All Posts By

Niko Kirby

We’re kicking off our Listening Tour 2.0!

By News

In the summer of 2020, DUG held our first Listening Tour to engage a variety of stakeholders including gardeners, program participants, garden leaders, workshop attendees, board members, educators and the broader community.

After connecting with hundreds of people through surveys and interviews, we partnered with CSU graduate students to identify critical feedback that vital in reorienting DUG’s Vision Mission and Values in 2021. Information from the Listening Tour also shaped new initiatives and programs such as the Baseline Infrastructure Initiative, DUG Corps, Micro Network events, and more robust leadership for Garden Leaders, among others.  

To build on the positive momentum of our first Listening Tour, this summer we’re launching our ‘Listening Tour 2.0‘ across 6 DUG Gardens, specifically targeting groups we may have missed the first time, including educators (who were BUSY during the pandemic!), folks with a first language other than English, and those who may have had difficulty participating in an online survey due to technical barriers.

DUG is proud to be a community-led organization; constant feedback loops are necessary in all our systems and processes. In order to help us build capacity amongst staff to engage in this work, DUG has partnered with Centrality Research, a team specializing in bringing a community-driven voice to organizational decision-making. In May of this year, DUG staff and DUG Corps participated in an Engaging Community Through Conversation training led by Centrality Research in order to continue to develop our team’s community engagement skills as they relate to gathering, using, synthesizing, and implementing community feedback.

We want to dream alongside our communities about all the ways our organization can be a catalyst for community connection, relationship-building, and the shared vision of gardens as spaces of belonging. 

One of our goals for this Listening Tour is to reduce barriers to participating in feedback sharing. Our six listening sessions will provide food, tandem children’s activities, interpretation (as needed), and each participant will receive a $25 gift card to King Sooper for participation. 

We appreciate you being along for the journey as DUG continues to live our values of earning trust, demonstrating integrity, embracing equity, building community and inspiring curiosity. We are listening. And we can’t wait to hear from you. We look forward to sharing the findings of our Listening Tour 2.0 later this year. 

Welcome DUG’s 1st Advisory Council | National Thought Leadership

By News

Denver Urban Gardens has spent several decades building a robust network of community gardens across metro Denver.  We are thrilled to announce the DUG Advisory Council, composed of nationally and globally recognized experts!

Advisory Council members provide guidance and thought partnership to DUG senior leadership and lift up our work through their networks. We also ask them from time to time to engage in educational opportunities and fundraising events.

Thank you to our 1st Advisory Council Members:

Dana Bryson | Senior Vice President, Social Impact at Study.com

X

Zach Bush, MD | Physician, Research Scientist, Entrepreneur and internationally recognized educator and thought leader

X

Steve Culbertson | President & CEO at Youth Service America

X

Robert Egger | Nonprofit/Power Of Food Advocate & Dedicated Elder Ally

X

Ryland Englehart | Co-Founder + Executive Director at Kiss The Ground

X

Beverly Grant | Founder, Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace

X

Daniela Ibarra-Howell | CEO and Co-Founder, Savory Institute

X

Jeff Krasno | Co-Founder, CEO + Podcast Host at Commune; Co-Founder + Executive Chairman at Wanderlust; Author; Conscious Capitalist

X

Roxanne Moore | Executive Director, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation

X

Robert Reiman | CEO for the Giving Grove

As the organization evolves, we have identified six pillars of our work that go far beyond gardening:

Climate Change
Community
Health & Wellness
Skill Building
Food Access & Sovereignty
Foodways

As we go deeper on these high-impact topics, we seek to both share our voice and hear from voices working in these critical areas beyond our hometown.

We Can’t Wait to See You at Gather ‘Round 2022

By News

Gather ‘Round, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG)’s annual gala, is a celebration of our gardens’ bounty as we welcome the harvest season, and has been a community tradition for over a decade.

This year’s event will be co-hosted by Denver food legends Pete Turner, Dana Rodriguez, and Brad Reubendal. For the first time EVER, we’ll be recognizing and uplifting the work of local and national changemakers with our DUG Impact Awards.

Join us as we celebrate the cross-sector work of individuals, government organizations, NGOs, and coalitions working alongside DUG as we pursue our vision of a sustainable urban future where people are deeply and directly connected to the earth, each other, and the food they eat.

