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Niko Kirby

Water, Playfulness, and Overcoming Oppression

By Embodied Equity

Sometimes I see my face staring back at me. Quizzically scrutinizing each detail and dimple of my brown skin.

We could call her my reflection. But she is not really mine. She is water, reflecting.

Water reflects me back to me, and you back to you. Water reflects the sky, the clouds, and each bird that circles high and higher, towards some epic elevation.

Water does not discriminate. Water reflects the ones I love and the ones I fear. Water reflects what I call good and what I call bad. Water reflects what I call right and what I call wrong.

Water reflects each object it meets in exquisite detail; with a gentle caress of attentiveness. I don’t always accept what is before me that easily.

I tried to fight a river once.

My innertube and I were in a hurry to float. My feet led the way, sprawled out ahead, avoiding the water made of newly melted snow. My feet frequently lost the lead as the flow of water turned me around whenever it pleased. I was not pleased.

I tried to stay in control. I tried to “help” the inner tube along. I tried to make sure I floated to the “correct” side of each damp, slime-covered boulder.

It was hard and vigilant work. I reflected back on the lazy joy of inner-tubing as a child. “Hadn’t it been more fun than this”? I wondered.

Not long into my trip, I became wedged between a large boulder and the shallow pebbly shore.

I had fought against the current, determined to go to the “correct,” “safer,” “better,” side of the boulder. It wasn’t correct, safer, or better and now I was stuck.

My friend floated easily by, going with the current. Going with the flow is easier and more effective I noticed. The broader life lesson and I made eye contact as if floated by. 

Water says yes to what is. Water reflects what it sees. Water accepts what is there.

Because water accepts that the boulders are there, it simply flows around them. Water takes the path of least resistance. 

I noticed a difference in our strategies, the water and me. In my life, I was denying a lot. I was taking the path of much resistance.

I was trying to force my way through life’s boulders because I believed they should not be there. Water was accepting and adapting to the reality of boulders to accomplish its goal. But beyond that, the water was playing. It was splashing along, crashing up against a rock and giggling down. Rolling up on a human’s unsuspecting leg and skipping around.

There was lightness, ease, and playfulness to the water’s approach. In my life, there was heaviness, fighting, and very few giggles.

To me, it often seems like I have to fight injustice. It really does seem like fighting will accomplish my goal. I fight racism, cancer, and poverty. I fight everything and everyone I don’t like.

I “fight the good fight.” It is hard and vigilant work. I feel the sting of losing the fight each and every. Every day I fail to overcome racism, cancer, and poverty. These boulders are still with me despite all of my “good fight.”

“So what, do I give up and just let them win?”

The water ripples over my toes and reminds me that it carved a goddam canyon. Water is not weak because it is accepting. Acceptance and persistence enable water to overcome an immovable obstacle. Erosion is a powerful, but patient force.

With a playful smirk and a twinkle in its eye water chides, “I know I can win because I can outlast you. I will wear you down and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Water also draws power from its ability to stick with itself. To have its own back. Modern science calls this camaraderie “surface tension,” or a fourth phase of water called “structured” water.

Water simply knows that it is more powerful when it is more united.

A single drop of water falling in a hot spring cave merely moistens the stone below. But when each drop is followed by another and another, over months and years the strength of water surpasses that of earth. United water drills a hole into solid stone.

It is wise to heed the wisdom of water; unity with the drops around me, patient but consistent action towards a common goal, embracing both playfulness and power.

Looking back on my life I have to admit to myself that working harder but alone, and fighting what is does not get me where I want to go.

I have burned out 3 times in my life and found myself stranded on the shallow pebbly shore, stuck and exhausted. I was forced to rest until the tide of wellbeing rose to carry me forward once again.

It is said you cannot get a baby in one month by getting 9 people pregnant. Some processes take the time they take.

So I admit that denying reality, working vigilantly, and working alone won’t end oppression faster. If I look to my more successful friend water as a guide, what do I see?

I see that resting today equips me to be more skillfully united tomorrow.

I see that projects that utilize my playfulness and tender humanity touch people more deeply than fearful facts and staggering statistics.

I see that writing about what I notice in myself feels more honest than telling people what to do. After all, if we are united then any reflections of myself will reflect the humanity we share. 

