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Faces of DUG

Leaving a legacy of wonder

By Faces of DUG

#23: Meet Jerry and the Wonder Garden

“My daughter Beth introduced me to Denver Urban Gardens around 6 years ago. She’s always been a big DUG fan. She received an impact award at DUG’s annual fundraiser for her role as Garden Leader at the Academia Sandoval school garden. She first became an advocate for community urban gardens when she worked with Hmong people in their gardens in Rhode Island.

When I knew that I wanted to dedicate a community garden in my late wife Jacquelyn’s memory, I asked DUG where the best place for us to support a new garden would be and they gave me a list of a half dozen sites. Jacquelyn overcame learning disabilities throughout her life and one of her interests was how people learn and how the brain works. The idea of openness and creativity were always themes in her life. The educational partnership made that much more sense.

DUG’s model of partnering with schools is really a win-win deal. Seeing the success of Wyatt Academy really resonated with me. They had just done their goal-setting for the year, and one of their core values for the school was “wonder”- which was serendipitous. It was DUG’s introduction to the prospect of a garden there that began the journey.

READ MORE ABOUT THE WONDER GARDEN

I grew up in Washington DC and moved to Denver in the early ‘60s after graduating law school. I had a very satisfying and varied career as a practicing lawyer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a general practice, which has allowed me to engage with the community in pro bono cases and community work.

In the legal profession, it’s important to choose something where you’re following your bliss because it can often get too demanding. The skills you develop allow you to do an awful lot professionally and community-wise because you learn how society works, and how infrastructure, business, and government all interact.

Through my involvement on the board of the Denver partnership, with the Bar Association, and in other leadership positions, I’ve been able to make a difference in the community. I co-founded the non-profit organization Invest in Kids in the 90s. It’s a wonderful early childhood program. It began as a Nurse-Family Partnership where registered nurses visit first-time mothers from the time of their pregnancy till their child is 2 ½ years old. Now they have two other evidence-based programs and the model is used nationally.

I’m very interested in MVP (Micro-venture Philanthropy). I get personal satisfaction from being hands-on and monitoring the projects I fund and getting to see small projects be efficient and succeed. It’s so satisfying to have ideas and watch them develop and take off. 

I believe that community gardens help build the “town-gown” connection by getting people in the neighborhood. Partnering with a school allows you to provide a type of educational experience for students that they otherwise might not have had. Seeing the kids release the butterflies at the garden opening party and the garden shed mural painted by students was magical.

 It’s been an inspiration to work with the school. Their connection with the community is just wonderful. They have a community-based social services center that provides meals, supplies, and assistance to the families of the kids who attend the school and to the community generally. The school has become part of that community in a most effective way. I know Jacqueline would have loved the site of the garden just as much as I do.

My hope is that the model of funding and process we used at the Wonder Garden will be replicated and expanded upon. I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to add to the DUG network and encourage this model of fundraising and development to appeal to others who want to dedicate gardens as memorials or in honor of someone. I would tell others like me to just go out and do it! There’s a lot that each of us can do in our communities. I’m so gratified by everything we were able to accomplish. This is the way it ought to work! 

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“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…
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"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…
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Getting Dirty with DUG

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community…

Getting Dirty with DUG

By Faces of DUG

#22: Meet a few of our amazing volunteers

Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.

B-Local Colorado is a team of business leaders that engage and oversee Certified B Corps. This spring, DUG partnered with B-Local for a fun and productive volunteer day at El Oasis Community Garden.

Read our interviews with a few of the volunteers below.

Ellen (Patagonia Denver):

“We have a long-standing partnership with DUG. Last summer, we hosted a virtual gardening workshop together. Our missions really align. Patagonia is passionate about community engagement and how we can partner as much as possible with local organizations. Our store is opening late today so that we could volunteer this morning. Patagonia highly encourages all of its employees to get involved in the local community through volunteering. The fact that Patagonia pays its employees to volunteer makes it feel like community engagement is more important than just doing business. Not only is volunteering good for the well-being of those doing the work, but it feels good to know that what we’re doing is going to help the local community. It’s rewarding and gives you a sense of purpose. It just feels good to be able to take action and be a part of something during these hard times. Volunteering for DUG has a direct impact that can be seen. The work that we’re doing now is going to help feed people. It’s a good reset and reminder to slow down. Spending time in nature is more important now than ever.”