Impact Award Winners:

Ancestral Foodways – Spirit of the Sun
Climate Action – HDR
Community Building – Denver Parks and Recreation
Food Access + Sovereignty – Denver Community Food Access Coalition
Health + Wellness – Zach Bush, MD
Skill Building + Education – Chris Woodburn, Denver Public Schools

Join us on September 8 at Upper Larimer Events in RiNo!

YOU’LL ENJOY
Luxurious seasonal plant-based fare from supper club superstars,
The Easy Vegan
+
Live music from Americana/Colorado roots band,
David Lawrence & the Spoonful

+

craft cocktails, exclusive silent auction items, a wine wall, and lots of community fun!

Grab your tickets now

Sheet Mulching to Remove your Lawn: Why, When, and How

By Boundless Landscapes

I’ve made every gardening mistake in the books so you don’t have to!

By Jennifer “Fern” Deininger, Farmer & Gardener

Sheet mulching, also known as lasagna gardening, is an environmentally regenerative, relatively easy, and financially accessible way to turn a lawn into a garden. Sheet mulching doesn’t involve the use of machinery or tilling, but rather is a method of layering materials in your garden that compost in place (or “cook down”) over time to produce a rich, fluffy topsoil that is perfect for planting vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Sheet mulching can be used to fill a shallow raised bed, replace a patch of lawn with healthy soil for an in-ground garden, or kill weeds around perennial plants.

After the initial work of sourcing and laying out the ingredients, the sheet mulch breaks down over a period of a few months. (The sheet mulched area will need a few months to decompose before planting it up.) Rather than having a patch of your garden covered in compost, grass clippings, and leaves over the peak growing season, I recommend starting this process in the fall and letting it decompose over the winter. Before we talk about how to do it, it’s best if we cover a bit of compost 101.

Composting is a process in which organic materials are broken down by microorganisms in the presence of air (oxygen) and water. Given enough air, water, and microorganisms, the organic materials turn into a rich mixture of nutrients and good bacteria. Compost holds water much more efficiently than regular soil or bagged gardening soils and sinks carbon into the landscape. Compost requires browns (carbon-rich items like black and white newspaper, dried leaves, sawdust, and straw) and greens (nitrogen-rich items like green grass clippings, pruned parts of your vegetable plants, uncooked vegetable scraps like the tops of a carrot, and coffee grounds) with at least three times as many browns as greens.

When sheet mulching, we layer “greens” and “browns” that then decompose and compost in place over time. If you were to cut into your freshly laid down sheet mulch, it would look like a lasagna or layer cake, but over time it turns into a fully integrated mixture of compost that is perfect for planting. It’s important to note that the sheet mulch will also shrink down over time, meaning if you start with eight inches of material, it will decompose into a few inches of soil over time.

Once you’ve decided where you want to sheet mulch, it’s time to layer!

Layer 1: Start with a layer or two of brown cardboard. This cardboard will suppress weeds and grass, retain moisture to aid in the composting, and is a great snack for our beloved friends, the earthworms! Watering the cardboard will help it stay down if you’re working on a windy day and will help it decompose faster. It is important to remove all staples and non-compostable tape from the brown cardboard prior to use. The cardboard you use should be brown, rather than dyed.

Layer 2: Add half an inch to an inch of greens. Grass clippings are readily available and work well. It’s best to use grass clippings free of pesticides and pet waste, so source carefully.

Layer 3: Three inches of browns, such as straw, fine wood chips, and black and white newspaper shreds. Just make sure you don’t use hay, which often has seeds in it!

Layer 4: Repeat with greens and browns until you’ve reached the desired depth.

Top Layer: The top layer should be a mixture of topsoil, compost, and mulch. 

Make sure to water your sheet mulch heavily and leave it to decompose! Topsoil and compost are readily available at landscaping supply centers and local nurseries. If you plan to do a large area, consider using a garden calculator to figure out how many cubic yards of material you will need. 

In an arid climate like Colorado where topsoil can take a long time to form in nature, sheet mulching is a great way for homeowners and gardeners to maximize their positive impact on their ecosystem.

It can take 100-1,000 years for one inch of topsoil to form in nature, but by sheet mulching, we can help speed up that process to a few months. Due to the dry nature of our ecosystem, sheet mulching works well when done in the fall so it has ample snow and moisture over the winter as it cooks down. Come early summer, your garden will have shrunk down in size, composted in place, and it will be ready for whatever is next!

