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Teaching the next generation about the magic of gardening

By | Faces of DUG

#7: Meet Peg, Youth Educator at Fairview Elementary Community Garden

“I believe that every moment is a teaching moment. Getting the kids to see the world in a different way is a fascinating thing. Every time you get just one kid that asks you an extra question, it is an amazing feeling. I believe that when you show a child something, and you see the lightbulb go off, your job is done. I know then that I have exposed them to something new and that they will pass that knowledge along and build on it. I like their curiosity and enthusiasm, but I like their wariness, too. Often, when I show them a vegetable plant, that may have been the first time they have ever seen it before.

Once, I brought some purple potatoes from my home garden to show my class, and one boy looked at one, turned it around and around in his hands, and asked me, “How did you do that? How did you make the inside purple?” When I told him that it grew like that, he looked at me like I was crazy. He inspected the potato to see if I had injected the color into it. He was very wary of a purple potato.

I have the kids sit in the garden and just listen to it. A garden is so noisy when people aren’t talking. You’ve got your birds, crickets, and bees. It’s really quite loud if you take the time to listen. You have to tailor your teaching to fit what each child’s strengths are, to what they can each personally get out of gardening. You see their potential and encourage them to be their best selves. I hate when kids have a question about how the world works, and both of you know that their answer is how the world really should be, but that isn’t the reality. When this happens, I prefer to tell them, “Yes, you’re right. That is how the world should be. Now let’s go make it happen!”

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Sharing knowledge and healing in gardens

By | Faces of DUG

#6: Meet Sharona, Garden Leader at Ruby Hill Community Garden

“When I came back from the Peace Corps, I thought, “we are really in trouble.” We have a system that’s based on fossil fuels and it’s unsustainable. The Senegalese were living so close to the ground. They’re farmers at heart. When the rains came and it was time to start farming, they had a skip in their step. I felt more secure knowing where my food was coming from. When I saw the food insecurities here, I knew I needed to work with people on how to plant their own food.

This is such a vital resource that we need to be passing on to our new generations by making our food systems local. I’m still a student. I use the garden as a laboratory and a living library of knowledge. It’s trial and error every year. When new gardeners come in I think, “oh good, converting more people!” It’s been such a treat to see people become gardeners. Even in their 2nd year, it’s like a little jungle in their 12×12 plot.

The garden is a hub for building community. The garden is like a plant: you plant the seed and then the roots just get deeper and more established. It’s taking off on its own. Every garden has its own little culture. Multiple languages are spoken in the garden and it’s bringing people together. So many friendships have grown out of this garden, lifelong friendships. This is how we found each other.

I’m trying to foster “from seed to medicine.” We turned two plots into medicinal garden plots and one plot is donated to pollinators. It’s helping us bridge a gap of what our ancestors have always known. They were plant people, hunter-gatherers. That’s how we got here today. I want to help people reconnect with that again. DUG is a gift to our community. DUG says to us, “here is your gift, now go play with it!”

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Finding connection with food

By | Faces of DUG

#5: Meet John and Lily, Shoshone Community Garden

“We lived in China for 7 years, where we met when Lily was my translator on a work project. We like it here very much. I am originally from the UK, and we have a culture in the UK of growing vegetables in community gardens called ‘allotments.’ Allotments are very popular there for people that don’t have access to land. They started as an outgrowth from World War II, often referred to as victory gardens, when there was a shortage of food and people had to be self-sufficient. My parents were avid gardeners, and as a boy looking for extra money, I was assigned chores in their vegetable and flower gardens. I saw the value and effort associated with gardening. My grandfather was an amazing farmer. His backyard was always filled with fruits and vegetables. He became very good at growing everything he needed. He spent all of his time in his retirement years tending his garden and got great pleasure from it. He gave away a lot of his harvest because he often grew more than he could consume.

We are looking at our garden as a work in progress. It is something relaxing that we do together. Gardening has given us such a bigger appreciation for our food. We used to be disconnected from all of the vegetables and fruits we ate. We really appreciate those foods now. Even if it is one little tomato, you think “I grew that!” When you pick herbs and use them right away in your cooking, it is a completely different experience from supermarket cooking. When you throw in fresh herbs, you can really taste the difference. We make traditional Chinese-style soup with lotus root and pork and throw in our freshly harvested coriander. It is so simple but so delicious. When you grow herbs, you can benefit from those really strong fragrances in your food right away. The flavor is so intense; you are capturing so many different essences. It makes a huge difference.

As a boy, I was more interested in the pocket money, whereas now, gardening is life-enhancing for us. We enjoy gardening together and we don’t want to lose sight of that. Once it becomes a chore, there is no enjoyment in it. That is what keeps us focused: gardening is our recreation, and we are doing it because we enjoy gardening. As one gets older, you start to appreciate gardening in a very different way.”

