All Posts By

Denver Urban Gardens

Bringing composting to the people

By posts

By Judy Elliott, Education and Community Empowerment Coordinator

Youth educators learning to build classroom wormbinsFor many years, Denver Urban Gardens has developed, facilitated and partnered with other individuals and agencies to provide educational programs that maximize the skills of our staff and volunteers. In addition to our Master Community Gardener Program, which provides in-depth knowledge of the many facets of community garden development, we offer the annual Master Composter Training and Outreach Program, in partnership with Denver Recycles.

For over twenty years, this train-the trainer program has attracted a diverse group of volunteers who contribute far more than their required forty hours of educational outreach. The ten-week training program provides the opportunity for volunteers to learn the basics of integrated solid waste management from the staff of Denver Recycles and gain a solid understanding of recycling, modern landfill construction and explore some of the newer uses of landfills as sources for co-generation of electricity. Guest lecturers from Metro Wastewater Reclamation District and Hudson Gardens discuss challenges in our Denver watershed that occur from excess nutrients flowing into the river, and also cover the basics of xeriscape gardening and design. An all-day field trip takes us to visit the electricity generators at a large landfill, a recycling facility and a commercial composting operation. Intensive instruction is provided in composting and vermicomposting (composting with red wiggler worms), with two full days devoted to setting up our composting demonstration site at our Gove Community Garden.

Outreach is carried out from May through the end of October at four different farmers’ markets, many community gardens, fairs, and dozens of free compost classes at Gove Community Garden. There are also many opportunities to work with youth in Denver Public Schools, helping to set up worm boxes in the fall. Teachers then utilize the worm castings as they transplant spring seedlings into the garden.

Our Master Composters stay together, developing strong friendships, continuing to bond in our series of monthly potlucks and workdays at Gove. From discarded stems, branches, overgrown veggies, landscape trimmings, pet fur and weeds, we create the rich humus that can hold 100% of its weight in water, provide a season–long release of major and minor nutrients, decrease our carbon footprint, and provide the fertile environment for growing healthy plants and people. If you’re interested in learning how to participate in the 2014 Master Composter program, believe that composting truly needs to be a household word, and live for getting your hands in the soil, please check for updated program information by the end of the third week in October. Our free two-hour public compost classes begin in May. Registration for public classes is open one month prior to your desired class. Come and learn with us! The full schedule is available here.

For further information, please contact program coordinator Judy Elliott.

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

Breaking Ground with Aurora Public Schools and North Middle School

By posts

By Shannon Spurlock, Community Initiatives Coordinator

This spring, North Middle School Health Sciences and Technology Campus (NMS) will be the first school in Aurora Public Schools (APS) to host a school-based community garden. The seeds of this effort were originally planted in 2010 when Bridging Research and Aurora Neighborhoods for Community Health (BRANCH) – a student, faculty, and staff organization affiliated with the Anschutz Medical Campus – broached Denver Urban Garden (DUG) and APS about partnering to establish school-based community gardens. 

All three organizations spent time exploring this idea and what partnerships between the three bodies and schools could look like. APS determined that schools participating in the Aurora LIGHTS program would be a great potential fit as it is geared toward students in grades 6 – 8 who are interested in pursuing careers in the health sciences ( North Middle School had expressed interest in having a school-based community garden, believed they had community support and interest, and participated in Aurora LIGHTS; it seemed like a great first site to begin determining the school and community readiness for a community garden.

With the support of the Department of Family Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus, generous funding from the Piton Foundation was awarded to support this pilot project. BRANCH students partnered with residents and began reaching out to the community and to school parents to determine interest in participating in a school-based community garden. The surrounding community and parents proved to be very excited about this prospect and, with BRANCH taking the lead, began attending monthly meetings that covered everything from basic organic gardening to going through the background check process. 

When it came time to break ground, APS kicked it off by removing the sod, rough grading the terraces, retrofitting the existing irrigation, and providing some repurposed block for the terrace wall. As we move into spring, planning is afoot for active student involvement – in planting the garden and hosting complementary programs such as youth farmers’ markets. NMS also plans to have an EBT machine at their market, ensuring that the healthy fresh food they are selling, is accessible to those using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by on Saturday, May 18 from 10am to 1pm and celebrate the grand opening of the North Middle School Community Garden! We would love to have you and to celebrate the accomplishments of the many partners and community members that came together to make this vision a reality. North Middle School is located at 12095 E Montview Blvd, Aurora, CO 80010.