Note: Do not add any meat, dairy, oil, eggs, or manure to the garden beds.

You can book One-on-One coaching sessions at www.boundlesslandscapes.com/learn where $5 from every session will be donated to DUG. Happy growing!

Growing Gardeners with DUG featured in USDA Farm to School Newsletter

By Education, News

DUG’s new ECE Growing Gardeners Initiative brings younger children into the garden.

.The National Gardening Association reports huge increases in the number of people engaging in gardening, documenting over 18 million new gardeners in the US in 2021. Gardens encourage us to ‘slow down’ and appreciate the interconnected community of soil, plants, and critters while improving our mental health and wellbeing. For children, the garden provides opportunities for cultivating the wonder and joy of experiential learning while connecting to our lifegiving earth and soil.

Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) Growing Gardeners Initiative, a Fiscal Year 2021 Farm to School Turnkey Grantee, creates a system of resources for bringing younger children into the garden. Hands-on DUG lessons investigating composting worms under magnifying glasses, engaging in cooking and trying new foods in garden clubs, and planting seeds and seedlings for the season provide students with memorable time in the soil.

Studies show that exposure to gardens at a younger age increases the chance that children will continue to value healthy eating and gardening into adulthood. Working with a cohort of twelve Denver Public Schools early childhood educators, DUG provided year-long training to increase teachers’ comfort level in taking students outside and integrating gardens into their curricula.

The initiative’s first year has been a great success thanks to the commitment of these teachers. Additional lessons, webinars, and video content will be made available on DUG.org upon completion.

Children need unstructured physical activity. As they work to turn the soil and care fortheir baby plants, gardens serve as both guardian and nurturer–an outdoor classroom with quiet, secret places that allow kids to discover that as they care for a plant, they are also protected. They learn the importance of self, that their efforts are important, and that working together and respecting diversity is part of the process of growth.

Moving forward, DUG will support a new cohort of teachers with year-long programming.  Local grant funds will further deepen our efforts by incorporating sensory garden plots at selected DUG school-based community gardens.

Check out DUG’s feature in the USDA Farm to School newsletter here.

Our Garden Adoption Program Has Rooted!

By News

We are thrilled to share that DUG’s Adopt a Garden program has kicked off with tremendous success. 

This spring DUG launched our new Garden Adoption program as an opportunity to ensure all of our gardens are resourced (as identified in our Baseline Infrastructure Initiative) equitably, and we are thrilled to share that 20+ national and local organizations have invested in garden communities across the DUG network.

Their 3-year financial commitment to gardens ensures that they have the necessary resources to thrive by providing funding for infrastructure improvements, such as new pathways, plot borders, or water tanks, as well as for seasonal resources like compost, seedlings, and straw. 

As part of their adoption commitments, the organizations also have an opportunity to do a seasonal teambuilding workday in partnership with community members of the garden and care for a plot in the garden (if available). 

The gang from Illegal Pete’s (who adopted 7 gardens around Denver!) has a workday to tend their shared plot in the Baker Community Garden.

Denver City Council President (representing Far Northeast Denver District 11) Stacie Gilmore stopped by Montbello 5 Loaves to visit the garden during a recent workday.

Look out for these workdays in a garden near you!

Amazon recently held their workday at the Montbello Fives Loaves Community Garden. Brittany Morris Saunders, Head of Community Affairs for Amazon in Denver, shared  “We are delighted to see our partnership with Denver Urban Gardens at the Montbello Five Loaves Community Garden come to fruition. This invaluable resource not only provides healthy food to the community but also brings the neighborhood together for community building and educational opportunities.”

Our gardens sustain the neighborhoods in which we live by building community, regenerating the soil, providing the essential skills– including the ability to grow your own food– all while supporting health and wellness. It takes a village (or a garden) to help care for our great city and we deeply appreciate all of our garden adopters’ commitments to our community and the environment.

We look forward to deepening the roots of these amazing partnerships in the years to come!

Learn more about Garden Adoption here.

Meet the 2022 DUG Corps!

By News

This season, seven wonderful 2022 DUG Corps members are here to support DUG gardens and host Micro Network events. Please help us welcome Chris, Cydnie, Danielle, Lauren, Marisa, Tanisha, and Taylor – and look for them in a garden near you!

