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Teaching Resilience through Healthy Cooking

By Faces of DUG

#16: Meet La'Tara, 3rd grade teacher at Swansea Elementary School

“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 DUG’s virtual cooking classes is that they allow my students, their parents, and their teacher to get on one call, make a meal together, and enjoy some informal quality time. After the third cooking class, one parent said to me, “This is so fun! I hope we can continue doing this.” It has been a way for us to get together and hang out, which is something that’s missing from a lot of people’s lives right now because of COVID. When we were teaching in-person, my kids would say, “Oh, this is so sad. I can’t hug you!” They couldn’t talk to their friends because of social distancing. 

These classes not only have allowed us to make a meal altogether, but they have also given us a chance to talk about our lives and share what’s going on in each of our worlds. They have helped spur more personal conversations and allowed us to talk outside of the academic room. My students brought their little brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, aunts, and other family members to join in. It has been a family affair; no students joined the classes alone. 

DUG’s cooking classes have complimented my normal curriculum. My students have a hard time following multi-step directions and sticking things out till the end. We all follow along as Ms. Riley lists the instructions for each recipe, reinforcing the positive behaviors I am trying to teach my students. When you start with raw vegetables and end with a finished product, can taste it (and it tastes good), it excites my students. They are learning how to follow directions and how to persevere because, in the end, there will be a great prize. It helps build my students’ intrinsic motivation and teaches them that eating healthy is good for you. They are learning that you don’t need extravagant, expensive ingredients to cook a healthy meal. You can use ingredients that come from the earth that are inexpensive, plentiful, and accessible. And you can even grow them yourself!

The students were able to learn about new vegetables they’ve never tried before. One class that blew us all away was when we cooked a pasta recipe with kale. At one point, there was complete silence because everybody was eating. All you could hear was, “This is so good! I never thought kale could be this good!” One of my students’ dad used kale instead of bread the next day to make him a sandwich. They are incorporating lifestyle changes in their own lives and passing them onto the generation above them.

I believe that my students’ understanding of vegetables and healthy eating has changed because of DUG’s cooking classes. Many students thought that vegetables aren’t something they want to eat because they lack flavor and won’t be satisfying enough. Before one of the classes, one of my students said to me, “Ms. Clayton, I think they messed up my bag! Are these people vegetarian? Why isn’t there any meat?” I explained to her that good sources of vitamins, minerals, and healthy calories come from vegetables. I told her that I had recently gone to the grocery store to buy some ground beef, and it was so expensive that I couldn’t afford to buy it. I want my students to learn that there might come a time when we won’t have such easy access to the foods we’re used to eating, but we can still sustain ourselves with the food that comes from the earth, which is better for us. 

The only recipe we cooked that the students didn’t like had radishes and beets in it. They said to me, “Ms. Clayton, can we say something truthfully? This is disgusting!” I explained to them that everyone has a different palette; different people like different things. During another class, a student noticed that some of the carrots had shoots growing out of them. They said, “Can we eat this? It’s deformed! Doesn’t that mean that it has pesticides in it and isn’t good to eat?” I told them that not every carrot grows perfectly out of the ground. That “deformed” carrot is just as nutritious as any other carrot. I told them, “Just peel it, chop it, and eat it!” And they did.

DUG’s cooking classes have built a greater sense of community in my classroom: with my students, parents, and within their family units themselves. We’ve gotten to know each other through sharing family recipes. The students’ ideas of healthy eating and community gardens have been elevated to another level. My students even asked me if we could start gardening at our school and share the produce in their lunchroom with food stations that are labeled with titles such as, “These carrots were provided by the Third Graders.” This program has given my students a sense of ownership and excitement about farming, natural foods, gardening, and community. We’ve even decided to continue the cooking classes all on our own once a month!”

Pictured: La’Tara’s daughter showing off recipes cooked in class

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2020 Outstanding Garden Leader Awards

By News

Each year, DUG recognizes Garden Leaders who have gone above-and-beyond as volunteers, stewards, organizers, and leaders in their community. We’re excited to share more about 2020’s outstanding Garden Leaders in the words of their community members themselves!

Bruce Loftis, Gables Community Garden

Bruce is always (always!) willing to help anyone and everyone with anything and everything that comes up.  He’ll help other gardeners prepare their plots, water when they’re on vacations, harvest, and clean up at the end of the season.  He’ll help with any projects that are happening with the students in the garden– and this year when we can’t do things in person with the students, he is always there to help plant, tend, and care for the school plots when students can’t be there with us. Bruce is always the first to volunteer when a task needs to be done, whether watering new trees or perennials, contacting gardeners, or sharing knowledge with other schools or groups interested in starting gardens of their own.  He is open to new ideas, he manages conflict well, he persists through difficult situations, and he cares about other people.  Best of all, Bruce always has a smile on his face and a pleasant greeting for everyone he meets.  We are so lucky to have Bruce as our Garden Leader and fellow gardener. 