Ari (Patagonia Denver):

“I grew up in this neighborhood and still live here. I went to school at Bryant Webster. With our busy lives, volunteering with DUG has been an awesome opportunity to take a break and slow down. Gardening is great because it gives you something to take care of and it gets you out into the dirt and sun. My favorite part of today’s workday has been being able to spend time with friends and coworkers out in the dirt. I would encourage other groups like us to volunteer for DUG because it’s a great way to spend time with your coworkers outside of work and to meet new people in your community. 

David (B Lab):

“DUG’s slogan should be something like, “DUG: bringing people together.” Volunteering for DUG at a workday is a great way to bring people together. We get to interact with people we haven’t normally gotten to see in-person outside of our “COVID bubbles.” There’s nothing like some manual labor to start off the day and rock your senses. 

I work for B-Lab. We certify B Corps like Patagonia and organize group volunteer days like today. We chose to volunteer with DUG for many reasons- everyone here today shares a passion for community engagement and helping the environment.”

Ryan (Patagonia Denver): 

“I’m part of DUG’s Master Community Gardener Program and my wife is a DUG Master Composter. My favorite thing about DUG is the wide breadth of programming they offer which is open to everyone- from kids, to schools, to adults. DUG’s educational programming teaches life skills you just don’t learn in school. We have a home garden with seven fruit trees. My 3-year-old is already into gardening! She’ll be able to help me pick strawberries and peas this summer.

There’s no better feeling than knowing where your food comes from and that you helped grow it, and that there were no pesticides or herbicides used. I’m Patagonia’s Provision Food Line lead at our store, which was developed from the principles of organic regenerative agriculture. It teaches us how important it is to grow your food in the ground and not to get your soil from a store.

We’ve been amending the soil at our home garden for two years now- adding compost and horse manure and making compost tea. Learning about our Provisions products alone has taught me a lot. Patagonia is one of the first to launch the Regenerative Organic Certification Program (ROC). It’s kind of like the next step up from organic: Patagonia Provisions Line doesn’t use pesticides or herbicides, incorporates compost and animal manure, and then there’s an additional social justice aspect to it. We make sure that all employees are paid fair wages, have the opportunity to do training and education to advance their careers, and make sure they have safe working conditions. It’s not just about growing the food, it’s also about animal and worker welfare.” 

Employees from B-Local Colorado, Cause Labs, Scream Agency, & B-Lab:

“We love DUG. We’re hosting multiple Lunch & Learns together. All of us have paid volunteer time. It’s been great to see people in person during the pandemic and have that comradery. It’s so cool to see the impact just three hours of work has had on this space today. Having the time to give back to your community is priceless. Garden workdays with DUG are invigorating. Being outside, exercising in the fresh air is an amazing way to start the day. You feel so accomplished in such a short amount of time. You can get so much done as a team. When you feel like you’re doing one small thing like shoveling a pile of dirt and not getting much done, you look up at everyone else in your group and realize how much you’ve accomplished collectively. We’re absolutely rocking it!”

Hailey (Denver Parks + Rec): “I’ve volunteered with DUG in the past. I grew up in rural Virginia, where gardening and farming were a way of life. I was always put to work by my parents, so volunteering with DUG today and working in the dirt just feels natural to me.”