Chris Sell

Chris spent most of his life in the mountains of West Virginia and Maryland, but always hoped to venture west. After college, he moved to Denver seeking adventure, more time outdoors, and new opportunities. Upon arriving in Colorado, Chris followed his curiosity and started working for a major cannabis company as a horticulturist. During that time, he absorbed a wealth of knowledge about plant science, and his passion for plants truly blossomed. Ever since, Chris has devoured any resources he can find about gardening and permaculture, and he endeavors each summer to improve his own backyard garden. Chris is so excited to serve with DUG because he believes wholeheartedly in DUG’s mission, and feels grateful for the opportunity to connect with gardeners from his community.

Cydnie Wilson

Cydnie has recently returned to her home state of CO from the city/state where Agriculture is the number one industry, Kansas City, MO and Kansas City, Kansas. For 7 years, she dedicated her life in service to others in Hospitals as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Facing burnout from working on the Frontlines during the onset of the Pandemic in 2020 and 2021, she decided to shift gears. The Denverite has been an avid gardener in her young adult years, and realized it all started with gardening with her mother as a child. Her love for nature and the outdoors was only exacerbated by growing up in Colorado! Her father, a native New Yorker, became a "Black Cowboy" (in his heart, at least) when he moved to CO in the late 70's and could only spread his joy for the "Wild West" to his children--taking them skiing, horseback riding, camping, fishing, white water rafting and hiking whenever he could!

Cydnie now appreciates her CO upbringing more than ever (though she still isn't too fond of all the snow). She is proud to serve her home City in the DUG Corps. In her free time, when not tending to her own garden, Cydnie enjoys expressing herself in all things musically, and enjoys writing as well.

Danielle Peterson

Danielle grew up in rural Iowa. She has 15 years of marketing and project management experience. Her passion is aliveness and wishes to be a participatory human. Her love of plants, soil, and community brought her back into the DUG community in 2022 to fulfill her passions and be part of something united.

She completed DUG’s Master Gardener Program in 2010 to help a school garden she funded, developed, and taught at for over 10 years. Danielle also wrote her own garden curriculum in which she managed and taught for 10 years. All of this with kids eventually inspired her to start her own business in 2017 as a personal / ecopsychologist and yoga instructor for adult humans. Her greatest teachers have been plants….and it all started for her at a school garden.

She strongly believes that school and community gardens revitalize something and believes it helps bring nature to the human soul in an urban setting. Fast forward 20 years, she is now back at DUG wanting to serve the community.

Lauren Groth

Lauren is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She moved out to Denver two years ago to attend graduate school and just graduated with her M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Her favorite hobby is traveling and learning everything that she can about new areas.

Marisa Loury

Growing up in New Jersey with a food-loving Italian family, Marisa learned to celebrate community and express gratitude while sharing fresh, handmade meals. Starting off as a restaurant server, she quickly became passionate about cultivating an equitable and sustainable food system. While working and going to school in Burlington, Vermont, she campaigned alongside migrant farmworkers for labor and housing rights on dairy farms and moved to Denver in 2021 where she began coordinating gleans with UpRoot Colorado. Marisa holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Global Studies from the University of Vermont. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with friends, drawing, and riding her bike.

Tanisha Diggs

Tanisha S. Diggs lives in Aurora, Colorado and she is a current scholar with Kansas State University pursuing a B.S. in Animal Science and Industry-Production Management, anticipated graduation is May 2024. She is a new inductee of The Mortar Board Honor Society - who values scholarship, leadership & service to aid those in need. Tanisha found her affinity for animal care early in childhood and began pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. She was certified by The Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians in 2009, and worked in the veterinary field for 15 years.

A Servant to the community is a role where Tanisha excels. She volunteers at a local farm, leading tours and teaching 4-H students about poultry husbandry. Tanisha uses her adept knowledge as a Master Composter and Master Community Gardener to partner with growers who promote healthy lifestyle changes that heal the soul. Her service to Americorps is two-fold - first to be the change that others are expecting, by connecting with those who are in need. Second, to role model the way for her children what it means to be a good steward and servant of the community. In her free time, Tanisha is the mother of two teenage sons, and a fur parent of a mischievously intelligent border collie.

