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Niko Kirby

Composting with Kiddos

By Faces of DUG

#29, Meet Luz, Master Composter, Mother, and Backyard Gardener

My paternal grandfather loved the garden and had this remarkable green thumb. He could throw seeds out onto the soil, and lo and behold, it would grow–whatever it may be. My earliest memories of being in the garden were in his garden, and I considered his yard to be the Garden of Eden. It was just so green with a ton of fruit trees, rose bushes, and lots of plants. He enjoyed it so much.

My dad also has a green thumb–not to the extent that my grandfather did–but he enjoyed it as well. We just had a lot of family time in the garden; taking care of our yard was a family activity. Saturday mornings we would wake up, have breakfast, and then would all get into our gardening gear. And we would go outside to spend time caring for our plants.

I feel as though DUG has been around as long as I’ve been alive and living in Denver.

A couple of years ago though, I did come across an article about how DUG was accepting applications for the Master Composting program. I thought, ‘You know what, I don’t know much about composting, and it sounds pretty interesting.’ I’d always wanted to have a garden. At the time, we had tried to do a garden in our backyard, but our backyard was so tiny. So I decided to start by learning about having healthy soil and submitted my application.

I had the opportunity to come in for an interview, and it was very refreshing. And that was it – I started the program! Judy Elliott, Senior Education Specialist at DUG, had said that we were the largest class in history. So I thought, ‘Wow, we’re setting history already!’ And, then history hit us again, with COVID. 

My season was cut in half, and our class was given the option to continue working in the community and do some work in the gardens, but we knew it was going to be very limited. Many class members dropped off, but I signed up to be the worm nanny. This was actually my first hands-on learning, and I cared for these worms over the summer.

When we were setting up the garden, Judy let us take some of the compost that we had removed from the worm bins. And she offered for us to take some of the casings home. We picked out the worms to see if we could start our own little worm bin.

I came home so excited! I gathered the family in the backyard and we pulled out a mat to dump the casings on. We took turns trying to pick out as many worms and eggs as we could.  It prompted me also to take the worms to my kiddos’ classrooms. 

When I had my children, for several years, I was a single mother with two children. There were times when food was just really precious– it was something that I really grew to appreciate. I’ve taught my children to value it, and we have a very special connection with food. It’s one thing to appreciate it on your plate or to save for leftovers, but then it’s another to appreciate how the food got to our plate.

I think that was really a turning point–experiencing my own kids enjoying caring for the worms, learning about the cycle of life that the worms go through, what happens to our food, and how we add it back into our gardens to create new food. 

My husband had taken a stab at gardening before the class, and we had tried some gardening. Unfortunately, nothing really grew, and it was kind of an epic-fail of a garden. At the time I had already signed up for DUG’s Master Composting class, hoping to get new knowledge on how to care for my plants.

Our first year, we started with a handful of vegetables, but we also had a pumpkin patch. This pumpkin patch, it took over the yard! We were only thinking about half of them would come up, and we ended up with all 12 pumpkin plants–they just grew, and grew, and grew! We took our biggest pumpkins to a state competition, and our little ones took 1st place – our biggest one was 104 pounds! The kiddos still have their ribbons.

It’s been really eye-opening for my children. It was eye-opening for me too, and I’m nearly 40! My kids were able to engage in this new appreciation for where food comes from.

Then, I had a chance to volunteer in my kiddos’ classrooms. This fall, I came back at the beginning of the year and both classrooms asked if they could start their own worm bins. My husband and I offered to donate the bins, and we’re using those same DUG baby worms that started our family off. 

Later, I was invited by DUG to show them what I was doing in the classroom. Rob Payo, Director of Youth Education, heard about what I was doing for my kiddo’s classes and invited me to talk through my lesson plan – and then they offered me an opportunity to be part of their public school, Denver Public School (Early Childhood Education) ECE programs. 

Now I’m going into ECE classrooms and teaching them about Verma Composting. I am a first-generation American born –my first language is Spanish – and the composting classes that I’m teaching to ECE in Denver Public Schools, I can teach both in Spanish and English.

We break it up into two different sessions in each classroom. The first one, we’re just introducing them to the worms, talking to them about how to care for worms, the fact that they are living, and that they require care, food, water, and a nice little bed. Then, I’ll be returning back to those classrooms and leaving worm bins in the classrooms that opted to have one. 