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Finding purpose in growing and sharing food

"I think in so many ways the Master Community Gardener program was just what I needed. It really pushed me and challenged me because of the give-back hours; both building…
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"I found out about DUG’s Grow a Garden program 6 years ago when I worked at a nonprofit called Servicios de la Raza. We would tell all of our clients…
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Cultivating love in the garden

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November 7, 2020

Gardening for mental wellbeing

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

Gardening as a family

By Faces of DUG

#21: Meet Christian, Grow a Garden participant + backyard gardener

2020 was our first year with DUG. We got approved for a no-cost To-Grow Box. The pandemic was in full swing at this point, and we were spending more time at home. My husband is a musician and that industry was hit hard by COVID. We needed to find ways to become a little bit more financially savvy to make it all work. We thought it would be a great learning experience to grow our own food at home – that it would allow us to teach our children the value of growing food and that it could help us be more responsible about the Earth we live on. We did everything in our backyard. We built garden boxes and also did in-ground planting. We’re looking forward to doing it again this year as Grow a Garden program participants. We didn’t scare ourselves away from it!

I grew up with my mother and grandmother both gardening. I can remember hoeing rows in the garden for my grandmother. She would ask me or one of my cousins to go out and pick something so she could use it while she was cooking. I can remember sitting and playing in the garden rows and eating the fruits right off the trees. It was cool to realize that I could do the same things I saw growing up. 

We wouldn’t have started a garden if it weren’t for DUG’s help. I reached out to DUG on a whim. We didn’t have access to seeds or plans to do it on our own, and receiving them at no cost was what inspired us to build our home garden.

We grew a lot of things that we used regularly like herbs, tomatoes, and lettuces – things we would have previously needed to buy in bulk at the grocery store. So it absolutely did have an impact on how much we were spending – we could just go grab it right out of the garden!

Our home garden was a relaxing, meditative space for me. Every morning, I’d get up, go water, and check on our plants. Being in the garden allowed me to have a free mental space, away from all the craziness that was going on in the world.

Seeing how enthusiastic my children were about watching the plants grow, learning about the different types and names of plants, and learning what each one needed to thrive was super valuable for us as a family. The kids tried so many new vegetables that they probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise because they came out of our own garden. They would go outside and talk to the plants. My son would tell the broccoli that he loved it every morning. My daughter would eat the tomatoes off the vine and I’d wonder why they were always missing!

My husband loves collard greens, so it was amazing to be able to just go get them from the backyard. He didn’t have any gardening experience before this, but now he’s a total gardener. He’s like, “Do you think we should build greenhouses next year?” 

Before signing up for the Grow a Garden program this year, we sat down and had a family discussion about what we wanted to try growing in our garden. We chose things together on the application. I still have seeds from last year that we’ll use this season, as well.”

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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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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…
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Gardening through a lifetime

"I come from Africa. I like gardening so much because my parents were farmers in my country where I was born and they had a big farm. They taught me…
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“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…

Growing community support in a school garden

By Faces of DUG

#20: Meet Pallas, cofounder and longtime Garden Leader at Samuels Elementary Community Garden

“I was one of the founders of the Samuels garden in 2011, and have been a Garden Leader there for the last 10 years. I was never a gardener before; I didn’t even think I’d be capable of growing anything! It was all trial-and-error and experimentation in the beginning. Like many DUG school-based community gardens, Samuels began as a parent initiative. At the start, 3 parents including myself made-up the garden leadership team. We followed DUG’s handbook that includes guidelines, protocol, and recommendations on how to start a garden. We followed the outlined steps on how to create a strong base of community and support. We reached out to the surrounding community and got buy-in from teachers, administration, HOA, and surrounding neighbors. Samuels started on solid ground because of DUG. We felt the community piece from the beginning. It just worked, we had fun with it. It wasn’t hard because the motivation was already there. It was like, “Okay, we’re here, we’re doing this, we’re rocking it!” It was so much fun all the time. It was always about the families and friendships at Samuels, adults and students alike. 

The After-School Garden Club at Samuels was popular from the get-go. It’s a free club led by adult volunteers that runs for 8 weeks in the fall and 8 weeks in the spring. So many kids signed-up right away. Everyone looks forward to it now.