So today I do less. I laugh at the neighborhood kitten stalking flies in the grass. I set aside the fear that I still have x,y, and z on my to-do list. I notice that my neighborhood has come alive with citrus and my speckled pothos needs more water.

I will talk to clients about racism tomorrow when my mind is refreshed from my rest and my heart is light from my time in the sun.

I will talk about racism when I am more like a full and flowing river, nourished by melting snow, giggling downstream.

In this moment, I will flow where I am pulled to be; united with the life in my backyard enjoying the warm sting of the sun.

Where are you pulled by life to be right now?

Reflection Questions:

  • How can my serious commitments benefit from more playfulness?
  • How does my rigidity about what I know is “correct” inhibit the flow of life towards the path of least resistance?
  • How can I be powerful and playful today?
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.

DUG Launches New Partnership with The Giving Grove

By News

Denver Urban Gardens is excited to announce a new partnership The Giving Grove, a national nonprofit serving communities experiencing food insecurity.

Since its launch in 2013, The Giving Grove network has planted 330 orchards across the nation that re-established green space on unused and vacant land while providing free, holistically-grown fruits, nuts, and berries.  Giving Grove’s mission is to provide healthy calories, strengthen community, and improve the environment through a nationwide network of sustainable little orchards that dramatically increase access to healthy foods. 

With the challenge of Denver’s climate, it is essential for us to be active stewards of our land.  DUG has spent the last 35 years cultivating in-ground community-based food production but realized that there is so much more (vertical) growing to be done,” said Nessa Mogharreban, DUG’s Director of Physical Infrastructure and Community Engagement.  DUG’s Executive Director Linda Appel Lipsius added, “We fortuitously met Giving Grove as we were formulating our tree strategy – we are thrilled to be kicking off this initiative in partnership with such an intentional, impactful and supportive organization.

After finding success with its model in Kansas City, The Giving Grove began expanding to other cities, launching affiliate programs in St. Louis and Omaha in 2017 and in Memphis, Louisville, rural Kansas, and Cincinnati in 2020.  In addition to Denver, The Giving Grove is expanding to Dallas, Atlanta, and Seattle this spring.  The Giving Grove’s expansion plans include launching affiliates in 10 more U.S. cities by 2025.  

Members of the DUG team recently stopped by Alameda Wholesale Nursery to check out their assortment of trees!

The typical Giving Grove orchard will produce more than 9,800 servings of holistically-grown, free, healthy foods worth more than $8,200 each year.  With a 50-60+ year lifespan, each orchard will produce over its lifetime more than 212,000 servings of food for people in need while sequestering carbon, reducing stormwater runoff, and providing urban tree canopy.

Stay tuned to hear more about DUG’s new Food Forest Initiative, launching in 2022! If you’d like to learn more about how to take care of fruit trees, join us for our upcoming Fruit Tree Pruning workshop with DUG’s new Director of Permaculture and Perennials, Creighton Hofeditz. 

Connecting to People and Food

By Faces of DUG

#30, Meet Alix, Organic Farmhand and Repair the World Corps Member

The importance of connecting to how our food is grown is never something I was taught. It is something I know in my heart, that I connect to innately, an ideal that honors this beautiful planet and helps me to do something bigger than just living the ‘American Dream’, which I have found can feel dull and empty. It began one day when I was in high school, when my mom and I went on an excursion to all these plant stores and bought herbs and flowers and pots and soil, and we created a little herb garden together. This was my first exposure to growing things, it was really fun. 

Since then, I’ve gotten involved in farmwork. It started when I heard about opportunities with World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). I think it’s one of the best ways to travel abroad because you veer completely off the beaten path of usual travel.

You’re helping locals who need your help, and you’re meeting other travelers and working together experiencing how food systems work in other parts of the world.

First I went to Israel with my best friend, and we worked for two months on four farms. Several months later, when I had enough money to travel again, I went to Central America, and worked on six farms throughout Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala. After my travels, I moved to Fort Collins, where I interned with The Growing Project, and in Denver, I volunteered weekly at Ekar Farms. I believe it is highly important to connect to our food systems, and to grow the organic movement.