Michael Lyster, Academia Sandoval Community Garden

Michael is a great leader who keeps us updated on DUG events and helps gather materials and resources for the garden.  He is a good gardener willing to share his ideas and experience.

His gardeners say: 

  • I love that he calls us all “farmers.”
  • I love that his/our response to the El Oasis sale was to make more space in our garden.
  • I love the eclectic and fun conversations we all have remotely now / in person before about gardening and its relation to all things important. 

Elaine Davis, Fletcher Community Garden

Elaine is a Master Community Gardener who  jumped into leading the Fletcher garden after the last leader left. She leads equitably and inclusively and has made a point of honoring the garden’s history and traditions.

Pallas Quist, Samuels Community Garden and DCIS Baker Community Garden:

Pallas has been a Garden Leader at Samuels since it was established in 2012. This year when her children started school at DCIS Baker, Pallas noticed the garden was underused and has spent the last few months giving the garden a facelift and getting it ready for students to plant in the spring!

Stephanie Sisnroy, Little Sprouts Community Garden:

We would like to give a shout out to Stephanie from the Little Elementary DUG. We have known Stephanie and her family for several years now. She is super organized and lets people contribute however they can. She has gotten people to share their expertise and has made the students at the school the main focus of learning. We have had several fall farmers markets and she has involved many community organizations to purchase plants and supplies from. Now with covid…we have had to adhere to some rules to continue to make the garden as Stephanie would say…our happy place. Her contributions have been endless and it is greatly appreciated. We appreciate being a part of this garden.

Lyric McKnight, KCAA Community Garden:

Lyric has been a part of the KCAA garden leadership since it was established in 2015. She is a DUG Master Community Gardener who shares her commitment to healthy living with her gardeners. This year when more people were facing food insecurity, Lyric responded by helping plant all the available garden plots for donation.

Gardening for Purpose

By News

Every year, more than 600,000 pounds of food are grown in DUG gardens, with around 10% (or 60,000) pounds donated to local food banks and community organizations. For the last 23 years, DUG has also distributed tens of thousands of free and low-cost seeds and seedlings every spring to metro Denver residents to be able to grow their own food through our Grow a Garden program.

Learn more about how DUG provides the resources and education to help metro Denver residents grow healthy food for themselves and their neighbors below.

DUG + Slow Food Denver partner for virtual cooking classes

By News

DUG is cooking up virtual fun with Slow Food Denver!

This fall, we have been piloting new online cooking classes in partnership with Slow Food Denver as part of our Healthy Food for Denver Kid’s grant.

For four weeks, we supplied 139 3rd and 4th grade students at Fairview Elementary, Swansea Elementary, and Maxwell Elementary with the ingredients and tools needed to cook fresh, made-from-scratch meals at home using produce sourced from local farms. Each child participating in the program received produce for the week to feed a family of 6.

In partnership with Slow Food Denver, we supported teachers as they delivered virtual cooking instructions (in both English and Spanish!) for how to prepare four different meals, including seasonal vegetable soup, root veggie tacos, braised greens with pasta, and pupusas with curtido sauce!

The classes were a hit and we’re currently undergoing project evaluation as we prepare for the next round of classes!

Be sure to also check out our Faces of DUG highlight of La’Tara, a 3rd grade teacher at Swansea Elementary who participated in the program!

Our Virtual Cooking Classes by the Number

Gardening for mental wellbeing

By Faces of DUG

#15: Meet Anna, DUG program intern, Bruce Randolph Community Garden

“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 beds and grew most of my own produce. It was more of a means of survival at that time in my life, but it turned out that gardening was my refuge, as well. It was a time for me to think, be still, listen to music, get my hands dirty, and witness life. The resiliency of plants has always been a motivator for me to keep going, even when life gets really tough. I am part of a DUG garden now, and I absolutely love it! I live close by, so it has been so nice to get off work and ride my bike, look at my babies grow, and be a part of a group of people looking to make a positive change in the world. It is beautiful.

I found out about DUG a few years ago, did some volunteer work, and interned in the spring of 2020. It was life-changing. Even in the midst of COVID when the city shutting down, I was so honored to be part of a team that pivoted to increase food access across the Denver area. My brain works in the way that I always want things totally figured out, in order, and planned out to the tiniest detail. It was such a challenge for me personally to learn to look beyond the plan, learn that there are so many people and organizations looking to impact change in similar ways, and realize that big things can happen when you let go and trust.

