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Faces of DUG

Reflecting on Gardening and Fighting

By Faces of DUG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardening is a reflection of ourselves. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Faces of DUG

#27: Meet Robbin, gardener, mentor, and community leader

I got into gardening in 2000 when I was suffering from severe clinical depression. In my research, I found information around diet and nutrition but also found a piece around gardening, and I thought that was kind of different. So I got a beautiful little pot with a geranium on my patio in Los Angeles. That was my very first attempt to grow anything. And it’s been a long journey from there!

When I moved to Colorado, I shared my property with my grandmother. There was a little space with some ground in the back. I don’t even remember what I grew. But whatever I put back there grew, and I was like, “Oh wait, I might know how to do this!” That was what piqued my interest. It seemed I had an intuitive ability. 

Images courtesy of Robbin Otey and the sow sistas FB page 

DUG came into the picture as my hobby got out of hand. I found out about DUG’s two coaching programs: the Master Community Gardener Program and the Master Composter Program. My pedagogy is always to start with science. So that’s how I ended up doing both programs.

The work that I do now is garden ministry.

I grow our ministry through A Georgia Green Project. My role in A Georgia Green Project is to manage the garden and teach others – composting, companion planting, you name it. I’m teaching people about resisting food apartheid and how to invite community into the gardens.

My other group, the sow sistas, is a mentorship group of ladies. I’ve had some very micro-aggressive experiences in the community. I consider myself to be resilient, but in Colorado, any environment that I’m in is going to be – if it’s 10 people I’m probably going to be the only black woman (well people think I’m a black woman, and I identify as a black woman, but I’m actually Washitaw).  Not that that doesn’t affect me, but there are other personalities and types of people that don’t feel welcome. So I’m like, “Okay, we need to figure out how we can be in this space.”

That’s kind of how it manifested in the DUG space. Colorado has a very bloody history around the land, so we always honor it. We appreciate the ability to lease the plots with DUG and I appreciate all of the educational opportunities DUG offers. That’s part of what the sow sisters is about — let’s garden together as a group, let’s harness this information.

Our focus is resisting food apartheid, exploring global food sovereignty, and educating ourselves and our community on these issues and our program is centered around black women and girls.

Anyone can garden with us, but that’s our focus. Our intent is to solve for isolation. In a community garden, it takes a team effort to make it work. We manage the plots together. We account for people’s physical limitations — we have some that can pull the wheelbarrows and some that can do the weeding, but everyone can contribute.

It is intergenerational — we also have the little sow sistas, the young girls who help out. We’re actually able to employ the sow sistas, which is part of our mission. So that people can know there’s work, there are jobs, and there are lots of careers in the Ag world, not just growing food. 

We also have The Kaleidoscope Project (TKP). TKP was part of the DUG garden at Shorter AME Community Church, and the pastor reached out to me to ask if I wanted to do something in the garden. They’re social activist trainers, so the whole program at TKP is around claiming our power in the food system. TKP also has music programs with young people in the garden. TKP had done pop-ups in different areas that did not have easy access to fresh food. And so the pastor was like, ‘We can just do our own thing!’ People are able to barter or pay what they can. I’m excited to see the music that they’re going to do around what’s happening in their garden.

Our group is motivated by love. Love for ourselves, love for our families, love for community, and love for humanity. The more that we all vibrate high, whatever love looks like, the better the whole world is going to be.

My love language is resisting food apartheid and growing–people, places, and things. That’s what I do. I support the women that want to garden. One of our guiding principles is that the land and the food is sacred. 

For me, love is a resistance tool. Everyone says ‘support’ global food sovereignty, but we have to understand that we cannot be afraid of the truth that there were very violent actions in this documented history and herstory of the land. People were killed to gain these resources. This information matters not so that people get angry, you move past that.

I appreciate the opportunity to share that gardening can be a love language. For people to open their minds and to be intentional about how they eat and even if they don’t grow, support those that do — that’s the food sovereignty piece, right? Go find a local market that’s better for your health and go eat some food that was grown four blocks from you, rather than something that was driven 12 hours in a truck. 