North Middle School Community Garden site plan

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

A new season at DeLaney Community Farm

By posts

By Faatma Mehrmanesh, Operations Coordinator at DUG’s DeLaney Community Farm

Joy and Trepidation: WE’RE EXCITED! Excited for another year of local food production for our community of shareholders, community partners and farm stand. Excited to try new techniques in organic pest control and maximizing our use of space while building up a healthy soil in a semi-arid high plains environment. Excited to have a new seasonal staff of Farmer Interns and work with new community partners! Excited to get dirty and watch seeds grow into a system of abundant food and abundant relationships.

We are NERVOUS about the forecast of another season of heat and drought! While organic farming does make every effort, with considerable success, to protect the earth we cultivate from the extreme heat and create an optimal growing environment of healthy bacteria and balance in nutrients and pH levels, we can’t predict the outcome or the extremes we’ll experience. Plus it’s not unusual for the weather to be unpredictable here.

Drought: With the worst water levels that we’ve seen in more than a decade and anticipating temperatures higher than we’ve experienced since the Dust Bowl, we have to do our part and make sure that we are intentional about our water use. There aren’t restrictions on agricultural use but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things we can do to use less and still feed our plants. Fortunately for us, organic growing practices have some built in measures for water conservation, like mulching and companion planting, that we already do. DeLaney also converted to drip irrigation about four years ago, to reduce the amount of water wasted (evaporating in the hot air via sprinklers) and have worked closely with the City of Aurora Parks and Open Spaces and Water Conservation offices to ensure that we are taking every measure to use only what we need. We might even do some xeric demonstration gardens around the farm!

Down the Rabbit Hole: Oh Bunnies! Why are you so cute and terrible? As many of you know from experience in your own community or backyard garden, the bunnies won’t go away. They will eat all your crops and they are less fearful than they used to be! Last year the rabbit population exploded around DeLaney Community Farm and brought all sorts of havoc and devastation with them.  Drastic times call for drastic measures… within reason.

This year at DeLaney we are excited to partner with Nature’s Educator and their rescued raptors! These falcons, hawks, kestrels, and maybe even some owls will visit us on the farm to exercise and have lunch… on rabbits! These kinds of closed loop systems of problem solving make us so happy and we feel a lot less guilty. I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on our successes and failures as the season progresses.

Expansion: DeLaney Community Farm is adding SIX new fields for cultivation this year, which is just under a half acre! …and you know what that means…. more food! More food for shareholders, the awesome WIC participating families, for the folks who make it out to our farm stand every Saturday and our amazing community partners, Project Angel Heart, the Gathering Place and joining us this year, Nooch Vegan Market! We are grateful for our long-standing partnership with the City of Aurora for helping us make this happen!

Our 2013 Staff: Every year we invite a new set of dedicated young farmers to work with us at DeLaney.  It’s a shared learning experience where we all explore the processes, successes and failure of working a mission driven (peri) urban farm, using only organic growing practices! Our staff this year is Zoe Anjo (Farmer Apprentice), Kim Schmidt (Farm Intern), Oliver Wray (Farm Intern), Emily May, (Programs & Outreach Intern), and Laurie Rochart (Programs & Outreach Intern).  It’s going to be an excellent year! Happy Growing!

Interested in becoming a DeLaney Community Farm shareholder? Contact DeLaney Programs and Outreach Coordinator Heather DeLong to be added to the waitlist. Click here to learn more about DeLaney Community Farm. 

Keep kids engaged with summer garden clubs

By posts

By Shawnee Adelson, Youth Education Facilitator

Gardeners at Swansea Garden Club, Summer 2012The beauty of the garden club is its flexibility. Each DUG garden club is run at the community level, making each one unique. Some are after school, and some are only during the summer. Some meet once a week, some meet more often. They can focus on art, gardening, science, literature, cooking or multiple subjects. Garden clubs are supervised by teachers, parents, Connecting Generations mentors and/or community gardeners, but are really run by the students who participate. Though the details may vary, all garden clubs connect students to the garden in a fun, consistent, and nontraditional way.