It’s been a blessing for our family, and I’m setting a way of life that will encourage my children to compost in their households, and maybe it’ll be something my children and grandchildren will remember. I think children are so blessed to be able to still have that fresh set of eyes and fresh perspective that we take for granted. You forget the little things in life are what’s important.

Gardening means a lot to me; I feel so connected to our planet, as well as to my grandfather, when I can grow in my garden. It’s all been organic. It’s so natural, and that’s what makes it easy.

Hopefully, in my kiddos’ lifetime, everyone will be composting.  It just repeats itself, so I’m spreading the word on how each one of us has a responsibility and the ability to make some small changes in our lives for our planet.

Interested in applying to be a Master Composter? Classes start February 28, 2022! Learn more and apply here.

More Faces of DUG

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Inspiring lifelong curiosity through gardening

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"I come from Africa. I like gardening so much because my parents were farmers in my country where I was born and they had a big farm. They taught me…

Manifest Destiny, Gentleness, and the Final Frontier

By Embodied Equity

Can you be a little gentler?

I ask myself,
my family
my friends
my dentist
my country
my world.

Can you be a little gentler?

I am asked by my mom,
by trans people
by people new to the US and to English
by people younger than me
by Gaia, Pachamama, Mother Earth
by life itself.

The answer is I can be. Whether or not I will be is another question…

Manifest destiny was my failed attempt at gentleness.

I wanted a life that was gentler than the one I had. I craved the power to own my life so I could force life to be gentle to me. I ventured out into unfamiliar landscapes to conquer “new” worlds. I went out in search of ownership.

I did not realize that ownership did not require an outward journey. What I longed for was already housed inside of me. An inner landscape I could mold and shape as I saw fit. An inner landscape of interpretations I could mold to be the coziest home. An inner landscape of beliefs I could shape to be gentle in every way I needed.

The challenge of owning landscapes outside of myself is that the land is not mine alone. I can not own them. They are the commonwealth. The commonwealth exists for all to benefit from, enjoy, care for, and tend to.

When I focus on everything outside of myself, I lose focus on everything inside of myself. Everything inside of me does not seem like much inside a traumatized worldview, a colonized worldview. Inside my colonized worldview I experience the deficit of everything I have lost. So my everything seems like nothing.

I play out this deficit with imposter syndrome or arrogance; the act of over-performing my value to prove it exists. The root of the experience of deficit snakes back to where I lost the land where my people are buried.

My homeland. The soil where my people danced, loved, married, created life, died, alchemized into soil that blossomed into life that danced, loved, married, created life, died, and blossomed again, and again, and again in an unceasing tidal wave of life.

My homeland was swollen with the abundance of this endless process of enriching the land with life, love, and death.

Down at the level of soil, my homeland was my people. The soil of my homeland contains all my people who were, waiting to nourish all my people who would be. This rolling wave of life, enlivened by death, spilled endlessly forward. When the wave of life washed over my new and tender skin, I was welcomed into my lineage.

But I am a wave of life who knows only deficit. I have no memory of my life before scarcity.

I cannot hear the abundance of which Indigenous people speak. Indigenous people say sacred land, but colonized people hear important land. We think, “Yeah. It’s important to me too. I’m going to build condos here and make a lot of money.”

We cannot hear the word sacred. It is too abundant to exist inside the scarcity of a traumatized worldview. For now, the meaning of sacred land is beyond my comprehension. 

Sacred includes everything. In trauma, I reject aspects of myself and my life to survive but, in doing so, I lose my connection to those aspects. I lose my connection to everything that lives inside me. Without my connection to everything, I lose my connection to sacredness, which includes everything.

The void of deficit seeks fullness. Looking inward offers solutions, but they are wrapped in terrifying packaging; Shame, terror, grief. There might be everything inside, but who would unwrap such a gift?

The longing for everything and sacredness aches deeper still. Who am I? Why am I? There must be a gentler answer than the one that stalks me. It cannot be true that I am nothing

I refuse to look inwards, so I look outwards. I dream of owning everything outside of me. Everything outside of me is a pale facsimile of what I truly want, but I am willing to settle.  Inside, the boarded-up ghost towns of my inner landscape house a dust-covered prize wrapped in forboding packaging: ownership of my life.