The pandemic was a huge catalyst in everything that is manifesting in my life around gardening and what I see happening in the garden. Folks were gardening that had never gardened before that always wanted to — it was all over the internet. We couldn’t find stuff in the stores.

I usually grow edible pollinators. The new thing I’m growing right now is my moon bed. The intent is to attract those nighttime pollinators in the dusk. It’s beneficial because the flowers are white. Typically they’re also highly fragrant flowers. Part of the sow sistas is our aesthetic — we care that it looks pretty. I sowed biennial hollyhock last year and it’s blooming beautifully pink this season. 

The very first lesson for a new gardener is to find your ‘Why.’ Your ‘why’ is going to matter when you don’t feel like getting out there to water.

There are many ‘why’s.’ Some of the sow sistas are in the group for the social piece. Some are there to get the education. Some are there to get the physicality. Some just want to be out there in the fresh air. And some want to have control over their food. To know that there should be a ‘why’ is going to support you.

If I were to encourage someone who had never gardened before, I would give them the basic five. The basic five is ‘Planning. Take time to ‘Plot.’ ‘Pay Attention’ to where you’re planting. Include ‘Pampering’ — that’s the fertilizing, the water plan, the pest control. The last piece is the ‘Pulling’ — that’s the harvesting and the preserving.

Take the time to be plant-specific. Do some companion planting. Start with the science. That’s what beginners don’t realize. They’re like, “Oh I thought we were just going to be taking pictures and wearing the uniform shirts.” Like no sister, grab a shovel (laughter).”

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#26: Meet Laurel, a first-year gardener at Growasis Community Garden

“Last year, my boyfriend and I lived in the Cole neighborhood and had never gardened before.

We lived in an apartment with no outdoor space and were home all the time due to COVID. It has always been important to me to try and make our lifestyles more sustainable. As most human beings, I used to rely exclusively on grocery stores to provide everything I need to survive, but gardening was a paradigm shift for me and my boyfriend– to really see that we could grow our own food.” 

Last summer was our first season and as beginners, we both went into the experience blind.

DUG’s To-Grow Box was what got us started. It was a great learning experience. Before gardening, my boyfriend wasn’t particularly interested in eating fresh fruits and vegetables much of the time. Surprisingly, he got really into gardening and as a result, eating the food we produced. Our diets were both improved and diversified.

The different pepper and tomato varieties included in the To-Grow Box weren’t things I would’ve typically purchased before. Growing them was an impetus to learn how to cook and incorporate them into foods we wanted to eat.

Gardening was great for our relationship.

It gave us a project to work on, something that we had to do every single day that required our attention. It was exactly what we needed at that time.

The garden made us feel like a part of our community, especially at the height of isolation during the pandemic.

We felt really lucky to be at Growasis. It had a cohesive group of people, even despite the limitations of COVID. It was nice to have that in-person connection around something other than work, which is typically the only way we interact with others as adults. We learned so much during our first season. Our plot neighbors were also first-time gardeners, so we bounced ideas off each other all the time.

There was a woman at our garden, we called her ‘Miss M.’

When we first picked up our To-Grow Box, we were so excited that we immediately drove to the garden to plant our seedlings. The next day, everything was weathered and dying. Miss M swooped in and said, “I know what happened. It’s okay, we can save them!” She got on her hands and knees and helped us dig up and replant everything! I was being cautious, but she said, “No, you need to show the ground who’s boss–get in there!”

From that moment on, Miss M would give us garden tips every time we saw her.

She took us under her wing and helped us maintain our entire garden. She could tell early-on that we were struggling pretty significantly, so she inserted herself in such a welcomed, appreciated way. I can’t express how much it meant to me at the time. I didn’t ask other gardeners for help out of fear of seeming like too much of a rookie. What she did meant so much.

Our garden would’ve failed from day-one if it weren’t for her.

We could have read any number of gardening books, but there’s something different about having an experienced gardener who has lived in the neighborhood for a long time telling you what she does to make her garden healthy and successful.

It’s hard to explain without getting too sentimental. We’ve never connected with someone in that way before.

It really made all the difference for our first gardening experience. I’m so excited to make community gardening a part of my life now! 