The kids and parents see me in the hallway and ask when club is starting up again. Garden Club is run by adult leaders who are each assigned to a group of students.

Each group decides together what activities they want to do every week- like worm composting, veggie pickling, and starting seedlings in the greenhouse. We provide snacks of fruits and veggies right as the students come out of school. The only thing we ask of the parents is that they pick up their child afterwards.

Most of the students come to school on the bus, but parents make it work because Garden Club is so important to their kids. It didn’t take long before we were serving 20% of the student body, more than 100 kids. It was incredible to see that amount of activity, engagement, and ownership.

We now have 15 plots dedicated to the students, the DPS Garden-to-Cafeteria Program, and to the food bank. At the beginning of summer, these plots are turned over to the care of the community gardeners who maintain them in the students’ absence. When the students come back in the fall, they do their weekly harvest for the cafeteria, where they come to the garden with their teachers to weigh and collect fresh produce for the school. I’m planning to lead cooking activities for the last time this spring, even though my kids haven’t been at Samuel for a couple of years now.

I just can’t resist gardens club, it’s the best!

What I really love is that Samuels has been a successful vehicle in building community. We have the involvement and support from the school community, neighbors, and the greater district 4 at large.

Having teachers’ support has really bridged the gap between the garden and the school. It’s a constant learning and growing process. We’ve never required anyone to do things a certain way. It’s always been free-flowing with no pressure; a place to be a kid, have fun, learn, and enjoy friendships. I’ve had the opportunity to garden a lot with my dad, which has been personally gratifying. He started an Earth Day tradition with our family in 2008 where we plant trees on Samuels’ campus. My dad has been planting and maintaining our decorative garden beds with native Colorado plants, flowers, bushes, and all of the beautiful and sensory parts of our garden since the beginning. Samuels is a place to learn how to build relationships. I’ll miss the friendships at Samuels the most. There’s a lot of laughter and goofing off all the time. And when you bring sharing food into the picture, it’s even richer and deeper. 

I love the beauty of discovery, where I’m working with children and adults and we’re discovering things together in the garden. I’ve grown as a gardener. I now appreciate nutrition, cooking, and healthy bodies. I’ve realized just how powerful it is to see the magical expression on a child’s face when they pull up a carrot. That’s what has always motivated me- giving that seed-to-table kind of experience to kids. They grow their own food, wash it, chop it, cook it, and eat it. It’s really gratifying.

We’ve been growing our garden every year in some way. During COVID, we installed a garden kitchen with commercial-grade countertops. We use the counterspace to chop and wash veggies, set-up our food donations, and do on-site cooking with the grill there during our Monday night potlucks. Once our kitchen got installed, I felt like the garden was finally complete. I said to myself, “Okay, my work here is done.” Looking back, it was all a collaborative effort. I couldn’t have done it myself; I was only one member of such a strong team. The one piece of advice I’d give to any new garden just starting out would be to build a strong leadership team. You need a big team, the broader the better!”

More Faces of DUG

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June 22, 2020

Gardening through a lifetime

"I come from Africa. I like gardening so much because my parents were farmers in my country where I was born and they had a big farm. They taught me…
Faces of DUG
October 23, 2020

Cultivating love in the 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…
Faces of DUG
January 11, 2021

Gaining (soil) security in retirement

"I found out about DUG’s Grow a Garden program 6 years ago when I worked at a nonprofit called Servicios de la Raza. We would tell all of our clients…
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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…

Building new skills for a bright future

By Faces of DUG

#19: Meet Kourtnie, first-year gardener at Maxwell Community Garden

“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 we didn’t have access to community gardens there. Since I was young, I’ve had an interest in nature, wildlife, being outdoors, and growing things. It’s always been a part of me. My family had a garden plot for the first time last season at the Jardin de Esperanza Maxwell School Community Garden. I was pregnant with my fourth child at the time, and actually, my daughter was born a week ago!

