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We’re planting seeds with the Semillitas Garden Club!

By News, posts

This fall, our bilingual youth educators Laura Calderon and Paula Thomas have been leading a K-2 Garden Club called Semillitas (little seeds) at Valdez Elementary in Denver’s northside.

The club is dedicated to welcoming kids into the garden space and planting the seed of gardening in their minds as a vital part of their lives. Research has shown that kids who get exposed to gardening go on to eat more fruits and veggies! 

Following a learning-by-playing model, Semillitas Garden Club is a place for children to explore the world of gardening, from seed to flower. The kids are exposed to gardening books, arts and crafts, and direct hands-in-the-soil gardening. Through guiding questions, our instructors connect kids with key concepts like soil composition, parts of the plant, ecosystems, and more. 

Garden Club Guidelines

1- Respect all living things

2- Move carefully in the garden

3- Pick only with permission

4- Use tools carefully and return them when finished

Objectives and Outcomes: 

  • To introduce kids to the garden, the practice of gardening, and the many creatures that form a garden ecosystem

  • To grow future garden lovers in the different communities

  • To spark curiosity about the natural world 

  • To instill joy in tending a garden 

  • To connect children to healthy foods – from garden to plate 

This program is made possible with funding from Healthy Food for Denver’s Kids and SCFD. To learn more about our curriculum or bring gardening education to your school, please contact Director of K-12 Education Rob Payo.

The Etkin Family Food Forest Initiative is Fruiting!

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Earlier this year we shared about our new Food Forest Initiative, seeded with support from The Giving Grove, a national nonprofit serving communities experiencing food insecurity. We are now thrilled to share that DUG has received a transformational gift from the Etkin Family Foundation to expand our work to
20 food forests across metro Denver in 2023!

This year, DUG has finished planting the first six food forests– oases of perennial fruits, nuts, and berries– that will produce food for decades and become neighborhood fixtures. These sites will also serve as learning labs for experimentation with other perennial edibles and medicinal plants and are being set up as educational zones with permanent signage to help people learn to identify, care for, and harvest trees and perennial foods.

In total, and with the support of many fabulous volunteer groups, we have have already planted 113 trees, more than 120 companion plants, and 116 berry bushes at 6 sites located across Denver.

We are now deep in the planning process for 2023 and are looking for at least 10 additional sites that would fertile ground for a new garden! If you think you know of a site located on public or private land that may be available, we are looking for:

Must Have

  • Water Access – Existing water infrastructure that we can tap into. This could be garden irrigation lines, or a building (school/church/etc.) that we can extend a new line from. DUG will cover the cost of the new irrigation infrastructure.
  • 2,000 Square Feet – This is the absolute minimum for sites to be able to plant at least 10 trees and companion plants at each.
  • Carbon Sequestration Potential – Should not be an area that already has trees or a healthy ecosystem.

Ideal To Have

  • 3,000 – 6,000 Square Feet – Even if we don’t plant everything out in the first year, a site with room for 20 or more trees is excellent.
  • Volunteer Stewards – Preference may be given to sites that already have one or more people ready to be Tree Keepers and be the main steward of the site. (See below for Tree Keeper requirements.)
  • North or East Aspect – Areas that stay cool for longer are the best for fruiting trees here. Maybe the north or east side of a building, wall, fence, or slope.
  • Marginal Area – We want places that aren’t good for garden expansion or other more intensive uses. Slopes, strips, or overwatered and unused grass are great places to start.
  • Easy Access – Spots where we can drop mulch and bring in trucks easily will facilitate workdays

Don’t Need

  • Fencing – Unless they’re inside a garden, these spaces do NOT need to have pre-existing fencing, and in most cases we will plan to keep them unfenced.
  • Good Soil – It will help the trees get established, but we’re also engaged in work that will remediate and improve soil, so we don’t need the cushiest spots.
  • Pathways – A blank slate is fine

DUG ‘food forests’ are being cared for by volunteer “Tree Keepers,” who receive  discounted supplies, digital trainings, lots of planning resources, as well as demographic data on neighborhoods served from
our partners at The Giving Grove.

Each food forest has at least two Tree Keepers who will shepherd and steward the site. 

It will be their perennial playground, where they can make changes as needed–but it will also be their responsibility to ensure the survival and establishment of the trees and plants.

