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Niko Kirby

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 programs@dug.org

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.

Reflecting on Gardening and Fighting

By Faces of DUG

#28, Meet Rose, MMA fighter and gardener at Rose Roots

I’m a first-generation Lithuanian-American. In Lithuania, the culture is very nature-oriented. My grandmother pretty much grows all of her own food at her cottage. It’s really important to my family. Gardening has been ingrained in me ever since I was little. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was an urban environment.

We had a small 10 x 10 space in our backyard with a couple of tomato plants, some strawberries, and some sunflowers every once in a while. My childhood garden had a lasting impression on me. The tomatoes were so delicious and the strawberries were way better than any store-bought strawberry I’d ever had.

I looked forward to our garden every year. My chore was always weeding and I didn’t really like it as a kid, but I definitely learned to appreciate it as a form of therapy.

I was put into martial arts as a young child to keep me out of trouble and to keep me active. That has led me to the career that I’m in right now [MMA fighter]. In 2013, my partner and I moved to Denver. In 2016, I bought a townhome, and from there, I established my roots. Even though I was constantly traveling for work, I decided that I was going to have a home base here. I was looking for community gardens to join but It wasn’t panning out because of my busy schedule, and then eventually, I joined a CSA share. It was the most delicious food I’d ever had! 

That next year, I saw that there was a DUG community garden in my neighborhood called Rose Roots. I’m like, “Wow, that’s the biggest community garden I’ve ever seen!” Then everything just fell into place. I decided to find a way to work it into my schedule and just go for it!

I’m really blessed to be a part of the Rose Roots Community Garden. Everybody there is pretty awesome. I feel bad sometimes because I’m always in and out of town, especially this past summer, so I haven’t been able to get to know more people.

But it almost feels like a sentiment of the garden that everybody is busy but it’s still so established there that even with the extra stress of the pandemic and people’s lives, the garden takes care of itself and the people still take care of each other. 

We all take care of the pollinator plants and we switch off watering for each other when someone goes out of town. It’s really cool to see that with the landscape that we’re in right now, the garden is still doing very well. Sometimes when you leave things alone and are hands-off for a while, things flourish on their own. The garden is a very serene, beautiful place. This season, we had two plots instead of just one, so I was worried because it’s double the trouble. But I think because I’m more experienced now and knew to put mulch down and space things out a little better to organize my garden, it’s actually doing really good without needing to put as much work into it. 

When I started out gardening, it was all about productivity for me. What can I eat? Over time, I’ve become more appreciative of flowers and plants that are good for pollinators.

This season, I planted pollinators for the first time. They’re so pretty to look at. This is the first year that I’ve successfully grown the most delicious tomatoes ever. I grew an heirloom tomato plant that was red, green, and purple. It was the most gorgeous tomato I’ve ever had! 

I ferment a lot of my vegetables, so I have a refrigerator full of beets, carrots, and some of the cucumbers I made into fermented pickles. I eat a kale salad with cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden almost every day. I used to be annoyed with making salads before I started gardening. But now, that’s all I want to eat! So it’s really changed my food palette. I’ve been a vegetable-eater my whole life, but making salads always felt like a chore to me. After growing my own kale, I realized how much I liked it and how good it is for my brain. The food I need needs to be good for my brain because of the profession I’m in. I like kale so much better than other lettuces now!

For me as a martial artist, the community garden provides a similar effect to fighting.

Obviously, gardening and martial arts are two very different activities, but what martial arts and gardening do for me is give me a sense of control over myself and my situation. Lots of things happen to us in our lives that we can’t control, but putting a seed in the ground, watering it, doing things that help the environment around you, and then seeing something come out of the ground that you can eat, something that’s good for the plants around it, taking care of something that will take care of you back is the most rewarding thing ever. It gives you a sense of control over your situation when there’s not really much that you can control. With martial arts, you might not have enough money in your account to pay your bills, but you can throw some punches and I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better afterward. 

Gardening and martial arts both take time and patience. There are times when it gets a little frustrating and things aren’t working out. However you are feeling at the time, it is reflected back to you in your garden. Gardening is not only good for when you want to feel better, but it can also point out the moments when maybe you’re not feeling so good. It shows you when you need to address the issues that you’re dealing with psychologically because if you’re not feeling good, your plants ain’t lookin’ so good.

Gardening is a reflection of ourselves. 