I’ve always dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression in my life, and that only got worse for me throughout my career. Gardening has always been my safe space. A time just for me. It has taught me to slow down, to be comfortable doing one thing at a time, to look, listen, and be thankful for every second I have on this earth. It has taught me to be okay with slow progress, to look for the little joys in life, and to celebrate growth in all shapes and forms. My experiences with gardening have affected me so much that I decided to make a big career change because of the way connecting with the earth made me feel. I now work in horticulture and floral design and feel so honored to get to give back to a planet that gives so much to me on a daily basis.”

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Looking back on a lifetime in the garden

By Faces of DUG

#13: Meet Judy, Senior Education Specialist at DUG

“Although my mother wasn’t an active gardener, I think that sometimes interests skip generations. I remember my grandmother saving seeds of her treasured cleome (we called them ‘spider flowers’) whose pods we would lovingly ‘pop,’ and if we opened them at just the right time, you could stick them on your nose and create wonderful garden ‘creatures.’ She was a marvelous cook & baker and she shared stories of bringing special flours and seeds from Russia to use in her culinary dishes and share with others.

Working in the garden with her, I became enamored with how she carefully created specific areas to walk so as not to impact the soil. From that moment, a special seed was planted in me to learn as much as I could about tending the soil, realizing the amazing treasures of food, herbs, and flowers it yielded. I was just grateful to take part in the stewardship process.

Being involved with DUG for over 20 years, I have quietly listened as people from diverse countries shared their stories of bringing their own treasured seeds to plant, nourish both body and soul, and to help us understand that in our differences, there is a strong opportunity to learn, grow, and appreciate our diverse talents.

I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing staff, educating children and adults, leading the Master Composter program, and watching the seasons’ ebb and flow. As time goes by, I am inspired by the wisdom of the Earth, gathering all together to pause in wonder at the unfolding of each sunrise and its new possibilities for quiet reflection and growth. DUG is a web of interconnected voices, more than individual gardens: each voice giving strength to our vision of community, of strength in diversity, of sharing the stories of our home.”

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By Faces of DUG

#14: Meet Talia, Lowry Family Community Garden

“I signed up for a community garden plot at a DUG garden before I ever heard Daniel’s name. I was excited to grow things and put down roots, as I had just moved back to Denver. When I met Daniel, I found out that he was a super-gardener. On our third date, I asked him to help me in my garden. He humored me while I put random seeds in the ground. I had to leave town, and he asked if he could take care of my plot for me. When I came back, he had cleared out all the seeds and replaced them with seasonally-appropriate starts. And so began our gardening courtship.

Every week, we went to that garden and tended the plants, and our relationship grew. Gardening turned out to be a way for us to date. Our relationship moved pretty quickly. We were engaged within five months of meeting. We spent the whole summer gardening together. Those first five months revolved around gardening.

In September, Dan told me we needed to go to the garden to harvest our watermelon. We got there, and I ran off to start harvesting. He called me over, “Babe come here! You have to see this!” I came running, thinking he had found a squash we might have missed. He turned around with a ring in his hand and proposed. It was the perfect proposal for us because we grew our love in our DUG garden. We were even featured in the New York Times’ Wedding Section!

Over the years, we’ve grown thousands of pounds of food in DUG gardens. It has nurtured both our bellies and our hearts. Our family has grown to include two kids who love picking food in the garden and eating it right away. In the beginning, growing food was just for fun, but as I tasted how amazing food is when you grow it yourself, I don’t buy what I can grow in-season. We also pickle and preserve our harvest. I had been so oblivious to the seasonality of food before I started gardening. I can’t imagine my life now without it!

I learned how to garden in a DUG community garden. I would’ve never had that opportunity otherwise. DUG offers everyone in Denver a chance to engage with soil and understand the food lifecycle. What DUG does is essential, and I don’t think the community appreciates it as much as they should.”

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#12: Meet Meredith, Sunshine Community Garden

“I began gardening in my backyard and fell in love with the process of watching things miraculously grow out of the earth. As a dietitian, I love to eat good food to keep my body healthy, and there is nothing better than eating the food you grew yourself! Working for WIC, I had seen community gardens run in partnership with local WIC offices, so when I was approached at Jeffco to help manage and coordinate the start of a community garden onsite, I didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge. I helped start the Sunshine Community Garden in 2018 and had a garden plot for the first two years. Now, my time spent in the garden is dedicated to helping others, from teaching them how to manage our compost pile to how to pull up goat heads from our pathways.