My ultimate goal is for my family to live on a homestead and grow all our own food.

So before I started, I attended a DUG workshop to extend my knowledge. I was so impressed by all of the speakers and the effort that DUG put into it. Everyone was willing to give and help. Our first season went well, we’ve learned so much already! I met so many new people at Maxwell and loved seeing each of their unique gardening techniques.”

DUG’s To-Grow Box helped us a lot. I was surprised by the large amount and variety of seeds and plants it included. The plant care guide was great for beginners who don’t know where to start. Without DUG’s help, we wouldn’t have been able to grow so much and such a variety.

It’s expensive to buy your own materials. Our garden helped put food on our table and decreased our grocery bills.

My kids love eating fruits and veggies, so I was spending a lot of money at the store. One of the best things we grew were cherry tomatoes. There were so many of them that we had some every day! Our harvests were always plentiful because we planted things at different times throughout the season, allowing us to see continuous growth.

The garden made my kids so happy; they couldn’t wait to go every day! They were continually asking, “Is there something ready for us to go pull?” They loved watering and digging together. They were fascinated by the garden, and as soon as we picked something, we rinsed it right away and they would go to town! My partner helped with all the heavy stuff. He was amazed every time he saw how much our garden had grown. He was on-board with tasting everything and was constantly surprised at how good it all tasted. I loved seeing his reactions! It became a fun thing for our family to do together.

Gardening isn’t too rigorous, it was very relaxing for me. As an added bonus, I was able to keep an eye on all four kids while doing it! Overall, gardening is very satisfying. Our family plans to garden again at Maxwell this season. I want to do an internship with DUG and give back what they have given me through volunteering. 

More Faces of DUG

Faces of DUG
November 7, 2020

Gardening for mental wellbeing

“My family had a garden growing up in southern Louisiana. I Ioved harvesting, watering, and watching our plants grow since I was a little girl. In college, I built raised…
Faces of DUG
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…
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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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March 9, 2021

Growing community support in a school garden

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#18: Meet Carin, backyard gardener and Grow a Garden participant

“I found out about DUG’s Grow a Garden program 6 years ago when I worked at a nonprofit called Servicios de la Raza. We would tell all of our clients to sign-up. I’ve continued with the Grow a Garden Program every year since, even after I retired when my dad got sick and I had to take care of both of my parents. 

The Grow a Garden program was what initially got me into gardening. I had always wanted to start, so it was the push I needed to do my research and jump-in. Now, I encourage everyone to sign up! It makes it so convenient. I love going to my pickup site to get my seeds and plants; it’s very clean, organized, and easy to find. 

I’ve developed an area in my mom’s backyard to use for my garden. She has many elderly neighbors in their 80s and 90s who aren’t able to leave their homes. Whatever I grow in abundance, I give to them, and they give to their friends. Everyone shares in the wealth. They’re so grateful because they can’t go to the grocery store, especially during COVID, and they live on a fixed income. 

I’m hoping more people will look into this program. It can save you so much on your grocery bills! Since I’m retired and only living on Social Security income, I wouldn’t have continued growing my own food without it. The price of organic produce is so high these days. This program makes it so that I know there’s no insecticide in anything I grow. For those like me who haven’t had good luck at grocery stores, this program makes food more readily available and even abundant. If you freeze your harvest, it can last throughout the year. I freeze everything, so I don’t have food waste. I still have tomatoes in my freezer! 

Gardening is peaceful, and it brings joy to people. Most people need something to do. Especially someone like me, who’s retired with no kids in the house. Other people do house cleaning or washing dishes, but I garden. It’s nice to be able to take care of something. Eating something you grew yourself gives you great satisfaction. What’s most fun about gardening is watching your plants grow. You get so excited!

All the programs DUG provides are fantastic for people who don’t know how to garden but want to start. Everyone needs to know about DUG–although then, you might grow too quickly, hah!” 

