harvest Festival. Community gardens are great spaces for both nutrition and exercise. and setting a foundation for success of the campaign. He encouraged officials in attendance to practice coalition building and map out food deserts in their cities, but also to take note of where community gardens were having successes.
USDA offices around the county are now providing ground for 700 gardens that this growing season produced 90,000 pounds of fresh produce. Most went to local food banks.
Here in Denver, DUG’s extensive community of gardeners donate a hefty portion of produce each year to our area food banks, including non-profits like Project Angel Heart, which exists to ensure that the metro area’s very ill receive free, consistent and appropriately nutritious meals.
Another hot topic during the USDA Secretary’s speech was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that recently passed in Congress. This act, coupled with cities committing to make nutritional food available throughout the school districts, has the potential to really make an impact on what Vilsack sees as a matter of national security.
Denver Urban Gardens and its staff and board honor the land on the unceded territories of the Tséstho’e (Cheyenne), Hinono’eino’ biito’owu’ (Arapaho), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, as well as 48+ other tribes with ties to this region.
May our stewardship of this land support the collective work to dismantle ongoing legacies of oppression and inequities as well as recognize the current and future contributions of indigenous communities.
DUG Named A Fast Company World Changing Ideas Award Finalist