Commitment and Expectations for Tree Keepers

  • At least two-year commitment: we want this to become something you own, love, and care for for a long time to come, and the less turnover the better. This is not just a place where you take orders from us at DUG, but something that reflects you and your passions and skills.
  • 30-60 minutes of work per week on average: there will be less to do through the winter, a lot more to do during pruning season, and you will be expected to keep close tabs on the site at all times so you can see disease and pest issues as they arise. The most consistent and crucial work is watering for tree establishment.
  • Work collaboratively with at least one other Tree Keeper to meet goals. This will be someone outside of your family, although you are more than welcome to involve partners, family, and friends in this work.
  • If you ever need to transition away from being a Tree Keeper, we ask that you recruit and find your replacement.

Support, Training, and Materials from DUG

  • A bucket of materials: orcharding book, pruners, pruning saw, tie tape, limb spreaders, hat, and t-shirt. These are yours to keep for as long as you’re a Tree Keeper with us–if you ever need to find a replacement, we ask that you transfer the pruners, saw, and book to that replacement.
  • Throughout the year there will be a series of tree-care workshops, with priority and free access given to our Tree Keepers. We will also convene some potlucks and community gatherings for our growing network.
  • You will get access and notice about national tree-care trainings offered by The Giving Grove.
  • DUG staff will be on-call via text or email to answer questions as they come up. 
  • If you want to add new plants to the food forest, we will find you funding, volunteers, and schedule workdays to get that accomplished. 

To get involved with the Food Forest Initiative at any level, please contact Director of Permaculture and Perennials Creighton Hofeditz at creighton@dug.org.

Welcome To Our New Board Members

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We are thrilled to announce three new members to the DUG Board of Directors. Tim Craft, founder of Craft Companies, Jesse Ogas, Executive Director of Social Responsibility and Corporate Engagement at 9News, and Chris Shaffner, Senior Vice President at CoBank have joined the DUG Board for a two-year term beginning July 2022.

Meet Tim Craft

Tim is the founder of Craft Companies, a Denver-based real estate development firm that is transforming the future of home building through responsible, sustainable, and innovative practices that set a higher standard for future development. This is achieved by creating clustered developments, preserving open space and starry skies, incorporating pocket parks, solar lights and energy saving practices.

Recognized for national design excellence, Tim and his team are currently working with five local counties and municipalities to deliver communities that maximize natural resources through responsible land planning, preservation of open space and green technology.

An active partner in the communities where they create neighborhoods, Craft Companies’ hosted the HBA’s 2021 Parade of Homes Industry Night at their conservation-focused Independence Community.

Meet Jesse Ogas

Prior to joining the non-profit sector in 2006, Jesse worked in the retail industry where he worked on Regional teams and as a GM leading several big box stores in Colorado and Utah. After a 17-year career as a GM, he decided to take his knowledge to help the non-profit industry to think about philanthropy differently. Under Ogas’ 9 yr leadership, Firefly Autism has grown to serve families and children with autism across Colorado and is considered one the leading agencies in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy nationally and internationally.

Ogas is a proud member of one of the nation’s prominent Latino Theater companies, Su Teatro. He is a community advocate that has served on a variety of nonprofit Boards, including Colorado Aids Project, Tepeyac Community Health Center, Kemp Foundation, Latina Safehouse, Newsed Development Corporation, Adams Camp, Latina Safehouse, and the MSU President’s Cabinet. Currently, he serves on Tepeyac Community Health, Firefly Autism, Newsed, and 365 Health. He is a recipient of the Eric J. Duran Community Service Award, which honors a person of Latino descent who has made a positive impact in the Denver community.

Ogas was the 2021 9NEWS Leader of the Year, which is presented by the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation. Ogas also recently participated in 9NEWS’ Voices of Change initiative during Hispanic Heritage month. Voices of Change is an ongoing conversation that amplifies voices of community members who are provoking change toward building an equitable, inclusive, and flourishing Colorado.

Today Ogas leads the DEI efforts with 9News as the Executive Director of Social Responsibility and Community Engagement. He just successfully relaunched the 9Listens Community Voices event, is working on the relaunch of 9Who Care, and rebuilding alliances in all the communities in which 9News serves.

Meet Chris Shaffner

Chris is the senior vice president and director of business operations for CoBank, a cooperative bank that provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states.