More Faces of DUG

Faces of DUG
October 23, 2020

Cultivating love in the 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…
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…
Faces of DUG
August 6, 2020

Sharing knowledge and healing in gardens

“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…
Faces of DUG
July 13, 2020

Digging deep into DUG’s roots

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…

Building community during COVID

By Faces of DUG

#17: Meet Jean, Garden Leader at Cedar Hill Community Garden

“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 since we first received Lakewood City Council approval in Ward 1.

Our garden is going to be a bee garden. We have beekeepers and are going through the permitting process. We also have a daycare called “Tiny Hearts” and they have a garden plot as part of their STEM program. We surveyed our community because we wanted to model the garden after what they wanted it to become. We had to raise money for building. So we started grassroots fundraising. We were able to raise about $40,000 within the community through plant sales, selling bricks, and through memorial donations. 

If you think about planting a seed, not every seed is going to grow. Whether it’s grant writing or an anonymous donor, you put seeds out there, and some of them will germinate. And if it doesn’t happen one way, it’ll happen some other way. Sometimes very unexpectedly. That’s how our garden developed; it became a strong foundation for our community in just one season.”

“My husband surprised me with a To-Grow Box for my birthday this past May. It was right in the middle of COVID. We were in the middle of building all 20 plots in our garden, and then COVID hit, which limited how many of us could build at a time. But we persevered and finished.

My mother was a master gardener, but I had never planted in a community garden before. So this was new for me. Every plot ended up under cultivation. We used the garden to feed our community. I couldn’t believe how much food the plants and seeds from my To-Grow Box produced!

The To-Grow Box included a lot of hot peppers. My sister-in-law is from Vietnam, she came as a refugee when she was nine years old. She uses a lot of spicy peppers in her traditional cooking, so she and I had a lot of fun with the peppers from my To-Grow Box. She is connected with the Vietnamese community around the garden. They loved using swiss chard, which is a lot like bok choy. The garden connected these communities together. It connected our Green Mountain Community with the folks who are shut-in. It connected homeless people, it connected people living in the section eight housing next-door.

My plot became the heart of the garden. I would go to water my plot, and would realize that someone had already watered it, and I ended up with this entire network of people (gardeners and non-gardeners alike) helping me harvest. We all went out and visited those people that were shut-in and brought them fresh veggies. We sat in their garages or next to their beds and chatted with them. Our faith is oftentimes referred to as the “ministry of presence.” We go out and listen to our community. We don’t have the answers. Just being there with someone can make all the difference. We found recipes for them to use with the produce we gave them. One of our elderly church members loved snap peas and tomatoes, so that’s what I would bring to her. I sent her pictures of the garden. She is now going to donate the benches and pergola for the shade area. These community members are now donating leaves to our garden to nourish the soil before the spring season comes. 

We also had little kids from the neighboring section eight housing units come to the garden and I told them that they could harvest from my plot. They use the garden parking lot for skateboarding and bike riding. We are going to host a bike rally for them. They love snap peas. One of their moms would pick zucchini from the garden. Her kids didn’t like zucchini, but she made it into bread, which they all loved. So I showed them how and when to pick zucchini, and they started doing it on their own. It was like an Easter egg hunt for them. 

“One To-Grow box has fed over 100 people. And that number doesn’t even include all the folks who walk through the garden and just have a snack on their way to their destination. I started keeping track of how many people we delivered food to, but once my list got to 80 people, I just stopped counting. When you harvest the fruits from a garden, it will just keep on producing. The garden reached into more than one community. It led us during COVID.”

More Faces of DUG

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September 15, 2020

Gardening for Resilience

“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…
Faces of DUG
August 6, 2020

Sharing knowledge and healing in gardens

“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…
Faces of DUG
January 11, 2021

Gaining (soil) security in retirement

"I found out about DUG’s Grow a Garden program 6 years ago when I worked at a nonprofit called Servicios de la Raza. We would tell all of our clients…
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July 27, 2020

Finding connection with food

“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…

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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#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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#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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