The following showcases a few examples of different garden clubs throughout DUG’s network of school-based community gardens: 

  • Bradley Elementary’s garden club was started in 2011 by a group of volunteers including Connecting Generations mentors, Slow Food Denver, volunteers, community garden leaders and parents. The program is open to 4th and 5th grade students, and because of intentional fundraising efforts, there is no charge to students to participate. Each year the group of students grows as the club becomes more well known. Mentors, parents and teachers divide the students’ time between culinary, gardening, reading, journaling and science lessons and activities. Parents are asked to participate in at least one session of garden club or prepare a healthy snack to encourage their support and to help bring the ideas from garden club home. Over the summer, students and parents are invited to visit the garden on Saturday mornings when Connecting Generations mentors will be available to guide garden activities. 
  • Fifth graders at Swansea Elementary participate in our classroom and garden-based nutrition education program funded by INEP. During the spring students start seedlings in the classroom, so they can be planted outside once it warms up. It was a natural extension to start a summer garden club so the students could continue to care for the plants and benefit from the bounty. For the last two years, Swansea’s summer garden club has been coordinated and run by two Connecting Generations mentors. The kids meet once a week to do various standard gardening projects, but also do fun activities like art projects. The summer garden club has grown into an afterschool Youth Farmers’ Market, which has become hugely popular with the students as well as the parents.
  • As one of the pioneers of the Youth Farmers’ Market program, Fairmont Elementary’s garden club has a long history. Over the years it has taken on various permutations, depending on who is running the program, and the interests of the students. Most recently the summer garden club was run by a parent, who had a more free-form model than other schools. Each day was dedicated to a different group of students. For example, every Saturday morning was for parents to bring their kids in grades pre-K through 3rd. This spring, a new parent and teacher group will be coordinating the garden club, with the intention of starting seedlings indoors and preparing and planting the garden beds before school is out for summer.  
  • Valdez Elementary began its first garden club in 2012, and it was so successful that the leaders plan to continue this year. Their activities ranged from scavenger hunts to encourage plant and insect identification skills, to taste education for fruits and vegetables, and mapping the garden plots, which was directly related to one teacher’s classroom lessons. They largely used Denver Urban Gardens’ garden and nutrition curriculum, which leaders found to be user-friendly and relevant to classroom lessons. This year they plan to hold their first Youth Farmers’ Market, which will be run by the garden club students beginning this fall. 
  • Ellis Elementary began their first garden club at the beginning of this school year. A teacher and Connecting Generations mentor team have met with K-2 grade students each week throughout the entire school year. They used the winter months for making mural art, building a worm bin, learning new vocabulary and learning about nutrition through healthy snacks and MyPlate activities. With the growing season around the corner, they started seedlings indoors and each week hope for good weather to get outside to build a compost pile and prepare the soil.

If you are interested in starting a garden club, our resource, Troubleshooting a Summer Garden Program can help answer many questions educators face. For further assistance, DUG’s upcoming Helping Kids Get Healthy Educator Workshop on May 19th will focus on planning and implementing Summer Garden Clubs.

We love to hear your stories! If you would like your garden-based school program to be featured in a future Underground News, please contact us!

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

A community approach to drought

By posts

By Jessica Romer, Community Initiatives Coordinator

Each summer, as we see green lawns, abundant flowers and trees all around us, it is easy to forget that we live in a semi-arid climate. Though the Rocky Mountains in Colorado create the headwaters for four major watersheds, not all of this water belongs to Colorado residents. Colorado headwaters supply water to nineteen other states and Mexico. Thus, drought in Colorado is not just a local issue – it is of international concern. Drought is not uncommon in Colorado; in fact it rears its head somewhere in the state almost every year, resulting in forest fires, crop failure and consumption of water reserves. However, severe drought only pays a visit every decade or so. Our most recent drought in 2002 was more severe than in decades past, but relatively short-lived.

As of April 8th, Denver Water’s reservoir supply is well below that of 2002. From Denver Water: “The Denver area is in the second year of a serious drought that’s not getting better. Denver Water’s reservoirs didn’t fill last year, and the mountain stream flows that feed our reservoirs are expected to be well below normal. Based on the conditions we are seeing today, this may shape up to be Denver’s worst drought on record.” Statewide, snowpack is at 69% of normal. Despite our recent precipitation and lower than average temperatures, a March update from the CO Water Conservation Board and CO Division of Water Resources states that “275% of normal precipitation would be needed to reach average peak snowpack statewide, which typically occurs on April 8th.” It is very unlikely at this point that we will catch up.