There are so many parallels between fighting and gardening. To other people, it probably seems like there wouldn’t be any similarities between them. To me, they’re so closely related. Gardening and farming give fighting a purpose for me. I’m not just in the ring being a brute (even though I do have some brutish tendencies sometimes). If there are any MMA fighters reading this interview, I’d tell them that gardening really gives me a vision for after fighting. There’s a huge epidemic of fighters that take fights for no reason at the end of their career and they have trouble transitioning to regular life. They don’t have a way to do anything else. I would really encourage them to get involved in a community garden because it gives you that sense of balance. It’s really healing for the soul, and you might even find out that you like it better than fighting and eventually that’s what you’re gonna do. My vision one day is to start a program called “fight-to-farm” to help fighters transition to normal life and something beyond their fighting career — to help them live a rewarding life that has a greater purpose.

Community gardening is great for people that are low on time, for beginners, for people that lack the space at home, or for people who lack the resources.

There are people at a community garden that are willing to help and pick up the slack when you’re not there. When you develop those relationships, there’ll be people there who you can ask questions all the time. You can ask them how to space out your plants or what to put where. Our garden already has most of the tools that you could ever need and they have shared compost, so it’s great for someone just starting out. All you need is some seeds. Being part of a community garden is really fun. You get to see what other people are doing and it’s a very serene, peaceful thing to be a part of.

The benefits of community gardens aren’t just personal. There are ripple effects from the actual garden itself to the city. We donate food to the food bank. We educate other people on how to grow their own food. If you look at the effects it has on our food system, we all know that there’s a whole bunch of inefficiency when it comes to grocery stores and how we get our food. Food is delivered from other states and other countries, for that matter. Think of the negative effects that that has on our environment and pollution. It’s not healthy for each of us as individuals. It’s nice to know that you’re doing something good for the environment, too. Eating food you grew yourself versus eating food from the grocery store is night and day. It’s so much more nutrient-dense and some people maybe haven’t had that. To this day, I don’t like buying cucumbers, tomatoes, or even strawberries from the store. So maybe it might ruin you — I don’t know. Ignorance is bliss! The list of benefits of community gardening is endless with so many dimensions. It’s kind of like, why aren’t we doing this as a whole nation? It would definitely be a solution to a lot of our problems. If you look at American history, we’ve historically been farmers. That’s what we started as, so I think it’s good to be in touch with our roots.

I’m working towards owning a piece of land and my ultimate dream is to live on an Earthship. They’re these off-grid, self-sustaining houses that are built out of recycled materials and they recycle water. They’re being built all over the world right now. I helped build one in Indonesia–it was a really cool experience.

Colorado is one of the best places to have one. I’d love to build an Earthship type of community where we educate people in the community and maybe bring kids from the inner city who’ve maybe never had any type of experience like that there and do camps to show them that this is another way of living life.

As a kid, I always wanted to be outdoors even though I was trapped in the city. I want to provide that for kids who grew up like me and want to get out and be in nature.

So, that’s my plan eventually. And community gardens are for sure going to be a part of that plan!

More Faces of DUG

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
May 18, 2022

Sparking Curiosity in Community

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…
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…
Faces of DUG
September 4, 2020

Creating a piece of home in the garden

“I am from Central Africa. I couldn’t find seeds from my country to grow. I said, “If I cannot find this vegetable I will have to move back to my…

Tito’s Block to Block Volunteer Days

By News, posts

This Fall, volunteers and DUG staff came together to make our Tito’s Block To Block workdays a huge success – and a ton of fun!

Thank you to all of the amazing volunteers who showed up on a weekend to help us construct and fill 36 new plots as part of rebuilding the Cook Park Community Garden

And a huge thank you to our partner for these workdays – Tito’s Handmade Vodka! We are so grateful for their generous support of this project, and dedication to increasing access to fresh organic produce in metro Denver. Read the full Thrillest article on how this Vodka Company is Reviving Community Gardens and Farms All Across America here.

Sad you missed out on all the fun? You don’t have to be! Check out upcoming volunteer opportunities with DUG here.

Our 189th Garden has Launched!

By News

We’re thrilled to share that the Stober Community Garden, located at Stober Elementary School in Lakewood, CO, is 95% complete and taking names for people interested in plots for planting in Spring of 2022! 

Interested in joining? Contact the Garden Leaders at stoberschoolcommunitygarden@dug.org.

Five years ago, Richard Cooper-Ribner, a lifelong gardener and resident of Applewood, first had the idea to build a community garden in the neighborhood alongside a couple fellow gardeners. He and his neighbors started a free produce market across the corner from Stober Elementary, and over time the market stand evolved, finding its new home on the school grounds to involve and engage students in the process of how food is grown.