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Seeding Self-Sufficiency

By Faces of DUG

#25: Meet Jolene, Palmer School community gardener

“I moved up to Denver from Arizona; I wasn’t much of a gardener in Arizona, because the climate is really challenging to garden in. I got involved with DUG because I saw the community gardens at the elementary schools, and my son was starting kindergarten at Park Hill. I put in a request to be at the garden there, so that was how I got initially connected– just seeing the gardens in the community and reading the signs attached to the different community gardens. It was actually interesting because as I was looking for school choice options and schools to send my son to, the ones I liked also often had the DUG gardens. 

This year I’m growing lemon cucumbers, sugar snap, peas, butternut squash, golden yellow beets, and green string beans. I also have two types of tomatoes. One’s called pineapple tomato, which is yellow with a little bit of red in it–and the other, I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s red with a little bit of purple in it. 

I’m really proud because over the last two or three years I’ve started to harvest my own seeds and then regrow them. This year, all my sugar snap peas are grown from seeds that I collected last year. I also grew marigolds this year from seed, because last year with the pandemic, I spent probably like $30 for a flat of marigolds. They were just outrageous. You couldn’t find them anywhere, so I harvested the seeds and I grew all my own, which was enough for my garden while also giving away marigolds to around 10 other people, too.

I first started by saving butternut squash seeds and cucumber seeds because those were easy. Then last year, I added the sugar snap peas from seed. I attempted tomato seed that I had harvested using the method where you squeeze out their juice onto paper towels and then you plant the paper towels, but it didn’t work out this year. They didn’t take, so I adopted some tomato plants that someone was getting rid of–I did try training the tomato plants in buckets to see if they stay more contained and don’t go so crazy!

Over the years, I’ve also learned to save my own eggshells and my own coffee grounds to add those to the dirt. Saving your own seeds and growing your own seedlings feels very empowering. You don’t have to spend money or go get something from somewhere else–you can just generate it yourself year after year.

At Palmer, I’ve helped support another gardener who is in her 80s with a lot of health issues. I started to take food to her and then found a couple of other elderly people in my community to take some food to. One was in my apartment building and the other was an old professor who had retired from MSU. Then, I just started really going crazy because I didn’t like seeing any food wasted, so I would just harvest everything that people didn’t want!

I harvest a lot from the garden in Palmer; there are a lot of school plots that were beautifully-landscaped and planted with all sorts of things that came back year after year like rhubarb, kale and even asparagus, which grows like a weed. Because the school families weren’t coming and taking it, I started to take it to the Park Hill food bank. I now take produce there on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the summer. From what I read and understand there’s definitely been an increased need.

I have experienced food insecurity over the course of my life, both growing up as a child, and then as a single parent–but I had access to resources, like the snap food stamp program, which actually lets you buy seeds or buy plants to garden with and create that self-sufficiency. I think maybe one year I used food stamps to purchase the things at Walmart to plant. For me, it’s about self-sufficiency and growing your own food, and how that feels to feed yourself and feed others through your efforts. That’s what drives me a lot.

I think it’s hard sometimes to connect with neighbors or people in the community because our sense of community is so spread out and not just where we live. I’ve learned so much from my fellow gardeners about what to do with my soil. I started growing dahlias, which are very temperamental and really get eaten by Japanese beetles. This is my first year using their tubers with their roots from last year to regrow them. That’s something that if I hadn’t known someone at the garden who was doing it, I probably never would have attempted it either.

For people that are just getting started, I would just say don’t be intimidated. It’s really easy. Dig a hole, throw some seeds in it, throw some water on it, and don’t be intimidated to start somewhere. For example, in my garden for the first couple years, I always planted too much stuff, and it got too crowded–everything was growing over each other. But you know, five or six years in, now I have this little grid system, and you can really clearly see where everything is and is supposed to be. You learn different techniques over the years. I encourage people to play around, too. If it doesn’t grow this year, just stick with it. Try it knowing you can’t fail because it’s not really failure. It’s just learning and the chance to grow something later on if it doesn’t work out the first time.