But I am looking outward…

Having run out of land to conquer on Earth, my hungry eyes turn towards the stars. I will make it to Mars, and then everything will be better. I chant it until I believe it. The chant builds into a religious fervor. I am enraptured by everything I will find in this newest “new” world.

I have forgotten the many final frontiers I have already conquered. I have forgotten that I never find my prize in the new “new” worlds.

I conquered “new” worlds as many cultures in many times.

I was not taught history. I do not know the wave of devastation that washed over my battle-hardened skin each time the newest “new” world did not give me everything I hoped it would.

I learned through my own devastation. I do not find what I truly want outside of myself.

I gently turn my focus from the zealous drive outward to the abandoned landscape within. It is time to go on a quest through this inner landscape, unwrap my terrifying gifts, claim my prize, and level up.

I wrap my courage in a cloak of forgiveness. This adventure will not be perfect.

This adventure will be worth it. On this quest, I will win more than gold I leave behind or my place in a history that won’t be taught. I am on a quest to win the gold that can never be taken from me. 

I win a sparkling clarity about my sacred place of honor in the universe and the sacred place of honor reserved for those around me. I find sacredness.

My gold shines like the sun.

I begin to embrace everything in my inner landscape. Naturally and easily I release the old plan; to oppress the outer landscape and its inhabitants and force life to be gentle to me. I do not need the outer world, the commonwealth, to be under my control. I do not need it to be perfectly manicured or 86 degrees.

I do not need the outer landscape to agree with my views on political or social issues. The outer landscape can be how it is, and I still experience gentleness.

The gentleness comes from inside, my ancestors chuckle. Life is funny sometimes. By turning inward towards what was always there, I found everything I was searching for.

I know now that everything inside of me is no meager offering. I see myself as the sacred everything I have always been.

By engaging with everything inside of me, the exhilaration of power and endless expansion is mine to embrace and enjoy. I am not hurting anyone and no one can stop me from owning everything.

So in answer to the question, Can you be more gentle? Yes. I can and I will.

I have ownership over everything, so today I will make everything gentler.

Reflection Questions:

In what ways is everything you want wrapped up in a feeling like fear, shame, or grief?

In what ways could you respond with gentleness to everything inside yourself?

Enjoy this Tinydesk concert by Raveena that exudes gentleness.

Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman, focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me.  Learn more here.

A Letter from Linda: A Year in Review

By News

What a year. In so many very big ways. 

Happy 2022 – May this year be filled with bountiful health, happiness and joy as we settle into another year of uncertainty. And fingers crossed that you had a peaceful end of the year that is not too far off in your rear view mirror.

Sadly, 2021 ended painfully for those impacted by the double tragedies in our community. It can be hard to hold our heads high when things feel so heavy, but I have been inspired by the immediate community response providing support and love. Our hearts go out to those affected.

We enter 2022 with hope while processing the litany of climate disasters which is making things feel very real – driving home the high impact nature of the work we do at DUG. We support our community in growing healthy, nutrient-rich food, digging in the dirt, healing the soil, sequestering carbon, and capturing rainwater by providing the resources and support to do this critical work. In community.

When individual humans reconnect to the earth, their food, and each other, the foundation of everything gets reinforced making us all stronger, more resilient, and more connected.

I am as passionate about this work as ever and believe that we need to inspire everyone to grow their own.

I’m just over a year in at Denver Urban Gardens, I look back on 2021 with awe of what Team DUG has accomplished and boundless enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

We spent 2021 strengthening the foundation of this organization. With 190 community gardens across six counties in metro Denver, we realized (with input from DUG stakeholders and partners) that we needed to provide a higher level of on the ground support to ensure that each and every DUG garden was resourced to thrive. However, with only one person overseeing the human infrastructure and one overseeing the physical infrastructure at the time, we realized we needed more “juice.” 

So we kicked off two new DUG initiatives – the Baseline Infrastructure Initiative (BII) and the DUG Corps. 