Richard and others regularly attended the annual JeffCo Garden Symposium where they connected with educators at neighboring schools like DUG’s Green Gables School and Community Garden to learn more about their process of seeking funding for a garden through grants. 

From there, the founding neighbors brought this idea for a community garden on the grounds of a school to others within the Sustainable Applewood Neighborhood group and to Stober Elementary principal, Anne DiCola, who jumped in enthusiastically to support the project. Anne brought the idea to the JeffCo Public Schools and championed the garden as an invaluable resource for both the school and the community as a whole. By working together with community members of Sustainable Applewood, the Applewood Valley Association, Stober Elementary, and the Stober PTA, they set to work to bring this collective vision to life.

DUG was first brought to the table to support the initial design process and then later for the actual construction process.

With the support of an incredible volunteer grant writer & community member, and with significant neighborhood fundraising, the Stober Community Garden planning group secured enough funds to move forward with the build. 

When it came time to break ground this spring, DUG organized a series of workdays for the construction of the garden, while also working with the local community to support the organizational setup. Early this fall, DUG also helped to organize a workday where the Stober Elementary students helped plant cover crop seeds and perennials along with their “hopes and dreams” in the garden. 

Now that the garden has been brought to life, we caught up with a few members of the project, including Richard, as well as Julie Auch and Sarah Claus, to hear more about what benefits they hope will be reaped in the garden and the Applewood community over the coming years. They talked about how special the project has been for bringing the community together to work towards a common goal, and what it means to have a multi-generational meeting place that provides learning and social opportunities for adults and children alike. 

The Stober Community Garden had their first fall pie social in late October, and looks forward to hosting new community events including the annual seed share and produce market in the garden next year. This community is excited to see the garden become a hub for the neighborhood and to grow their green thumbs together!

Persimmons, Squirrels, and Noticing My Entitlement

By Embodied Equity

Let me tell you about the time I fought the squirrels for sole ownership of the backyard persimmons. 

At first, the persimmons were barely visible–smooth, green orbs perfectly camouflaged in the leaves. Then one day, they ignited in a flame of orange. I noticed them. And so did the squirrels.

One by one, I began to notice holes in each persimmon as the orange brightened into ripeness. In their acrobatic attempts to eat the hanging fruit, the squirrels knocked partially-eaten persimmons to the ground. They were swarmed with ants or rotten in the sun by the time I noticed them.

My annoyance and anxiety grew with each lost persimmon. I mean, they didn’t even enjoy them. They just let them rot in the sun. ‘Entitled,’ I called them. ‘Ungrateful,’ I called them.

I started chasing them out of the tree when I saw them. I pondered buying a fruit tree net. I was starting to care a lot about persimmons.

In my 20s I worked as a peer mentor for young adults aging out of foster care who experienced mental illness. We didn’t acknowledge that they were also navigating the trauma, and the logistical nightmare, of racism, adultism, classism, and ableism, to name a few.

Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.

The job wore us down. We navigated a bureaucratic system of intersecting oppressions that could not care about social workers or their clients. Forms and regulations do not have that capacity.

We went above and beyond for our clients because we did have that capacity. We advocated for them to get funds beyond rent and food support.

One day, my colleague returned to the office and slumped down into his chair. He had gone to triumphantly deliver the money he had fought for and won.

“He didn’t even say thank you…” The anger on his face was overshadowed by the exhaustion slipping down his shoulders.

Entitled, we called them. Ungrateful, we called them.

I’ve been called entitled and ungrateful in my life. People called me this when I did not reciprocate in the ways they wanted me to. We sometimes call it giving even though we expect something in return.

I was given $20 by a relative once. My only thought was, “well, this doesn’t even help.” I had a long list of necessities I needed to pay for immediately or face consequences.

At that time, I was lost in a labyrinth of trauma and the logistical nightmare of racism, classism, and ableism, to name a few. The tightness in my throat was so dense I felt like I was choking most of the day. I knew I should feel grateful, but I could not think of a single grateful thought.

Worse still, that drop into my ocean of need only served as a reminder of how vast the need was and how unequipped I was to address it. The gift only made me feel sick to my stomach. I do not remember how I responded to the pause that was gently inserted for me to express my gratitude…

Entitled, they called me. Ungrateful, they called me.

I noticed my own entitlement one day while sitting in my car, waiting for the light to turn green. A young man, who looked tired beyond his years, held a sign asking for money. At the time, I prided myself on being someone who had learned some lessons about giving. I felt very advanced.

I gave him $5 and a heartfelt smile. He took it and walked away. As he sat back down on the curb, I noticed an expectation of a thank you that had been hiding behind my gift. More still, I had expected a $5 thank you, not a $1 thank you. 