I heard about Denver Urban Gardens through a service corps program I was working with called Repair the World. I was part of a small cohort of Colorado residents. Basically, corps members get paired up with local community organizations in need of volunteers. My liaison, Alana, told me about DUG and I was really excited about it. I’m no expert farmer, even gardener, but I love the work, I love the cause. I was so surprised that I had never heard of DUG because I’m always trying to get involved in these kinds of communities, and now that I am aware of them I see their gardens all over the city!

My role with DUG was to help update and standardize the garden directory on their website. It was truly one of the best volunteer opportunities I’ve had, even though it wasn’t in person. Niko laid out her hopes for this particular project so clearly. She has such a strong vision, and I am honored I was able to help her see it through. 

For me, my passion is planet Earth, which extends to humans as well.

There are so many important movements – there’s conservation, there’s animal welfare organizations, there’s greening cities, there’s clean energy, there’s all these things. For me, agriculture is the thing that I see myself being a part of to contribute to this greater holistic movement. The future is small farms, and people working together and collaborating to connect over sustainably-sourced and seasonally relevant food. 

And why? Because it’s so relevant, it’s relevant to every single living being, we are all eating all the time. There’s parts of this environmental movement that I don’t think necessarily touch us every day, but food does.

And I see the value and the importance of the work DUG does because of its reach throughout the city, there are so many who have the opportunity to understand where their food is coming from, and what it takes to grow food – the challenges in it, and the hard work that is behind it, the need for resources like water, labor, and healthy land. I think that it’s so necessary today to educate people about the nourishment they feed their bodies. Were toxic chemicals involved in producing the food? Were the people growing and harvesting the products paid a fair and liveable wage? Was there a great amount of waste involved or were the farming methods more regenerative? Additionally, we are privileged that we can go and grab what we need year round, but the reality is that most produce and ingredients are only available in certain seasons, and to obtain off-season items takes a tremendous amount of energy to transport it across the world.  

I have seen some documentaries that have woken me up to the reality of modern-day agriculture, and to the large agribusinesses that are wreaking havoc on our earth.

To bring it back to a microcosmic level, to bring it back home, to bring it to a garden next door – that reconnects us – to our food, to one another, and to the bigger picture of what we can do as a community to combat the environmental damage caused by the food that we’re eating. It’s just the system we’re in, but we have to do something to change it. 

There is a quote I love, from Rabbi Tarfon. “You are not obligated to finish the work. But neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” 

We might not see a revolutionary change in our food system in our lifetime, but we can’t ignore it. We have to do something, and everyone has a part to play and there really is a little we can all do, instead of feeling doomed, which I honestly do feel sometimes. But I know that there are people out there who care, and nothing beats being around the likes of them.

With gardening it’s not just about addressing the bigger issues. Only good that can come out of going to volunteer on your local farm or garden. You’re connecting with people, you’re outside, you’re digging in dirt, you’re connecting in a way that you can’t in other aspects of life, especially living in a city. It is a special kind of person who wants to spend their time learning about growing food, and it’s amazing to be in a community of people who are very passionate and caring. 

And it’s just plain good for the soul. You’re outside in the sunshine (most days), working for not only a good but a critical cause, with others. It’s all so symbolic. You get dirty as you dig out the dark stuff. You observe the growing season, and the season of rest. When weeding – you’re removing the stuff that doesn’t serve you anymore, allowing space for fresh, new, healthy growth. A lot of people I know work in dirt in this way have connected this work to personal struggles, and personal triumphs.

This is the first season I will be trying to garden in a DUG community garden, and that is going to change my summer and really impact my life in big ways. I am very thankful for DUG.

You can learn more about Repair the World’s Service Corps here.

More Faces of DUG

Faces of DUG
November 7, 2020

Gardening for mental wellbeing

“My family had a garden growing up in southern Louisiana. I Ioved harvesting, watering, and watching our plants grow since I was a little girl. In college, I built raised…
Faces of DUG
August 28, 2020

Finding purpose in growing and sharing food

"I think in so many ways the Master Community Gardener program was just what I needed. It really pushed me and challenged me because of the give-back hours; both building…
Faces of DUG
November 30, 2020

Teaching Resilience through Healthy Cooking

“My students have so much going on in their lives right now. With everything they hear on the news, it’s a lot for them to process. What I like about…
Faces of DUG
July 20, 2020

Discovering friendship in the garden

“It was quarantine and I wanted to take my daughter to experience the outdoors once a day. I went on Google Maps and tried to look for green spaces that…

An Intro to Permaculture

By Education

“And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.” 

