#10: Meet Beatrice, Fairview Elementary Community Garden
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#9: Meet Melinda, Garden Leader at Golden Community Garden
“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 gardens and teaching courses totally put me outside of my box because I haven’t ever considered myself a teacher.
When you teach someone else, then you take that knowledge in a different way than you would if you had memorized it or heard it from someone else. It was both fun and scary. To have that little push was really important to feel proud of myself. You think, ‘I shouldn’t have put those limits on myself.’
I run the donation plots at the Golden Community Garden, which is probably one of the larger donation zones in Denver. We have 15 beds for donation only. I think last year we donated like 700 pounds of food. We’re all just in it together to bring some healthy food to people who may not otherwise get it.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why I love gardening. The community and relationship building–and sharing all this wonderful knowledge with others. My daughter comes to the garden with me almost every day and she and I will just snack on snap peas and green beans while we’re harvesting. This is a place of peace for her too. She likes being here just as much as I do. We have the greatest chats and she’ll give me one of her air pods and we’ll listen to music together.
It just feels good. It feels right, and to be able to serve in this way is just an honor for me. I love it.”
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#8: Meet Michaely, Beeler St. Community Garden
“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 radishes, peppers, and onions. These radishes are Japanese radishes- they are very spicy. And the tomatoes are different because these ones are the bigger ones. Yeah, my favorite are the tomatoes. The ‘Sweet 100’ tomatoes.
We’ve got calipers. This is for measuring, like, the peppers and the tomatoes. You can see how tall they are. We used to have marigolds, but they died because they didn’t have enough sun. So what we saw was that the number was very big with the ones with fertilizer.
I’ve been seeing a lot of differences in the vegetables. And it’s very fun how the vegetables are different. Like with fertilizer, I’ve seen that they’re like, bigger, fatter, and without it, they’re a little bit more smaller. We weighed the peppers, and they were heavier than without fertilizer.”
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#7: Meet Peg, Youth Educator at Fairview Elementary Community Garden
“I believe that every moment is a teaching moment. Getting the kids to see the world in a different way is a fascinating thing. Every time you get just one kid that asks you an extra question, it is an amazing feeling. I believe that when you show a child something, and you see the lightbulb go off, your job is done. I know then that I have exposed them to something new and that they will pass that knowledge along and build on it. I like their curiosity and enthusiasm, but I like their wariness, too. Often, when I show them a vegetable plant, that may have been the first time they have ever seen it before.
Once, I brought some purple potatoes from my home garden to show my class, and one boy looked at one, turned it around and around in his hands, and asked me, “How did you do that? How did you make the inside purple?” When I told him that it grew like that, he looked at me like I was crazy. He inspected the potato to see if I had injected the color into it. He was very wary of a purple potato.
I have the kids sit in the garden and just listen to it. A garden is so noisy when people aren’t talking. You’ve got your birds, crickets, and bees. It’s really quite loud if you take the time to listen. You have to tailor your teaching to fit what each child’s strengths are, to what they can each personally get out of gardening. You see their potential and encourage them to be their best selves. I hate when kids have a question about how the world works, and both of you know that their answer is how the world really should be, but that isn’t the reality. When this happens, I prefer to tell them, “Yes, you’re right. That is how the world should be. Now let’s go make it happen!”
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#6: Meet Sharona, Garden Leader at Ruby Hill Community Garden
“When I came back from the Peace Corps, I thought, “we are really in trouble.” We have a system that’s based on fossil fuels and it’s unsustainable. The Senegalese were living so close to the ground. They’re farmers at heart. When the rains came and it was time to start farming, they had a skip in their step. I felt more secure knowing where my food was coming from. When I saw the food insecurities here, I knew I needed to work with people on how to plant their own food.
This is such a vital resource that we need to be passing on to our new generations by making our food systems local. I’m still a student. I use the garden as a laboratory and a living library of knowledge. It’s trial and error every year. When new gardeners come in I think, “oh good, converting more people!” It’s been such a treat to see people become gardeners. Even in their 2nd year, it’s like a little jungle in their 12×12 plot.
The garden is a hub for building community. The garden is like a plant: you plant the seed and then the roots just get deeper and more established. It’s taking off on its own. Every garden has its own little culture. Multiple languages are spoken in the garden and it’s bringing people together. So many friendships have grown out of this garden, lifelong friendships. This is how we found each other.
I’m trying to foster “from seed to medicine.” We turned two plots into medicinal garden plots and one plot is donated to pollinators. It’s helping us bridge a gap of what our ancestors have always known. They were plant people, hunter-gatherers. That’s how we got here today. I want to help people reconnect with that again. DUG is a gift to our community. DUG says to us, “here is your gift, now go play with it!”
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#5: Meet John and Lily, Shoshone Community Garden
“We lived in China for 7 years, where we met when Lily was my translator on a work project. We like it here very much. I am originally from the UK, and we have a culture in the UK of growing vegetables in community gardens called ‘allotments.’ Allotments are very popular there for people that don’t have access to land. They started as an outgrowth from World War II, often referred to as victory gardens, when there was a shortage of food and people had to be self-sufficient. My parents were avid gardeners, and as a boy looking for extra money, I was assigned chores in their vegetable and flower gardens. I saw the value and effort associated with gardening. My grandfather was an amazing farmer. His backyard was always filled with fruits and vegetables. He became very good at growing everything he needed. He spent all of his time in his retirement years tending his garden and got great pleasure from it. He gave away a lot of his harvest because he often grew more than he could consume.
We are looking at our garden as a work in progress. It is something relaxing that we do together. Gardening has given us such a bigger appreciation for our food. We used to be disconnected from all of the vegetables and fruits we ate. We really appreciate those foods now. Even if it is one little tomato, you think “I grew that!” When you pick herbs and use them right away in your cooking, it is a completely different experience from supermarket cooking. When you throw in fresh herbs, you can really taste the difference. We make traditional Chinese-style soup with lotus root and pork and throw in our freshly harvested coriander. It is so simple but so delicious. When you grow herbs, you can benefit from those really strong fragrances in your food right away. The flavor is so intense; you are capturing so many different essences. It makes a huge difference.
As a boy, I was more interested in the pocket money, whereas now, gardening is life-enhancing for us. We enjoy gardening together and we don’t want to lose sight of that. Once it becomes a chore, there is no enjoyment in it. That is what keeps us focused: gardening is our recreation, and we are doing it because we enjoy gardening. As one gets older, you start to appreciate gardening in a very different way.”