Entitled, I could have called him. Ungrateful, I could have called him. He could have said the same about me.

Entitled. Ungrateful. Desperate. Panicked. Alone. Unseen. Afraid. Overwhelmed. Resilient. Determined. Persistent. Unyielding. Tired.

We all know what it is like to be tired. Especially now, almost two years into this COVID-19 expansion in the game called life.

What a gift it would be to take the burden of our entitlement off those around us. Especially those weighed down by systems of oppression. When I imagine this collective shift of entitlement, I feel weight roll off my shoulders. It feels easier to breathe.

I asked myself why I felt so entitled to the persimmons.

I have lost a lot since the beginning of COVID-19; My health, my housing, my home, my friends, my colleagues, the woman I was dating, and the person I was when I had those things. I am still sad and reeling from the shifts.

Part of me had had enough. I am tired, it said. I cannot feel this anymore, it said.

The refusal to feel my grief feels like a constriction in my body. It gets hard to breathe. Each subsequent loss of a persimmon ignites the feeling of loss that was already there. I tighten and constrict about each new loss to avoid feeling the reservoir of stagnating grief about my losses. I don’t actually care about persimmons, but I have started plotting and chasing squirrels.

Things get off track when I refuse to feel my feelings. I could feel and release the grief, or I could start a war with an unsuspecting population over a resource that suddenly feels desperately important.

I see the dynamic stretch out behind me, across time and human history.

What if my coworker had been willing to see and appreciate himself for how hard he worked for our client? If he needed to be seen a little more, what if he asked us, his coworkers and supervisor, to see it too? We could have celebrated the determination and love we saw in him together. I think we would have been happy to.

I say to myself, “Leanne, I see how much you have lost. I am so sorry that it feels like you have lost everything. I see how hard you worked for so many years to cultivate that life. I know it feels hard to start over. I see that you miss what you had. I see that you are so very tired. What I like about you is that you never give up. And you have learned to rest along the journey, so I know you can do this. I am here whenever you need to talk or feel sad.”

I curl up in the lap of the kind words and snuggle into a calm, grounded feeling. It is nice to be seen when people like what they see. I can give myself the gift of liking what I see in me.

Naturally and easily, I loosen my grip on the persimmons. Naturally and easily, I notice things from the squirrels’ point of view. After seeing things from their point of view, I naturally and easily care about them.

I suddenly feel excited that they get to enjoy a nice meal. Winter is coming. I will still have a grocery store, but their backyard grocery store will close for the winter. There is fresh fruit now, but not for long.

I start leaving apples out by the persimmon tree for the squirrels. I forget to check if there are holes in the persimmons.

If feeling my feelings is all it takes to stop a war, be less judgmental of a young person living on the street, or feel validated instead of unappreciated at work, why don’t I feel them more?

I fear being seen because I am worried people won’t like what they see. They haven’t always. I haven’t always. But when I tell myself the supportive words I want to hear, being seen feels pretty great.

I have the opportunity to be the audience that gives me a standing ovation or the interviewer who is impressed with my responses. I can give myself the experience of being seen and liked.

For a while now, I have been the only slave driver, rapist, and warlord in my life. I relentlessly drove myself to work harder and longer. When I asked for rest, I lashed myself with shame and judgment. I forced my body to do things she did not want to do and told her she should be grateful for the opportunity. I waged war on those around me who accidentally reminded me of the trauma I would not feel.

But this month, by feeling my feelings, I naturally and easily became less entitled. I became less oppressive. I found greater liberation.

I hope you find it too.

Reflection Question:

  •  What do you notice about entitlement?

 Winter is coming.

Donate to the liberation and agency of people living on the street: Denver Homeless Out Loud 

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.

Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation Supports the BII

By News

DUG is grateful and proud to be partnering with Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation on our Baseline Infrastructure Initiative (BII). This holistic program is centered on supporting a thriving community garden by increasing equity across DUG’s entire network of 188 community gardens to ensure that all are resourced at an equitable level. Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation has been, and will continue to be, a key partner in these efforts.

Sprouts funding has supported a range of BII projects through the past year, and Alex, DUG’s Fransisco Cordero apprentice, will continue supporting these efforts through the winter months. Alex will continue to work with DUG’s various communities on the human infrastructure piece of the BII initiative by providing support to our most under-resourced gardens. Alex is also continuing to collaborate on physical infrastructure projects including building community spaces that include pergolas, seating, and outdoor classroom spaces, while actively leading volunteer groups to learn more about different aspects of the green industry.This partnership with Sprouts has enabled the reactivation of the Goldrick Elementary Community Garden to make it more of a welcoming space. Students and local youth love working on the garden, and much-needed restoration has been made including reframing and replacing old plot edging, repaving pathways with weed barriers, adding plant pollinators and seedlings for planting, working with Denver Public Schools to make the fencing and entryway more welcoming with art and perennials, and providing support for programming and teachers at the Goldrick School.