– Wendell Berry


As the days get longer, we all start thinking about our first seedling trays and dreaming of the harvests to come. Although February is a little early to start most annuals, it’s an excellent time to plan for potential changes in our gardens and outdoor spaces, and one powerful tool for doing that is permaculture design. 

Although the term “permaculture” was coined in the late 1970’s in Australia, it’s become widely acknowledged as an extension of the nature-based mindset that drives traditional cultures all around the world. As a movement and global community, permaculture strives to use observation of natural processes to find better solutions for the problems we face–whether those are in the garden, or in fields as varied as finance, governance, architecture, education, or technology.

Sometimes gardening can seem like an exercise in constant importing: bags of soil, tap water, seeds from thousands of miles away, not to mention hoops, shade cloth, tools, and everything else you might use every year during the growing season.

But in nature, it’s rare for an ecosystem to rely on inputs from very far away. One of the most liberating ideas that permaculture offers is that everything we need to succeed is already around us.

Looking at our gardens with that lens, we can start to replace our inputs with self-generating materials and systems. Here are some examples:

We live in a dry climate, but there’s so much impermeable surface (roads, sidewalks, roofs) in Denver that there’s a lot of opportunity to direct runoff towards plants, mitigating flooding, and nourishing soil life at the same time. When was the last time you made a map of where your downspouts go?

Another resource in a city is waste, in the form of organic material. Check out Chip Drop for a free load of locally-produced mulch; put up a sign in the fall asking for bags of leaves; if your neighbor doesn’t want to turn their lawn into gardens but doesn’t spray herbicides, ask if you can take the clippings instead of letting them go to a landfill.

Lettuce can be hard to grow in our hot summers, but if you live next to someone who’s letting their trees hang over the fence, plant lettuce in the shade, and save the sunny spots for peppers and tomatoes. Similarly, all of our brick buildings means there are a lot of south-facing red earthen walls that will trap heat and extend the growing season without building anything extra.

Permaculture is all about careful placement; don’t force something into an area where it won’t thrive! 

Something else to think about for this year might be perennial plants.

Permaculture design looks to create deep-rooted, regenerative systems in all facets of human life, but certainly in the garden as well, and plants that come back year after year will give an increasing yield, while simultaneously requiring less maintenance and input each year.

Perennial vegetables like rhubarb and asparagus give an early harvest, while Nanking cherries and wild plums flower early, feeding pollinators and hosting beneficial insects. Comfrey is a great plant to cut back several times a year and add to compost, while yucca and nopales can thrive in brutal conditions and connect you to the ancestral diet of this region.

This is really just the beginning of what a permaculture mindset and practice can bring to your yard and your life. If you’re feeling curious, watch the movie Inhabit, or read the books Gaia’s Garden or Practical Permaculture. Visit the Rainwater Harvesting website for water ideas, and while you’re there you can check out a region-specific Rain and Forest Garden Plant Matrix, compiled by former Boulder permaculturalist Jason Gerhardt. 

If you want an in-person and in-depth experience right here at home, this year the 11th annual Denver Permaculture Design Course will be held in partnership with DUG! The 2022 PDC course runs six weekends, from May through October.

Get a $50 discount on tuition by using the code “DUG”! 

Creighton Hofeditz is the new Director of Perennials and Permaculture for DUG. You can reach him at

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

Faces of DUG
January 11, 2022

Composting with Kiddos

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.…
Faces of DUG
August 21, 2020

Inspiring lifelong curiosity through gardening

"My favorite part of being in the garden is being able to see the vegetables grow. We’re growing tomatoes, cucumber, and on the back there’s broccoli. And we’re also growing…
Faces of DUG
June 22, 2020

Gardening through a lifetime

"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…
Faces of DUG
August 25, 2021

Finding Mentorship (and more) in Community

"Last year, my boyfriend and I lived in the Cole neighborhood and had never gardened before. We lived in an apartment with no outdoor space and were home all the…

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

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