Taylor Kibble

Taylor has a long background in leading and directing summer day camps and after-school programs, seizing any opportunity to introduce methods of environmental education and exploration into the lessons, activities, and field trips. An AmeriCorps alumni, gaining experience in multi-use trail building/management, home construction, and farming, Taylor has joined DUG as an AmeriCorps service member with DUG Corps. Amidst the extensive work experience, Taylor simultaneously worked to earn her Bachelors in Geography and Environmental Sciences at CU Denver in 2021. Her free time is primarily occupied with maintaining her home garden with her cat, Johnathan.

Meet our DUG Corps Members at a Micro Event Near You!

These events are designed to strengthen skills in gardening and composting as well as create opportunities to connect across the DUG Network.

The Benefits of 1-on-1 Garden Coaching

By Boundless Landscapes

I’ve made every gardening mistake in the books so you don’t have to!

By Jennifer “Fern” Deininger, Farmer & Gardener

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago about doing online garden coaching to help people gain the knowledge and skills needed to grow their own food with ease, I probably would have expressed my doubts and graciously passed on the opportunity. But now I’m a true believer. One-on-one and group Zoom coaching with Boundless Landscapes has allowed me to support more people and at a lower cost to them than I ever could have if I was traveling from garden to garden to offer guidance. And, it turns out to be quite effective! A recent coaching client said, “Thank you for arranging our time with Fern.  It was really very helpful, not only for trying to figure out what to do with our spaces but for additional practical information as well.  We left the session feeling less hopeless and helpless.” Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. 

Some call me Farmer Fern—I’ve been growing food my whole life, and have a passion for helping others get comfortable gardening. Currently, one of the ways I do that is as a coach and educator at Boundless Landscapes. So many of us have been taught that the best way we can lower our carbon footprint is to do as little damage to our ecosystem as possible, but I would wager that we have that slightly wrong.

My goal is to empower people (whether they’re first-time gardeners or seasoned pros) to be as active as possible and to do as much good as they can in our ecosystem. For many of us (kiddos too!) that means getting our hands dirty, forming relationships with our surrounding environment, and sharing the bounty with our neighbors.

I was farming professionally with Boundless Landscapes when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Amidst all of the fear, grief, and turmoil, so many members of our community turned to the land for comfort. More people picked up gardening for the first time than I had ever seen in my lifetime. Seed stores were sold out, and nurseries were back-ordered for potting soils, mulches, and fertilizer. For the first time, many people were home enough to feel that they had the time to garden, and for others, there was a desire to grow their own food to help limit trips out to the grocery and protect against supply chain disruptions.

That’s where the one-on-one coaching comes in! This offering emerged out of the hunger for gardening-related information in the midst of the pandemic. Boundless Landscapes sprang into action to offer 30-minute, 45-minute, and hour-long sessions via video calls to discuss any and all things related to gardening.We help provide regionally-specific advice for new and experienced gardeners based on their specific microclimates, the time of year, and household budgets. 

I’ve been able to help folks plan their veggie garden, learn about cover crops, figure out how to harvest arugula and trellis tomatoes, and decide on how to fertilize.

There is a lot of lawn in this county, arguably a bit too much (Did you know lawn is the largest irrigated “crop” in the US and covers 40 million acres of land?), and at Boundless Landscapes we’ve been chipping away at it as best as we can! If I could personally go out and help turn every lawn into a garden or perennial habitat I would, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Our goal is to help empower homeowners, neighborhoods, business owners, churches, schools, and whole blocks to go for it and garden. 

While growing food is not rocket science, it requires collaborating with nature and that is a messy (and beautiful) process inevitably full of challenges and learning opportunities. In our coaching sessions, I always invite curiosity about the things that “worked”, but especially about those that didn’t! I’ve had many gardening role models in my life who have kindly shared all sorts of wisdom with me—but probably the best thing I’ve learned from all of these folks is that it’s okay to make mistakes when gardening, as long as you learn from them, gather support when you need it, and share what you’ve learned with others! 

Turning your lawn into a garden may seem daunting but I’m here to help folks jump in and give it a try because the need is immense, the momentum is here, and our neighborhoods and communities will be so much better for it!

You can book One-on-One coaching sessions at www.boundlesslandscapes.com/learn where $5 from every session will be donated to DUG. Happy growing!

DUG Named as a 2022 Fast Company Award Finalist!

By News

We’re thrilled to annouced that Denver Urban Gardens has been named as a Finalist of Fast Company’s
2022 World-Changing Ideas Awards!