Sprouts has also supported BII water infrastructure that includes water tank delivery and installation at the Beeler and Sanctuary Gardens. Additionally, improvements have been made at the Asian Pacific Development Center Community Garden that include pergolas and seating.

DUG is also thrilled to share that Sprouts Growing School Gardens Summit is happening for the first time in Denver this year. This Summit is a gathering designed to support the diversity of our shared work and strengthen the school garden movement at local and national levels so that all children and youth can have vibrant, resilient school garden programs.

We can’t wait to continue this collaboration with Sprouts over the next two years as we build community and work together to make urban gardening more equitable for all.

The Garden in November

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

November in Denver is a time of varying degrees of temperature change and precipitation, with temperatures ranging from daytime highs of almost 60 at the beginning of the month, to the mid-40s by the month’s end. Nights are chilly, gradually cooling from the low 30s to the high teens, with daylight hours rapidly shortening. The possibility for snowfall increases with several inches expected during the month, although there have been years in which blizzard conditions have occurred.

The last fall leaves blanket the ground with a welcome cover, reminding us to use their bounty to mulch our garden beds, surround our perennials, shrubs and trees with a protective coat, and appreciate the importance of slowing down and gathering together. It is not the season of ‘doing’, but developing deeper roots. We are gently reminded to share.

S | Show up for the earth and others.

  • Make sure that all garden beds are protected from the effects of erosion by covering them with fall leaves, straw, and/or cover crops
  • Renew and restart compost piles utilizing disease-free end of garden crops, fall leaves, and non-meat food scraps
  • Utilize extra fall leaves as part of the indoor bedding mix for red wiggler worms (vermicomposting). This provides an easy-to-manage system for creating nutritionally-rich amendments for spring gardens and houseplants
  • Extend a helping hand to others in your community by sharing garden skills, recipes, and seeds

H| Harvest hope.

  • Concentrate on the successes of the season, realizing that gardening is a process, not a race
  • Make a plan to peruse your community and/or home garden on a regular basis, noticing different microclimates that can be utilized for customized growing
  • Leave seedheads on perennial flowers as sources of winter food for songbirds and habitats (leave the dead stems until spring) for overwintering beneficial insects

A | Arrange tool areas + tools. 

  • An often neglected task during the off season involves arranging your tool storage areas and making sure tools are in good working condition for the upcoming season
  • Store shovels and hoes off the floor to prevent rust accumulation & dull edges
  • Remove caked-on soil, oil any wooden surfaces with a thin coating of linseed oil
  • Garden centers offer end-of-season sales on that ‘must have’ pruner or other too essential. Tools make great gifts for yourself or friends

R | Revisit spring plans.

  • Resolve to garden ‘smarter, not harder’ by establishing set internal pathways for feet to show up on a regular basis
  • Plan for season wide usage of gardening areas, incorporating flowers and herbs that welcome beneficial insects and nurture your spirit
  • Grow what you love to eat, or can share

E | Ease into the season. 

  • Learn from the trees and perennials, that concentrate on developing deep roots
  • Consider regular get-togethers, either in person or virtually with gardener friends, to solidify lessons learned, share meals, decide upon shared tasks for the upcoming season
  • Grow a few houseplants to keep the ‘green connection’ growing, increase oxygen levels in your home and realize that you are a key part of our caring for the earth

Don’t forget that you can also save seeds from your final harvests for next year!

Enjoy this short video about how to save seeds from your dying flowers for use in your garden next year.

Quick Garden Tip: Successful Seeds 

Prior to planting season, spend a bit of time checking seed viability (their ability to germinate successfully). Seeds such as lettuce and onions generally germinate poorly after several years of storage. 

Do an easy test to check for seed germination:

    • Spread 10 lettuce or onion seeds out on a double layer of moistened paper towels. Space them evenly in 1 row on top of the towel
    • Roll up paper towel & place in a ziplock bag, keeping the bag in a cool, dark area
    • Each day, carefully remove the ‘seed towel’, unroll & lightly blow on it, releasing carbon dioxide that encourages germination
    • After around 6 – 8 days, if at least 6 seeds have germinated (60% rate), the seed variety is ‘safe’ to plant for the upcoming season.