The BII identified gardens that demonstrated the most need – improvement, repairs or addition of physical structures and garden leadership. In the spring, we expected we’d be able to reach 10 gardens but ended up reaching 25 with the enthusiastic support of our funding community who got behind this work. 2022 will bring even more improvements to more gardens, including the addition of sustainability features thanks to the largest-ever grant given by engineering firm HDR!

We also piloted the DUG Corps, our green workforce. With a cohort of 3, we were able to visit every single garden in our vast network, organize educational and social events for every Micro Network (there are 7 total), and hear the voice of our gardeners in a way we haven’t been able to in years since our rapid expansion.

All pretty magical stuff.

Our signature food access program, Grow a Garden, had a strong year (we sold out of kits) and is unveling exciting improvements & enhancements in 2022! Learn about the changes we’re making to the program here

Last but not least, DUG Education flourished, teaching kids and grownups alike about the wonders of getting outside and growing your own food. We have expanded our scope to include Early Childhood Education (ECE),  acknowledging that so many behaviors get established at a very young age and that parent involvement is highest with the youngest children.  We realized our work could be even more impactful by bringing this adorable population into the fold. So far we’ve done compost classes for the littles (worms in hands) and are are planning full menu of activities to get the little ones digging in the dirt and eating their vegetables!

Thank you for your support this year. Things are changing quickly, and the value of our work keeps growing. We are built on community and look forward to making the most out of 2022 in partnership.

Please get involved with DUG in a new way this year! Maybe garden with us, take a class or workshop, connect with other gardeners at DUG Online, give back to your community, or support our work.  We are honored to be in this together.

With Gratitude,
Linda Appel Lipsius

The Garden in January

By A Year in the Garden, Education

Written by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

Looking out my window in early January, I am reminded of past seasons when the desire to put my hands deep into the frozen soil is overwhelming. Even though my ability to do that cherished occurrence is still months away, I continue to realistically welcome each moment of increasing daylight and intensity of the warming sun. Daily perusals of my landscape provide me with affirmations of resilience as I notice the bare whispers of buds on the contorted outlines of succulents whose origins are in South Africa, and are now thriving in Denver.

And I return to the power of dreams as I focus on January.

D | Focus on diversity 

The healthiest and most productive gardens mimic healthy communities by bringing together diverse vegetables, herbs and flowers that contribute to the overall strength of growth. Investigate diverse planting styles (permaculture, companion planting (i.e. the ‘Three Sisters’ growing of corn, beans and squash together) that celebrate the wisdom of the ages.

R | Review your garden plans 

Remember to rotate garden crops to a different area in your plot (especially important for tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant. If you haven’t already developed a garden plot plan and incorporate designated ‘walkways’ between rows to dimmish areas of soil compaction around plant roots. Feet do belong in gardens. They just need a place to dance!

E | Encourage participation of others

Be realistic regarding what you like to eat, your life commitments outside of the garden, your abilities to maintain a garden space throughout the season. Utilize the immense fountain of knowledge in a community garden. Develop friendships and lists of people you can turn to for advice.

A | Activate your garden dreams

Join DUG Online to access the creative power of our gardening community. Our virtual commons connects novices and more seasoned gardeners, upcoming events and courses that can further your earth journey.

M | Maintain a base of optimism, based in reality 

The ground is frozen, but roots of perennials and trees are actively growing, opening up air channels for diverse soil – dwelling macro and microorganisms to proliferate. Denver’s last frost is typically around May 8th – 15th but early spring crops such as salad greens, radish, green onions, carrots, and beets can often be planted in early April. Note: Water in community gardens is usually not turned on until May.

Remember that the best gardeners grow slowly, like a rich compost. Take a walk outside and begin turning over leaves to experience the miracle of emerging crocus, snowdrops and other spring bulbs by the end of the month.

2022 Grow a Garden Program Updates

By News

When the pandemic first hit in April of 2020, DUG responded to the immediate need for people to access nutritious food with new To-Grow Boxes, garden kits that made it easy for families to start growing their own organic food at home.

Over the last two years, we’ve distributed more than 1,100 To Grow Boxes along with more than 20,000 seedlings +50,000 seedlings in our longstanding food access program, Grow a Garden (which has been going strong since 1997!). During that time, we asked program participants to share more about their needs and what they like about the programs.

This year, we’re excited to share that we are combining the most successful elements of each program to bring a new and improved Grow a Garden program.