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#4: Meet Rosemari, Ruby Hill Community Garden

“It was quarantine and I wanted to take my daughter to experience the outdoors once a day. I went on Google Maps and tried to look for green spaces that were off the beaten path that wouldn’t be crowded during COVID. That’s how I found Ruby Hill. We fell in love with it immediately.
One of the best things about gardening is the community connection. Without COVID, we wouldn’t have had this opportunity. We haven’t had childcare and my husband and I work lots of hours. Two of my good friends are master gardeners. Asking my circle of friends about gardening has been a good way for me to connect with people about something other than the pandemic, being overwhelmed with work, or childcare.
Gardening has carved out a space for us to engage in something other than the usual stresses of everyday life. I could probably give you the names of 10-15 names of people in our garden, even while social distancing at the garden all season. Everyone is so incredibly welcoming. I have found that you can’t categorize the population in a community garden. Our garden is made up of all different types of people from all different walks of life. I expected to see more stereotypes, but I haven’t experienced that at all. The only stereotype that rang true in my community garden is that people are extremely nice, friendly, and excited to see you. You can tell when people really know what they’re doing, and those people tend to be very gracious and fantastic. One woman we met gave my daughter a flower pot she had grown by seed in her home to be replanted and she said: “Go and plant this in your garden! We are going to be friends by the end of the season anyway, so we might as well just start now!”
To have that during a time when we all are very isolated, to have that automatic welcomeness was so touching and powerful, perhaps now more than ever. I haven’t met any new friends during COVID other than in the garden. There is no way we could have predicted the pandemic, the economic crisis, the civil rights uprising, any of it. We would love to be at Ruby Hill again next year. We like the vibe there so much that we don’t mind driving out of our way to get there. We are establishing friendships there. We would love to share our plot with someone next season.”

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Digging deep into DUG’s roots

By | Faces of DUG

#3: Meet Marty, Pecos Community Garden

Marty is a North Denver community and social justice activist and a pioneer of Denver’s urban garden landscape. The first community gardens were started when a group of Hmong women knocked on Marty’s door looking for a place to grow food. Together, they transformed a church parking lot in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood into the Pecos Community Garden.
Marty went on to help establish DUG’s three founding gardens: the Pecos, Shoshone, and El Oasis Community Gardens. She helped begin Denver Urban Gardens in 1985 with the vision of protecting the city’s open green spaces by creating sustainable, food-producing neighborhood community gardens. Today, the flourishing Pecos Community Garden is still gardened by the original Hmong families who emigrated to the US in the late 1970s as refugees of the Vietnam War. They use their culture’s traditional horticulture and farming practices to grow a bountiful harvest every season.
“The priority for the Pecos garden was having the earth to grow the food. We didn’t need anything else, nothing fancy. The Hmong women and I have been together since 1979. We are like family. Every decision is made by consensus. Every year, all of the Pecos gardeners gather at my kitchen table to make the upcoming season’s decisions. There is no hierarchy. Every gardener is equal and respected.
‘Community’ is the key word here. This garden is the people’s garden. The gardeners are the ones that work the earth and take care of the land, so the garden belongs to them. I always tell my gardeners, “This is your safe haven, you own it.” When the Hmong people first came into the garden with all of the violence and losses they endured, you could feel the Earth healing them. Spiritually, the garden makes you grow. It connects you with Mother Earth. I can feel the spirit so strongly when I’m in the garden. Being with the Earth is like getting counseling. We cry and put our worries into the Earth. You work out your worries and problems in the garden, you undo the knots in your mind. Everything is alive. The garden taught me how to perceive and see what is in front of me. The Hmong gardeners taught me that every plant has a purpose and every part of the plant is a gift. There is no such thing as a weed. A ‘weed’ is just something we don’t want in our own gardens. The community garden is a beacon of equality. We all feel safe here. It gives us friendship and it gives us community.”

More Faces of DUG

Faces of DUG
October 5, 2020

Building community from the ground up

“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…
Faces of DUG
October 30, 2020

Looking back on a lifetime in the garden

“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…
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July 13, 2020

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Marty is a North Denver community and social justice activist and a pioneer of Denver’s urban garden landscape. The first community gardens were started when a group of Hmong women…
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July 20, 2020

Discovering friendship in the garden

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

Gardening through a lifetime

By | Faces of DUG

#1: Meet Libby, Fairview Elementary Community Garden

“I come from Africa. I like gardening so much because my parents were farmers in my country where I was born and they had a big farm. They taught me how to work in the garden and during vacations, we would go to work in the garden with my parents. I learned how to protect the plants, the best times to plant, and how to fit everything in the garden. In my home country, we planted lots of different things: beans, sweet potatoes, bananas, cassavas.
I prefer to work in a community garden. This year, due to Coronavirus, I have more time to work in the garden because usually when I am working, I can’t come to the garden every day. I share what I grow with my friends and neighbors because I can’t eat everything I grow by myself!”

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“It was quarantine and I wanted to take my daughter to experience the outdoors once a day. I went on Google Maps and tried to look for green spaces that…
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September 4, 2020

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“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…
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“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…
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"I believe that every moment is a teaching moment. Getting the kids to see the world in a different way is a fascinating thing. Every time you get just one…