Drought is particularly concerning because its length is unpredictable. Thanks to the planning efforts of water utilities, we typically have enough water to withstand a one to two year drought. Though droughts that last longer than two years are rare, we must think longterm. It can take years to replenish reservoirs, so there are no quick fixes to drought. Water utilities are genuinely concerned about being able to conserve the water supply after this year, so we must plan and act with the assumption that the drought will continue.

Denver Water has changed their slogan from the familiar Use Only What You Need to Use Even Less. As citizens, mandatory water restrictions challenge us to consider what we really need versus what is habitual and comfortable. When water is as easily accessible as turning on a faucet or spigot, we take for granted the readily available water. For example, Denver Water tells us that three to seven gallons of water run out of a hose every minute that it is on, depending on the pressure. If we water our garden for twenty minutes, the simple math tells us that we just used 60-140 gallons of water. That doesn’t seem like much when you consider that in 2012 some customers paid just $4.81 per 1,000 gallons of water. But we must broaden our perspective and see ourselves as individuals within a community of water users. Denver Water has stated the need to save 16 billion gallons of water this year. We cannot do this alone.

On April 1st, Denver Water declared a Stage 2 drought with mandatory restrictions. Vegetable and annual gardens in Denver Water’s service area may be watered any day of the week with a handheld device or drip irrigation. Denver Urban Gardens is taking one step further to require watering before 10:00am or after 6:00pm in DUG community gardens. You can view a full list of Denver Water’s restrictions here.

Outdoor water use accounts for 55% of residential customers total water use in Denver; the other 45% of water is used indoors. Toilets use 11%, clothes washers use 9%, showers use 8%, leaks use 7%, faucets use 6% and so on. The EPA estimates that more than 50% of water used in outdoor landscapes is wasted due to poor irrigation practices. Because of the enormous potential for improvement, water conservation programs often target outdoor water use.

Overall, Denver Water is asking for a 20% reduction in outdoor water use. Given that water use overall has decreased since 2002, this year’s reduction will be harder to meet than in the last major drought. Rates are also increasing by up to 20% this year. However, if we are able to meet the 20% reduction, the 20% rate increase will be irrelevant.

As community gardeners, we are presented with both an opportunity and a responsibility to model efficient water use and to educate our neighbors regarding water conservation. As DUG community gardens are very visible in the community, it is imperative that community gardeners model resourceful and efficient watering practices. We want to be exemplary stewards of our community watershed. 

Community vegetable gardens actually use about half the amount of water as an equal size area of turf, and are relatively water efficient due to hand watering practices, not to mention gardens produce a valuable product in the vegetables grown. These reasons contribute to Denver Water’s decision to support vegetable gardens, so long as they continue to enact wise water practices. 

The first step in practicing smart water use is becoming aware of how we use water and how the soil and plants use water. In the vegetable garden, we can follow a few simple guidelines and become experts at reading our plants and environmental indicators so that we use just the right amount of water, no more and no less.  

  • Water when the plants and soil need it, not out of habit. With the exception of the beginning of the season when young plants and seeds are establishing themselves, vegetable gardens should only need to be watered two-three times per week. Even in the heat of summer, gardens do not need to be watered daily. Though it may not be intuitive, we are actually watering the soil, not our plants. Plants absorb water through their roots in the soil, and plant roots grow towards water in the soil. When a gardener provides smaller amounts of water on a frequent basis, the roots have no reason to expand into a strong, expansive system. This practice can be very detrimental to plant growth and is an ineffective use of water. The smarter technique is to water less frequently, but deeper. This practice, especially employed early in the growing season, encourages plants to grow deeper roots that will help them to maintain strength during the hotter, drier periods later in the growing season.

    In the heat of the day, plants may look droopy, and soil often looks dry from the surface. Before going straight to the hose, take a moment to dig into the soil to determine if the buried soil is as dry as the surface. If so, it’s time to water. Before doing so, use a hand tool to lightly break up the crusty surface of the soil between plants so that water can easily penetrate. This can be done on a weekly basis to encourage soil health throughout the season.  