This year, participants can select from 5 different
Grow A Garden Kits.

In order to continue to serve the largest number of community members who rely on this vital program to access fresh and unprocessed food, we are streamlining the order by offering participants five different kit options that contain seeds and seedlings of veggies, herbs, and flowers that work well together. 

Salsa Garden Kit
Pizza Garden Kit
Epic Salad Garden Kit
Fried + Fermented Garden Kit
Thai Garden Kit 

Applications will open Feb 1st and stay open until we are sold out of kits. 

Historically we’ve opened applications for the Grow a Garden program in January of each year. In 2022, the application will go live on February 1st and will accept applications for both groups and individuals on a rolling basis until all Grow A Garden Kits have been claimed.

By extending the program launch and deadline, we’re able to ensure further outreach to communities to ensure folks know about the availability of this program. 

We’re ensuring consistent seed quality.

All of the seeds for our 2022 program are coming from Botanical Interests seed company (out of Broomfield, CO!) rather than relying on a variety of seed donations as in previous seasons. This helps us ensure that all participants know what they’re expecting and we are able to maximize the consistency and quality of our seeds.

We’ve streamlined the distribution window.

Instead of having distribution spaced out over two months between March for seeds and May for seedlings, we’re combining order distribution into one week to ensure all pickups happen in mid-May

We’re expanding education + support offerings.

We know that just equipping folks with seeds and seedlings isn’t enough to ensure a successful bounty. That’s why we’re including our Plant Care Growing Guide with every kit, which offers custom plot planting layouts and expert advice to help you grow your skills as you grow your garden. 

We’re also continuing to expand DUG Online, our virtual community forum where you can meet other gardeners, ask questions, get advice from our gardening pros, and come together in community around the love of growing!

We also hope you will join us for the inaugural Great Day of Planting – a city-wide day of planting on May 14th!

Join with thousands of gardeners–backyards to rooftops to community gardens– and get your garden started!

We’re bringing the idea of ‘gardening in community’ to life with the goal of getting 10,000 people to pledge to grow a garden this year! After a morning spent at work planting, gardeners are invited to meet up for an amazing afternoon of family-friendly connection with fellow neighborhood gardeners!

Lot’s more details to come, but mark your calendars now!  

2021 Youth Education Highlights

By News

It has been a big year for youth education at Denver Urban Gardens! We continue to believe that the lessons offered in a garden are life changing for children of all backgrounds.

Through our programs and resources for young people, students experience the wonders of a garden with opportunities for hands-on lessons in: health, earth and life sciences, math, literacy, social science and community building. Read on to see what’s new with DUG’s Youth Education as we head into the new year!

Growing Gardeners Initiative

DUG aspires to provide children with experiences in community gardens that cultivate a sense of wonder, awe, and appreciation. 

Through DUG’s youth education programs, we have created a long-term initiative called Growing Gardeners, with the intent of designing programming for children at key points in their development, providing memorable and meaningful experiences for youth in the garden. We see DUG gardens as a place for children, especially young ones, to learn about the interconnections of nature in real-time, with kids getting dirty digging in the dirt and being outside for health and well-being. Gardens provide places for unstructured, experiential, sensory – based learning that involve children holistically in their education process, allowing them to view learning as a cycle, deepening their roots of understanding.

For older children and teens, the garden is a place to experience the value of living in community and to further establish life-long habits eating healthy foods. Teens have the opportunity to build skills that lead to future employment and to deepen their understanding of where our food comes from and the injustices within our systems when it comes to accessing healthy food. Teenagers discover that there is value to nature – based exploration beyond what can be gained indoors on their electronic devices.

DUG is working with Centrality Reearch, a community-centric organization, to evaluate our efforts as we develop relevant and meaningful programs for our youth audiences.Some key partners that have made this project possible include Denver Public Schools (DPS), PEBC, Catholic Charities, Clayton Early Learning, and the Colorado ECE to Farm Coalition. Funding for this initiative is being supported this year by grant funds from the City and County of Denver Healthy Food for Denver’s Kids Initiative, USDA, and the DPS Foundation of Denver Public Schools.