Chris responsible for the development and execution of bank-wide strategic initiatives impacting loan and investment portfolios, including legislative and regulatory issues, portfolio growth, and customer initiatives. He also leads CoBank’s $3 billion water infrastructure finance business. In 2020, Chris also served on President Biden’s Infrastructure Policy Committee, co-chairing both water and rural subcommittees.
Prior to joining CoBank in 2015, Chris held various leadership positions in both public and private organizations, including private equity funds management in excess of $1 billion. He also headed borough operations for the New York City Housing Authority, where he led a team of 1,500 responsible for operating Manhattan’s 60,000 public housing units.

Mr. Shaffner earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, a juris doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law, and an MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. He lives in Denver with his wife and two kids and also serves on the Board of Directors of Colorado Youth for a Change.

As we welcome our new board members, we also say goodbye to three long-standing DUG board members, Diana Denwood, Chloe Mickel, and Ramonna Robinson, who collectively have served DUG for the last 10 years. We are so grateful for the extensive time and effort they have each offered to DUG over the years, and wish them the best in their future endeavors.

We’re kicking off our Listening Tour 2.0!

By News

In the summer of 2020, DUG held our first Listening Tour to engage a variety of stakeholders including gardeners, program participants, garden leaders, workshop attendees, board members, educators and the broader community.

After connecting with hundreds of people through surveys and interviews, we partnered with CSU graduate students to identify critical feedback that vital in reorienting DUG’s Vision Mission and Values in 2021. Information from the Listening Tour also shaped new initiatives and programs such as the Baseline Infrastructure Initiative, DUG Corps, Micro Network events, and more robust leadership for Garden Leaders, among others.  

To build on the positive momentum of our first Listening Tour, this summer we’re launching our ‘Listening Tour 2.0‘ across 6 DUG Gardens, specifically targeting groups we may have missed the first time, including educators (who were BUSY during the pandemic!), folks with a first language other than English, and those who may have had difficulty participating in an online survey due to technical barriers.

DUG is proud to be a community-led organization; constant feedback loops are necessary in all our systems and processes. In order to help us build capacity amongst staff to engage in this work, DUG has partnered with Centrality Research, a team specializing in bringing a community-driven voice to organizational decision-making. In May of this year, DUG staff and DUG Corps participated in an Engaging Community Through Conversation training led by Centrality Research in order to continue to develop our team’s community engagement skills as they relate to gathering, using, synthesizing, and implementing community feedback.

We want to dream alongside our communities about all the ways our organization can be a catalyst for community connection, relationship-building, and the shared vision of gardens as spaces of belonging. 

One of our goals for this Listening Tour is to reduce barriers to participating in feedback sharing. Our six listening sessions will provide food, tandem children’s activities, interpretation (as needed), and each participant will receive a $25 gift card to King Sooper for participation. 

We appreciate you being along for the journey as DUG continues to live our values of earning trust, demonstrating integrity, embracing equity, building community and inspiring curiosity. We are listening. And we can’t wait to hear from you. We look forward to sharing the findings of our Listening Tour 2.0 later this year. 

Welcome DUG’s 1st Advisory Council | National Thought Leadership

By News

Denver Urban Gardens has spent several decades building a robust network of community gardens across metro Denver.  We are thrilled to announce the DUG Advisory Council, composed of nationally and globally recognized experts!

Advisory Council members provide guidance and thought partnership to DUG senior leadership and lift up our work through their networks. We also ask them from time to time to engage in educational opportunities and fundraising events.

Thank you to our 1st Advisory Council Members:

Dana Bryson | Senior Vice President, Social Impact at Study.com

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Zach Bush, MD | Physician, Research Scientist, Entrepreneur and internationally recognized educator and thought leader

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Steve Culbertson | President & CEO at Youth Service America

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Robert Egger | Nonprofit/Power Of Food Advocate & Dedicated Elder Ally

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Ryland Englehart | Co-Founder + Executive Director at Kiss The Ground

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Beverly Grant | Founder, Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace

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Daniela Ibarra-Howell | CEO and Co-Founder, Savory Institute

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Jeff Krasno | Co-Founder, CEO + Podcast Host at Commune; Co-Founder + Executive Chairman at Wanderlust; Author; Conscious Capitalist

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Roxanne Moore | Executive Director, Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation

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Robert Reiman | CEO for the Giving Grove

As the organization evolves, we have identified six pillars of our work that go far beyond gardening:

Climate Change
Community
Health & Wellness
Skill Building
Food Access & Sovereignty
Foodways

As we go deeper on these high-impact topics, we seek to both share our voice and hear from voices working in these critical areas beyond our hometown.