  • Get to know your soil. Water must first be able to enter the given soil, and then the soil must have the capacity to hold the water so that it is available for the plants. Clay soils are dense which makes it difficult for water to enter the soil. Once water does percolate into the soil, clay soils will hold water much better than sandy soils. Water percolates through sandy soil very quickly, but also dries out faster, so plants will require more frequent watering. You can easily determine what soil texture your garden has by doing a simple ribbon test. Whether you have clay or sandy soil, adding compost breaks up dense clay soils making it easier for water to penetrate and improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils. Soil enriched with compost can result in a 20% decrease in water usage. Add one to two inches of compost to the garden in the springtime. 
  • Water by hand. The EPA estimates that gardeners who water by hand use 33% less water than those who use automated irrigation systems. Hand watering allows gardeners to respond to changing soil moisture conditions as watering occurs. For instance, when water begins to pool on the surface, stop watering. Wait for the pool to disappear and then try watering again. If the soil accepts the water, then continue watering until water has penetrated just beyond the root level. You may need to dig around with your hands initially to get a sense of how much water is needed for your soil. This practice uses water more efficiently by getting water into the target area, which reduces fugitive water and is more beneficial to plant health. Be sure to target water towards the soil at the base of the plants, being careful not to water the plant’s foliage.
  • Reduce water loss. Evaporation is water loss from the soil surface and transpiration is water loss from the plants’ foliage. To limit evapotranspiration (ET), plan your garden so that the leaves of mature plants are just barely touching. This limits the amount of exposed soil that is susceptible to evaporation. Mulch so that you have little to no soil exposed on the surface. Mulch reduces the amount of soil exposed and in turn reduces the amount of water needed, particularly in sandy soils. Newspapers, straw (my personal favorite), dry grass clippings that have not been treated with chemicals are all relatively inexpensive and free mulch options. As mulch decomposes, it increases the organic content of the soil, which provides a consistent source of nutrients throughout the season. ET is highest during the heat of the day. Watering before 10:00am or after 6:00pm allows plants to better access the water provided to them, as opposed to the water evaporating before it gets down into the plants’ root zones. Water loss can also occur from loose hose connections. Always use a nozzle on the hose for quick shut off. Make sure to tighten your hoses and use o-rings in the base of the hose so that water doesn’t drip unnecessarily. O-rings can fall out of hoses or dry up in our climate, but replacements can be purchased at any hardware store.

    So this summer, push your plants to their limits. It will make them stronger in the long run. Water deeply, only two-three times each week. Challenge your fellow gardeners to model responsible gardening practices by collectively using as little water as possible. For example, set up a watering schedule for common areas in your community garden to prevent overwatering. Water conservation will help your garden have less weeds, lower water bills, and help to maintain a positive image of community gardens across the city. Unless citizens take action now to conserve water and reduce consumption, this drought could become a Stage 3 drought, which mandates no outdoor watering (with the exception of some trees). This would be damaging to landscapes and the economy throughout the Metro area. Let’s look at our water use, in our gardens, homes, and workplaces and see just how little water we can use while still meeting our basic needs. Every drop saved is one more drop available for a time when we may need it even more than now. 

Each water utility has different reservoirs, supply areas and water systems, and thus each will be unique in their drought declarations this year. Not sure who your water provider is? Check out this website to find out.

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

2013 Earth Day Volunteer Opportunities

By posts

Earth Day is rapidly approaching and we need some wonderful volunteers to represent Denver Urban Gardens at various locations! You will be responsible for general Denver Urban Gardens outreach, including answering basic questions, signing people up for the volunteer and newsletter list and operating the DUG booth. You will be provided with DUG tabling materials and a cheat sheet for basic questions, and if any unanswerable question arises, you can send them to DUG staff via phone or email. These events are key in helping the community learn about the services that DUG offers. Times, dates and locations are as follows: 

Sunday, April 14th

  • Four Mile Park (715 S. Forest Street): 10:00am – 12:00pm, 12:00 – 2:00pm, 2:00 – 4:00pm

Monday, April 15th

  • Tivoli Commons at Auraria Campus: 10:00am – 12:00pm, 12:00 – 3:00pm

Saturday, April 20th

  • Denver Language School (451 Newport Street): 9:00am – 12:00pm
  • Whole Foods Market SouthGlenn (6853 S. York Street): 11:00am – 1:00pm
  • Whole Foods Market Tamarac (7400 E. Hampden Ave.): 12:00 – 3:00pm

Tuesday, April 22nd

  • National Jewish Hospital (1400 Jackson Street): 11:30am – 1:30pm
  • STEM Magnet Lab School (11700 Irma Drive, Northglenn): 5:00 – 7:30pm

To sign up for any of these opportunities or for more information, contact Lauren here.