DUG was instrumental in making the Sunshine Community Garden a reality. We knew we wanted a community garden onsite with the Jeffco WIC office and the Jeffco Head Start preschool to engage and serve the families who are at our campus. It was when we partnered with DUG that our dreams began to turn into actions! Their fantastic staff helped us acquire grant funding and coordinate volunteers. DUG provided expert design and project management to help us break ground and get our garden built. They helped us reach out to the families on campus and in the surrounding communities to invite them to join our garden.
Now, they attend our garden advisory committee meetings, supply seeds and seedlings through their Grow a Garden program, and guide everything from plot planning, composting, and communicating with a diverse group of gardeners down to how to engage young gardeners. Our garden community wouldn’t be as strong without the support of DUG!

Being part of a community garden has given me a platform for learning, sharing knowledge, supporting others, and working hard for what I believe is right. I’ve made friends with my gardeners and am so happy to see them in the garden and chat about their favorite tomato variety or what insect might be eating their plants. My gardeners were some of the first people outside of my family I interacted with after COVID forced us to work from home in March. I showed up in my mask, ready to serve them, welcome them, and hand out seeds and seedlings. The garden has been a place of community in the past, and this year has challenged us in building community in the absence of garden gatherings. Yet we have managed to build something, and it grows and towers with its beauty.”

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Gardening for Resilience

By Faces of DUG

#11: Meet Lindsay, Manager of Adult Self-Sufficiency Integrated Services (FACE), Johnson Elementary School

“One of the biggest challenges that our community faces is food insecurity, which has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. The funding we received through DUG has drawn us closer as a community. We were able to donate food to 25 of our highest-need families. We’ve been regularly distributing school lunches and weekend food bags to families that can’t leave their homes because they are sick with COVID-19.
With the grant funding from DUG, we employed 3 community gardeners who have all been significantly impacted by loss of work due to COVID and didn’t have money to pay rent. The funding is really helping their income. For a single parent with one child, $250 can pay for a month of groceries. It’s been a great opportunity for the parents to connect with their children, especially during a time when kids are feeling isolated. The parents talk about how much their children have learned from this experience. One little boy has been really into watching the radishes grow. His mom sent me a picture saying, “Oh my gosh, he’s begging me every single day to come to the garden so he can check on his radishes to see if they’re growing.”
All of the families at the Johnson Elementary Community Garden have incredible stories about how the garden supports them. One gardener is a single mom who just moved to the US in January. She was the sole source of income for her son, and then her hours got cut. Another gardener got involved because the school therapist recommended the garden as an activity to help her daughter who was struggling with the school changes due to COVID. The mom has become an avid gardener, and it’s been so cool to develop a trusting relationship with her. Before, even though her family really needed services, she was very hesitant to receive help. Now, she feels comfortable coming to talk to us, and if she needs something, she’ll ask.
It’s so impactful for our community to have access to healthy, nutritious food. In this way, DUG has shown its commitment to the community. To be able to garden with an organization that cares about giving back has been amazing for our community.”

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By Faces of DUG

#10: Meet Beatrice, Fairview Elementary Community Garden

“I am from Central Africa. I couldn’t find [Amaranth] seeds from my country to grow. I said, “If I cannot find this vegetable I will have to move back to my country.”
One day, I was walking in my neighborhood and saw the plant growing on the street. I pulled it out of the ground, took it home, and planted it in a pot on my porch. It grew so big! I said, “Oh God, thank you!” I let it grow big enough to start producing seeds and I kept them. I walked by the garden one day and asked Miss Judy, “Whose garden is this? I need a place to plant the seeds and grow the vegetables from my country.” She said, “Yes of course! You are welcome to garden here.” I talked to my sister and told her that we have somewhere to garden now.
This garden helps me a lot. I had a stroke in 2018. I mostly grow Butu [Amaranth] in my plot. I cook this because it is healthy for me and my family. You make a sauce out of it with beef, onion, and salt and eat it with rice. I can cook for two days with these leaves. My kids love it, they eat so much! In the supermarket, they don’t sell this vegetable, so this is the only way I can have it.
I have 7 kids: 6 girls and 1 boy. My youngest baby is 12 years old. My kids go to school here. One of my girls finished college. My kids eat a lot! If I go shopping for food at the supermarket, it costs a lot of money and the food is gone in two days. They say, “Oh mommy I am hungry!” If I cook this, my kids are full and don’t ask for more food. They say, “My stomach is full, I don’t want anymore!” That is good!”

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