Teacher Training Cohort

For the 2021-2022 school year, DUG is also collaborating with a cohort of twelve teachers from elementary schools in Denver Public Schools within DUG’s school-based community garden network: Fairview, Goldrick, Maxwell, Sabin, and Escuela Valdez.

The year started with a kick-off workshop in September, developed in partnership with PEBC, a national leader in teacher professional development, and focused on addressing this question:  In what ways might we engage learners in garden-based science that grows their identities as scientists and invites them to inquire?

DUG is meeting with these dedicated teachers monthly throughout the school year, and the action research consists of implementing strategies to improve their teaching practice, in particular in science teaching while also utilizing the garden as an outdoor learning space. With this sharing of ideas and resources, our intention is to help teachers be more comfortable with teaching outdoors, using the garden as a space for learning especially when it comes to teaching science. 

Cooking Classes with Slow Food Denver

In partnership with Slow Food Denver, DUG is supporting students in upper elementary grades with cooking classes. During the height of the pandemic, these classes were offered to students virtually, and the students learned how to cook meals in their homes, often cooking with their parents and caretakers. These classes have continued into this school year with face-to-face classes. With the support of HFDK funds, DUG was able to support 186 students, providing 1,456 meals.

Farmer Dave Video Series

In the digital realm, we’ve partnered with Farmer Dave and Friends and PBS12 to release a series of educational videos about botanical learning. These videos range from how DUG uses rainwater in our gardens to making friends and singing garden songs.

Summer Teen Interns

Through a partnership with Groundwork Denver, DUG hosted 7 high school interns working in DUG gardens this summer.. These local teens pulled weeds, planted, watered, and composted in 9 of the 12 gardens in their own neighborhood.  To supplement their learning, DUG hosted sessions for the students in cooking, creative writing, video production, a garden tour at Mental Health Center of Denver, and a special cooking class with DJ Cavem.

Intern Spotlight: Meet Ty Scott

Ty Scott grew up in the Sun Valley neighborhood and attended Fairview Elementary, the home of DUG’s oldest school-based community garden. Recently, Ty, now 17 years old, reconnected with Senior Education Specialist, Judy Elliott, remembering the classes Judy used to teach at Fairview when Ty was a child. This summer, DUG hired Ty to work in the Fairview garden, tending to several plots for the past six months and learning how to garden with Judy. Ty is passionate about growing plants and the importance of eating healthy. He’s a student at the Academy of Urban Learning in Denver and currently works at the new Decatur Fresh Market in Sun Valley. Ty is also featured in a new video series DUG is supporting that features Farmer Dave on PBS.

Vermicomposting Classes

Master Composter Luz Croghan is taking her skills in composting into the classroom for DUG, running programs for kids ages 3-5 at our partnering schools. Students are able to learn about vermicomposting, getting an up close and personal look at red wiggler worms and how compost is made. As part of these classes, teachers also have the opportunity to get their own worm bin to start composting at their school.  Luz offers the program in English or Spanish.  For more information, contact us at

Colorado Gives Day 2021

By News

Colorado Gives Day, Colorado’s largest annual day of giving, is right around the corner! We invite you to support our growing movement as we plant the seeds for an abundant 2022. 

Supporting DUG on Colorado Gives Day is an investment in greater food security, deeply connected communities, and a greener metro Denver full of thriving people with the skills and resources to build a localized, thriving, healthy food system.

By making a gift on Colorado Gives Day, your donation’s impact is increased by counting toward earning us a part of the $1.265 million Colorado Gives Day Incentive Fund! All participating Colorado Gives Day nonprofits earn a percentage of the fund, so the more we raise, the more we get!

In 2021, utilizing funds from 2020’s Colorado Gives Day, we have been able to make vital impact across Metro Denver, including: 

  • Improving equity across our gardens by increasing accessibility to 25+ gardens through our Baseline Infrastructure Initiative
  • Adding key workforce development positions with the inception of our apprenticeship program and the DUG Corps
  • Activating gardeners to donate more than 66,000 pounds of food 
  • Distributing more than 15,000 seedlings through the Grow a Garden program and the Baseline Infrastructure Initiative 
  • Launching our new volunteer platform to better engage our more than 900 volunteers who gave over 2,000 hours towards their communities 
  • Providing 1,456 meals and supporting 186 students with healthy cooking classes in 6 schools through local partnerships
  • Offering organic education to more than 1,027 community members

When you give to DUG, your support goes beyond just the garden bed, but into the community for a lifetime.