The winners of Fast Company’s 2022 World-Changing Ideas Awards were announced May 3rd, honoring clean technology, innovative corporate initiatives, brave new designs for cities and buildings, and other creative works that are supporting the growth of positive social innovation, tackling social inequality, climate change, and public health crises. 

Now in its sixth year, the World Changing Ideas Awards showcase 39 winners, 350 finalists, and more than 600 honorable mentions—with climate, social justice, and AI and data among the most popular categories. A panel of eminent Fast Company editors and reporters selected winners and finalists from a pool of more than 2,997 entries across transportation, education, food, politics, technology, health, social justice, and more. In addition, several new categories have been added this year including climate, nature, water, and workplace. The 2022 awards feature entries from across the globe, from Switzerland to Hong Kong to Australia.

Fast Company’s Summer 2022 issue will showcase some of the world’s most inventive entrepreneurs and companies tackling global challenges. The issues highlight, among others, probiotics for coral reefs, easy-to-assemble kit homes for refugees or disaster survivors, a 3D printed vaccine patch, an electric truck, a system to heat homes from the waste heat of a name-brand factory, and prosecutor-initiated resentencing for overly long prison sentences.

“We are consistently inspired by the novelty and creativity that people are applying to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems, from shelter to the climate crisis. Fast Company relishes its role in amplifying important, innovative work to address big challenges,” says David Lidsky, interim editor-in-chief of Fast Company. “Our journalists have identified some of the most ingenious initiatives to launch since the start of 2021, which we hope will both have a meaningful impact and lead others to join in being part of the solution.”

About the World Changing Ideas Awards: World Changing Ideas is one of Fast Company’s major annual awards programs and is focused on social good, seeking to elevate finished products and brave concepts that make the world better. A panel of judges from across sectors choose winners, finalists, and honorable mentions based on feasibility and the potential for impact. With the goals of awarding ingenuity and fostering innovation, Fast Company draws attention to ideas with great potential and helps them expand their reach to inspire more people to start working on solving the problems that affect us all.

DUG is thrilled and honored to be able to magnify the power of gardens through this nomination. Read the full list of award winners here.

Sparking Curiosity in Community

By Faces of DUG

#31, Meet Paula, Backyard Gardener, World Traveller, and Bilingual Youth Education Coordinator

I have known about Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) for many years–I think I heard about DUG through the Slow Food social media pages. So when the Bilingual Youth Education Coordinator position that I applied for became available, it seemed like a really great place to start. Education is what I’m passionate about, and also all the intersections with growing food, children, and youth – it was a really good place where it all kind of came together.

My mother was a peasant farmer in Colombia when she was little, but they were taken from their land due to the civil war in Colombia. So farming wasn’t something she did when I was her daughter. She had plants, but it was more like ornamentals & houseplants, and then my first very first garden was here in Denver, sometime around 2010, when I started planting a few pots and had my first tomato plant. Then, by 2016, I had beds in my backyard, and I was growing food about 10 months out of the year.

When I dug in, I was very curious. I read and read and read, and tried things that failed a lot. Then I would try again, and things would work out. 

The garden is a place where I can meditate. I know people like to get up early and do their own internal search and things like that. To me, that’s too unsettling, sitting there and not doing anything. Gardening is my form of meditation, tending to the plants, taking in their daily progress. I like asking ‘How are they? What are they doing today? What needs do they have?’ I think that that process is very mindful. That’s been very helpful in the sense that it helps me get to a place of calmness – especially when I was working in the hospitality industry. Every day, six in the morning, I would be in my backyard. Digging dirt. 

When I first started with the garden idea, my husband was like, ‘nope’, because he hated weeding, and I think that that’s something that we tend to have kids do. At one point, it just kind of happened – gardens are very welcoming. Over time, the garden became that one thing in which the two of us could come together, and I think it’s helped us grow in a sense. There is pride in growing something. The way I won him over is when I would see that something was ready to be harvested, and I wouldn’t harvest it; instead, I would call him to harvest it. He started off harvesting the carrots and potatoes. I would say “Hey, you want to get some lettuce for lunch?” And he would go outside and clip the lettuce, and he absolutely loved that & the idea that gardens can give you that power back that ‘I know I grew this, and I can put it in my body, and I feel happy.’

Everybody has to eat. We’ve been conditioned to believe that good food is only for those who can buy it. Challenge that to the core.

I have a Master’s Degree in Gastronomy, World Food Cultures and Mobility from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy, which is also known as the Slow Food University.