Volunteers Needed: Free Seeds and Transplants Orders and Delivery

By posts

Denver Urban Gardens is seeking volunteers to help fulfill and deliver seed orders for 2013’s Free Seeds and Transplants Program, which provides free vegetable seeds and plants to in-need families, individuals, and schools throughout Metro Denver. With over 3,000 applications from qualifying community members, we can’t do it without you! Volunteer opportunities are described below:

Filling Seed Orders for the Free Seeds and Transplants Program

Seed sorting will take place at 700 Kalamath in Denver at the times listed below. We will provide breakfast and lunch for all volunteers each day. Volunteers interested in this opportunity should be comfortable with being on their feet and moving for long periods of time. This is an exciting and rewarding volunteer opportunity, and we hope that you will consider joining us! The shifts are long, but we will take frequent breaks. We can accept up to 12 volunteers each day, so groups are welcome.

Available shifts:

  • Monday, March 11th, 9:00am – 5:00pm 
  • Tuesday, March 12th, 1:00pm – 6:00pm 

Volunteers interested in this volunteer opportunity should contact us with the shift you would prefer, how many in your party, and any dietary restrictions, as breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Seed Delivery for the Free Seeds and Transplants Program

We are seeking volunteers to assist with delivery for our Free Seeds and Transplants program. Each volunteer will deliver filled seed orders to 3-7 distribution centers. Volunteers interested in this opportunity should have their own transportation (large vehicles aren’t necessary though they will be easier), and be very familiar with Denver or have access to a GPS (we will provide paper maps as back-up). Volunteers will report for seed delivery on Wednesday, March 13th at 9:00am at 700 Kalamath in Denver. Delivery typically takes 2-3 hours. 

Available routes:

  • Central / West Denver
  • Northeast Denver
  • Far Northeast Denver
  • Northwest Denver 

Volunteers interested in this opportunity should contact us with the route they would prefer.   

To learn more about DUG’s Free Seeds Free Seeds and Transplants Program, click here


By posts
Denver Urban Gardens has a long history of providing opportunities for youth in the areas of nutrition and gardening. Because of this background, we’re excited to share youth nutrition resources with our community. One such opportunity in March is from SlimGenics, a Denver-headquartered leader in nutrition-based weight loss programs. SlimGenics is partnering with DUG to sponsor a demonstration kitchen in our new facility, slated to open in June 2013.  

During the month of March, SlimGenics is offering free youth programs to all kids ages 10 to 17. Youth will receive free nutritional plans and free snacks while supplies last. For more information, visit

We are grateful to SlimGenics for their support of our mission, and for their work in improving health and nutrition for youth!

Volunteers Needed: Free Seeds and Transplant Data Entry

By posts
This time every year, Denver Urban Gardens partners with nearly 40 community-based distribution centers to offer Free Seeds and Transplants applications to qualifying community members for our Free Seeds and Transplants Program. In early February, DUG will collect over 2,000 applications from these centers, and enter the information into a database so that we can order vegetable seeds and transplants to be delivered for spring planting.

We are seeking volunteers to assist with data entry for this program! We will take up to five volunteers for each of the following shifts: 
  • Friday, February 8th, 1:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Monday, February 11th, 9:00 – 12:00pm
  • Monday, February 11th, 1:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Wednesday, February 13th, 9:00am – 12:00pm
  • Wednesday, February 13th, 1:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Friday, February 15th, 9:00am – 12:00pm
  • Friday, February 15th, 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Volunteers interested in this opportunity should be comfortable using Microsoft Excel, and not mind repetitive data entry tasks (though you are welcome to bring your headphones if you want to listen to music). Because we will be signing up exactly as many volunteers as we have spare computers, please only sign up for this opportunity if you are absolutely sure you can make it. To sign up, contact us to let us know which shift(s) you prefer. We will confirm within two business days.
To learn more about DUG’s Free Seeds and Transplants Program, click here



Food Access and Farming at Home and Abroad

By posts

By Heather DeLong, Programs and Outreach Coordinator at DUG’s DeLaney Community Farm

Cabbage harvestNearly seven years ago, I came to Denver Urban Gardens as the Farm Manager of DeLaney Community Farm, after living and working in Mauritania, West Africa for 3 1/2 years as a U.S. Peace Corps Agroforestry Extension Agent. As the DUG Farm Manager, I remember the excitement of having the opportunity to manage a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, in addition to directing community programs for underserved communities. Programs such as WIC at DeLaney (Women Infants Children), Community Partner Shares, and the Somali Bantu Refugee Farming Program (2006-2009) have allowed me to deepen my commitment to the work of healthy food access and food security for people of all socioeconomic levels.