Healing Oppression, Honoring Ancestors, and Watching the Leaves Change

By Embodied Equity

Winter is coming, and the leaves are painted with their imminent death. A patchwork of orange and red, flashes of green overtaken by browns, greys, and spots of black.

We give dying flowers, not flower buds, as a sign of love. We give flowers closer to death because that is when they are most beautiful. I live in a society that fears death; thinks it’s ugly and unclean. We do our best to hide it and hide from it.

Despite our fear, the process of transformation that includes death is so beautiful we are mesmerized by it, enchanted by it, drawn to it. We drive for miles to watch the leave “change.” To watch the leaves die.

Dying leaves are in process, in movement. As orange overtakes green, we hear the whispers of ancient stories of cycle, change, and transformation. We are soothed as we watch the leaves die. Soothed by the truth of their story. Truth is beauty.

The truth is life will change and transform.

It may hurt or take me to an outcome I do not understand, like death. But something is going right when life changes, not wrong. The leaves remind me of the beauty inherent in the aspects of life I do not like or understand.

Despite my protests, life changes and transforms. To life, change is movement and movement is good. Stagnation, the lack of movement, might be considered bad. If such binaries even exist.

Stagnation is putrid; the place wounded skin turns green, and slime gathers. My unhealed trauma cannot see this. To my unhealed trauma, stagnation feels safe. I slow life down. I freeze it. I keep it still. I keep an eye on it…

Change and transformation are alive. For my trauma, aliveness is too wild. It is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Aliveness appears threatening inside a traumatized worldview. A colonized worldview.

Inside this worldview, I do not trust life– I fight life. I do not trust change– I fight change. I do not trust transformation– I fight transformation. I do not trust death– I fight death.

Fighting life has been my way of life. I fought the reality of loss, the reality of my own humanity (my feelings), and the reality of other human beings. I fought and I won.

I won climate change, systems of oppression, and tension and inflammation in my body. My body called Leanne. My body called Humanity. My body called Mother Earth.

My shoulders sag under the weight of my trophies.

Recently, I have noticed the leaves of oppression are changing. Change and transformation are doing their sacred work; they are healing.

Healed is wonderful. Healing is a tender, pus-filled, inflamed, and scary endeavor.

Everywhere I look, I see healing. People are inflamed. They are tender and raw. They are digging into their wounds to remove the debris. They are allowing the healing process to transform their wounds into scars.

I do not always remember that we are healing. Sometimes it looks like something is wrong. I root around in my own raw and tender flesh to pluck out the shards that prevent my healing. The pain is unbearable. Something must be wrong.

I keep digging because I know that something is right. I am cleaning the wound so the process of change will seal it closed completely. Later, I will marvel at how smooth the scar is. Barely noticeable.

Today, the shards I find in my wound are my fear about the fragility of my human body, my shame that I am not good enough and never will be, and my panic that I am utterly and unfixably alone.

Today, I am with family. As someone with an unhealed wound full of piercing shards of fear, shame, and panic, I become a dangerous and oppressive person in an instant.

Living with glass in an unhealed wound is an intense way to live. When someone innocently touches my arm, I yelp in pain and smack their hand away. I feel involuntary and intensely defensive.

I promise myself I will stay calm. I mediate. I am going to succeed this time. Then, it happens: someone shares a belief.

The argumentative and self-righteous tone of my voice is deafening. I barely hear what happens next. I watch the trainwreck, bewildered by how quickly I lost control. My ears are ringing.

When I find myself again, I am sicked by my aggressive expressions of pain. I retreat to a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened. I sift through the wound, find each shiny splinter, and cry.

My defensiveness feels involuntary. A family member tells me what they believe about life, and I yell before I notice I am yelling.

Over time, as I remove the glass and the wounds begin to heal, I become less and less injured. I am no longer reactive when people share their beliefs.

When the wound is healed, there is nothing sharp in me to poke. I do not yelp when someone’s life touches mine. A loved one believes something and I am unharmed. There is no shard of panic to be poked. I do not feel unbearably alone, so I do not feel desperate to force agreement and avoid the pain of isolation.