I think one of the greatest benefits for me is just the time I spend outside, working hard, getting dirty– it feeds my soul, and it improves my mood. I’ll spend five or six hours out in the sun and the heat, and just be so happy with what I have accomplished in the end. There’s a lot of mental health benefits to gardening and so I selfishly garden for that. Similar to giving food away, there’s a lot of intrinsic value. It feels good for me to know I’m feeding other people; there’s also a lot of pride in seeing that you grew something that a week ago was just an inch tall and now it’s got food on it.”

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#24: Meet Alex, our first Fransisco Cordero Legacy Apprentice

Our longtime contractor and friend Fransisco Cordero passed away in November 2020 due to complications with COVID-19. In 2021, we established the Fransisco Cordero Legacy Apprenticeship program to provide pathways into career fields with urban agriculture. Alex Oldham is our first apprentice with the program.

“I’m 20 years old and live with my foster parents. With the pandemic happening, I had to stay in a lot. Because they’re older, I didn’t want to risk them getting sick for me going out or anything. So I picked up a night shift at FedEx. I was doing that for a very long time. Then my brother-in-law introduced me to a friend. And I guess, he also knows the Executive Director that works over here at DUG. He had been sending me a few different applications of places. When this one popped up, I was interested because growing up, I worked outside doing farm-type work with my grandfather in Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma, the atmosphere is different (than in Denver). Being in the country is different. The smell of manure is everywhere. Taking care of cattle, making hay, riding the tractor, and stuff like that. But it’s cool. I also just wanted the change of being out in the daytime, in the sun after being out at night all the time.

Not everything is necessarily gardening with what we’re doing. Some days, we have to use wheelbarrows, and we’ll put really heavy gravel down, just scoop it all in there. And then carry it over to lay it on the pathway. The similarities of being outside in the sun and working hard is what carries over to this. There’s a lot of work to do – just seeing what every garden needs. If they need their fence fixed, we’ll go do that. I’ve gone to Home Depot to get some parts for water tank adapters. I’ll be mowing lawns, doing wherever (the gardens) need. Oh, and a lot of weed pulling, too!

I’ve been learning a lot from Nessa [Director of Physical Infrastructure and Community Engagement] and about what DUG really does. I like seeing everything growing. So far I’ve learned that we have like 180 something gardens all around Denver and Lakewood and stuff. I didn’t expect that a lot of them are refugee community gardens.

Sometimes the fruits or what they want to buy at the store they don’t have from their own places, so they can just grow it in their garden. That’s really cool to see. The price of getting a plot for the year isn’t that much. So I think that it gives them the opportunity to keep making the food that they want, without having to make a lot of money to go buy food. Because I know coming to America and getting jobs and stuff like that is a lot harder.

 I’m a really picky eater. I like all kinds of fruit, but vegetables are not my thing… so everyone is trying to give me vegetables, like sugar snap peas or something like that. That’s the only thing I’ve eaten so far. They’re really secure about their stuff and they like everyone to see what they’re growing. They’re always asking me to try something new. 

I think me being also a person of color, and then seeing all these other people of color and different ethnicities that are from other countries come into these gardens. Helping in any way that I can help them is why I feel like I’m really here. I’m helping the people who really need the gardens to grow their food. So that’s why I like it, I like helping them and want to continue to be in the position to help other people with their gardens.”

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August 12, 2020

Teaching the next generation about the magic of gardening

"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…

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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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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Discovering Your ‘Why’ For Gardening

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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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August 25, 2021

Finding Mentorship (and more) in Community

"Last year, my boyfriend and I lived in the Cole neighborhood and had never gardened before. We lived in an apartment with no outdoor space and were home all the…

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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July 7, 2021

Exploring a New Career Path

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January 11, 2021

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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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July 20, 2020

Discovering friendship in the garden

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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!”

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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…
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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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August 28, 2020

Finding purpose in growing and sharing food

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August 21, 2020

Inspiring lifelong curiosity through gardening

"My favorite part of being in the garden is being able to see the vegetables grow. We’re growing tomatoes, cucumber, and on the back there’s broccoli. And we’re also growing…

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. 

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October 30, 2020

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