DUG has been instrumental in supporting my ideas and endeavors to continue the work in strengthening local food security, while acknowledging the importance of regional and global food systems. Utilizing industry leading work, for which DUG has fostered and allowed me to expand upon, I believe there is a social responsibility that this knowledge should be freely shared within the global community. This, in turn, led me to research organizations such as CNFA (formerly known as the Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs) to further spread knowledge on a global scale. CNFA’s mission is to stimulate economic growth and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world by empowering the private sector. 

An opportunity presented itself in August of this year to work with CNFA as a Cooperative Management Specialist in their Farmer-to-Farmer (FTF) program in Mozambique, Southern Africa. With the flexibility and support DUG provided I was able to further DUG’s organizational values, as well as my own, with those of the FTF program in lieu of the busiest period of DeLaney’s farm season. 

CNFA is founded on the principle that empowering people economically gives them the tools and confidence they need to change their lives. To achieve this, CNFA employs a market driven approach that is focused on strengthening value chains to allow farmers and other agricultural enterprises to access and compete in high-value markets, see more profits and reinvest in their businesses.

FTF is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the US foreign aid program. These funds are appropriated through the Food for Peace program as authorized by the US Farm Bill. The program relies on the expertise of volunteers from US farms, land grant universities, cooperatives and private agribusiness to provide short-term technical assistance. This work is supported in the long term by highly knowledgeable and qualified CNFA staff in the countries they work in.

While in the Sofala Province of Mozambique, working with the Farmers Association in the small community of Nhabirira, I engaged with thirty-three farmers (twenty-two men and eleven women). This group of farmers is composed of kind, humble and welcoming people, who have communicated that they not only want to improve their individual lives, but improve their communities as well. To realize these goals, the theory of organized farming was made real in 2006 by forming a formal farmers association. Rosita Farnela, a 50-year old member of this association, summarized it well with the following statement: 

The reason for the association is to unite and work together. I am happy we now can work, we own fields and have individual plots, but the main reason is to unite… things have changed since joining the Association. I can now afford to pay school fees for my grandchildren and can pay hospital fees.

This is further corroborated by CNFA:

Farmers associations, worldwide, have the potential to greatly benefit their members. Unfortunately, over time they can stagnate or become plagued by mismanagement, loss of interest, or mission drift. Fortunately, the newly organized Associação Nhabirira in Gorongosa is well organized, optimistic and energetic. Its members have seen real benefits since its founding in 2006 and the board of directors recognizes that this is the ideal time to improve its associations best practices and learn more about sustainable and healthy cooperative growth.

Continuing to expand on the farmers’ success to date,  I spent the first week facilitating guided conversations to further my knowledge about the farmers and their farming practices. With this knowledge I could then begin to formulate and instantiate future work streams. This included topics around crops grown, soil quality, pest/disease management, water access/availability, economics, market constraints, and equipment procurement/maintenance. While unique challenges exist, there is a clear opportunity in sharing ideas. Ideas can be interpreted to fit a unique community’s needs, then integrated into the culture and community, working towards a singular success.

Heather with farmersThe following week was focused on providing interactive presentations on the following Cooperative and Community Development topics: Community and Association Assessment, Prioritization of Problems, Solutions by Priority, Cooperative Values/Common Characteristics/Principles, and Steps for Development of Cooperative.  

The farmers welcomed and engaged in the conversation, communicating that their unique execution of cooperative development ideas could further their success. They were excited to implement many management ideas into their Association and the greater community, where the community realizes what models and ideas truly work best for them. 

CNFA has proven to be a world class organization that continues to be a demand driven program, in which farmers request volunteers to focus on capacity building, to enhance knowledge, in order to reach their own goals.  Integrating my approach with those of DUG and CNFA proved to be an ideal combination for the program. Due to the success of the program, there is the potential to further the work with the Nhabirira Farmers Association. It was an honor to participate in this program and a privilege to further the work I believe in most!