I have a spacious and rational inner dialogue about how I want to respond. Sometimes I respond simply by feeling the grief, fear, or alienation that arises when I notice that they believe what they believe.

This is a shift out of my oppressive behavior into liberatory behavior. In the worldview of trauma that was institutionalized into oppressive systems, I seek to control anything that I view as more powerful than me.

It looks as if someone else’s belief makes me lose my cool. It looks like their belief is stronger than me so I fight it, control it, suppress it.

I only seek to control and suppress that which seems more powerful than me. I never oppress kittens. I am not afraid of them. But when a lion walks by, I begin to ponder the value of cages.

Maybe I grab a whip, just in case. Hurting others is justified inside this worldview. Hurting others feels like a defensive action and any defensive action is justified. Worse still, any offensive action looks like a defensive action inside this worldview. A preemptive strike is valid, justified, and clearly a good idea.

I see how we arrived at this point in human history. There is still glass in the wound so it does not heal. As a result, everyone looks like a threat.

The time, space, and safety to heal was not available for my ancestors, or for yours. There was survival to do and kids to feed. The losses, grief, fear, and shame were overwhelming. It takes time in a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened and begin to heal.

Our ancestors could not heal quickly just because they needed to. They could not stop the movement of life just because they were not ready. They did their best. They stifled their feelings and needs and slaved away. They became tough as nails.

They offered their labor as a human sacrifice. A living prayer in exchange for a future blessing: A better life for their children and grandchildren.

It worked. We reaped the blessing of time, space, and safety that they sowed. A cushion of privilege they never had. We used it to heal and become artists instead of doctors.

They do not understand us now, and we do not understand them. As children and grandchildren, we see our grandparents’ toughness and their refusal to accept help and we think they are too hard. Our grandparents see our expressiveness and our ability to rest and they think we are too soft.

May they remember that this is what they wanted for us. May we endlessly sing gratitude for their living sacrifice. May we all benefit from the time, space, and safety to bring movement to stagnation, pick the glass from our wounds, and heal.

I see now. It was my grandparents’ job to be unbreakable, and it is my job to break in every way that they could not. To rip off the bandages, dig into the unhealed wounds, and feel every last sliver of feeling they could not feel.

I give honor and respect to my ancestors and yours.

May our healing bring you healing. May our softness wash back through time to cushion you. May you be at peace knowing you accomplished your goal, and we will accomplish ours.

The leaves are changing and I am grateful and terrified to be alive.

Join Leanne at her annual New Year’s Day Event and
begin 2022 with healing and intention.

Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman, focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me.  Learn more here.

The Garden in December

By A Year in the Garden, Education

There is nothing typical about Denver weather, and 2021 is proving to be the year that surpasses expectations in terms of drought, heat, and other manifestations of climate change.

Now, more than ever, it’s the time to plan, prepare for, and play our part to deepen our connection to the regenerative power of the earth. This also is the season for us to focus on our ROOTS.

R: Remember the past growing season by:

  • Making a simple garden map showing what you planted, its location in the garden and any companions it had (flowers, herbs)
  • Be mindful of garden challenges: (heat, insects, diseases, drought)
  • Was the garden utilized spring through fall?

O: Organize and clean any garden tools, sharpening edges of pruners, shovels and garden hoes, removing rust, and oiling wooden handles

O: Order fresh seeds if needed.

Typically, if stored in a cool, dry location, most veggie seeds, (other than lettuce, green onions, bulbing onions & leeks that lose viability after several years) can be successfully planted for the upcoming season. Order seed catalogs in December to expand your field of dreams. Some favorite selections include:

T: Treasure the gifts that each season brings.

Continue to:

  • Care for the soil by piling more leaves or straw on top of growing areas, to promote increased organic matter as they decompose over the winter season
  • Water fall-planted garlic once monthly if not adequately covered by snow
  • Deep water those treasured trees and perennial plants

S: Share your increasing garden knowledge, extra preserved garden harvest goodies with neighbors, friends, and others in your community.

Most of all, know that as we continue to nurture our growing areas, we are also nurtured in a sense of purpose and place.

Connect with other gardeners and plan your springtime garden in DUG Online.