What these studies addressed is really the global food system – anything that has to do with growing food, but also the impact that it has socially, environmentally, and financially around the world. We worked with indigenous communities, and learned about immigration laws around the world with different trade policies, tying them to the ecology of the land, how we build cultures, and how cultures have moved around the world. That’s the mobility part – how crops have moved around the world and created the extension of cultures. For example, the tomato bean from the Americas has moved to Italy, and now is known as an Italian thing, but it isn’t really Italian, it is native to the Americas.

And then what happens after that is how culture has become industrialized, and is used to sell us products that are fully industrial, but still have that cultural layer, creating environments where we don’t question any of it.

Gardens bring us back to the earth, and you can be very metaphorical with it, but it literally brings you back to the earth and where our food comes from.

We’ve gotten so divorced from the whole process of feeding ourselves, that we don’t even know where things come from, how they’re grown, and what it takes to grow food.

There’s always the expectation that food has to be cheap. But there’s no real thought about why it’s cheap, because we’re exploiting people who are growing the food.

It’s also a way to help heal the earth that we are destroying. Gardens are spaces where we can learn, or relearn, to get in touch with that which is very central to humans. We don’t have any connection to our food, especially if we live in the city. Gardens give back power to the people to put food that is healthy and nutritious in our bodies. It provides sovereignty, especially in neighborhoods where the only food that you find is designed to keep people unhealthy. Gardening regains food sovereignty: it’s not a privilege to have good food, it is our right.

The more we connect to the understanding that we are not above the system, that we’re part of the whole ecosystem, and that what we do here affects many parts of the ecosystem, then the more we can hope to understand that we need to also fight.

I think it’s all about just waking up the little bit of curiosity we all need.

DUG is working towards giving that opportunity to people to connect to & grow their own food by sharing the resources that we have, and educating on why we need to protect them – then perhaps sparking that curiosity of what else is out there.

There is also the educational part – I think that specifically for me being in youth education is showing that the next generation can be more thoughtful about connecting with the earth & with our food. When things like this are difficult to talk about, people tend to shut down, they don’t want to talk about it, it’s uncomfortable. This is why it’s important to garden, people can see their greater impact. It brings to light to a larger, shared humanity that we can see; we’re part of a community.

When we grow food or when we cook, we want to share it with people. Food is central to our human existence, and a communal part of our world and of our lives – we just forget.

Gardens help us bring that back. If we can grow our food, and cook it, and share with people, that in itself just brings to the forefront that communal nature that is very ingrained in us.

Hopefully the youth we are working with take home the plants or the knowledge we are sharing with them, and then pass on their excitement and curiosity with their parents about their little plant; how they put the seed in the dirt, and how now it has grown. At any age, you can spark that excitement of ‘I had a seed, and now it is a carrot.’

Right now, I have about 20 little pea plants in my pots. I love peas because they just seem very friendly. As they grow they have these little tendrils and they look like they have a little skirt, so when the wind hits them, they kind of look like little butterflies, and then they have these wild little flowers. Sometimes they have pink little flowers, depending on the variety, and then the flower shoots up pea pods. I just love them, they’re so beautiful. They smile at me. It’s so cute.

For anyone new to gardening, my advice would be to plant things you like to eat. Also don’t be afraid of things dying. You will learn, don’t get discouraged.

Some years will be great, some years will not. And that doesn’t determine your skill as a gardener, so instead of taking it as a failure, take it as a learning experience. Take whatever outcome, and try to get curious about why that happened. And you can make the changes that you need for the next year, you can make it a lifelong practice. 

More Faces of DUG

Faces of DUG
May 3, 2021

Getting Dirty with DUG

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community…
Faces of DUG
February 16, 2021

Building new skills for a bright future

"I found out about DUG through my school, where I also work part-time. I'm majoring in Environmental Science, and my advisor encouraged me to get connected. I'm from Louisiana, and…
Faces of DUG
July 7, 2021

Exploring a New Career Path

Our longtime contractor and friend Fransisco Cordero passed away in November 2020 due to complications with COVID-19. In 2021, we established the Fransisco Cordero Legacy Apprenticeship program to provide pathways…
Faces of DUG
December 5, 2020

Building community during COVID

"I am the Garden Leader at the Cedar Hill Community Garden at Green Mountain United Methodist Church. We have been working on the building of our garden for six years…
+