We Can’t Wait to See You at Gather ‘Round 2022

By News

Gather ‘Round, Denver Urban Gardens (DUG)’s annual gala, is a celebration of our gardens’ bounty as we welcome the harvest season, and has been a community tradition for over a decade.

This year’s event will be co-hosted by Denver food legends Pete Turner, Dana Rodriguez, and Brad Reubendal. For the first time EVER, we’ll be recognizing and uplifting the work of local and national changemakers with our DUG Impact Awards.

Join us as we celebrate the cross-sector work of individuals, government organizations, NGOs, and coalitions working alongside DUG as we pursue our vision of a sustainable urban future where people are deeply and directly connected to the earth, each other, and the food they eat.

Impact Award Winners:

Ancestral Foodways – Spirit of the Sun
Climate Action – HDR
Community Building – Denver Parks and Recreation
Food Access + Sovereignty – Denver Community Food Access Coalition
Health + Wellness – Zach Bush, MD
Skill Building + Education – Chris Woodburn, Denver Public Schools

Join us on September 8 at Upper Larimer Events in RiNo!

YOU’LL ENJOY
Luxurious seasonal plant-based fare from supper club superstars,
The Easy Vegan
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Live music from Americana/Colorado roots band,
David Lawrence & the Spoonful

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craft cocktails, exclusive silent auction items, a wine wall, and lots of community fun!

Grab your tickets now

Growing Gardeners with DUG featured in USDA Farm to School Newsletter

By Education, News

DUG’s new ECE Growing Gardeners Initiative brings younger children into the garden.

.The National Gardening Association reports huge increases in the number of people engaging in gardening, documenting over 18 million new gardeners in the US in 2021. Gardens encourage us to ‘slow down’ and appreciate the interconnected community of soil, plants, and critters while improving our mental health and wellbeing. For children, the garden provides opportunities for cultivating the wonder and joy of experiential learning while connecting to our lifegiving earth and soil.

Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) Growing Gardeners Initiative, a Fiscal Year 2021 Farm to School Turnkey Grantee, creates a system of resources for bringing younger children into the garden. Hands-on DUG lessons investigating composting worms under magnifying glasses, engaging in cooking and trying new foods in garden clubs, and planting seeds and seedlings for the season provide students with memorable time in the soil.

Studies show that exposure to gardens at a younger age increases the chance that children will continue to value healthy eating and gardening into adulthood. Working with a cohort of twelve Denver Public Schools early childhood educators, DUG provided year-long training to increase teachers’ comfort level in taking students outside and integrating gardens into their curricula.

The initiative’s first year has been a great success thanks to the commitment of these teachers. Additional lessons, webinars, and video content will be made available on DUG.org upon completion.

Children need unstructured physical activity. As they work to turn the soil and care fortheir baby plants, gardens serve as both guardian and nurturer–an outdoor classroom with quiet, secret places that allow kids to discover that as they care for a plant, they are also protected. They learn the importance of self, that their efforts are important, and that working together and respecting diversity is part of the process of growth.

Moving forward, DUG will support a new cohort of teachers with year-long programming.  Local grant funds will further deepen our efforts by incorporating sensory garden plots at selected DUG school-based community gardens.

Check out DUG’s feature in the USDA Farm to School newsletter here.

Our Garden Adoption Program Has Rooted!

By News

We are thrilled to share that DUG’s Adopt a Garden program has kicked off with tremendous success. 

This spring DUG launched our new Garden Adoption program as an opportunity to ensure all of our gardens are resourced (as identified in our Baseline Infrastructure Initiative) equitably, and we are thrilled to share that 20+ national and local organizations have invested in garden communities across the DUG network.

Their 3-year financial commitment to gardens ensures that they have the necessary resources to thrive by providing funding for infrastructure improvements, such as new pathways, plot borders, or water tanks, as well as for seasonal resources like compost, seedlings, and straw. 

As part of their adoption commitments, the organizations also have an opportunity to do a seasonal teambuilding workday in partnership with community members of the garden and care for a plot in the garden (if available). 

The gang from Illegal Pete’s (who adopted 7 gardens around Denver!) has a workday to tend their shared plot in the Baker Community Garden.

Denver City Council President (representing Far Northeast Denver District 11) Stacie Gilmore stopped by Montbello 5 Loaves to visit the garden during a recent workday.

Look out for these workdays in a garden near you!

Amazon recently held their workday at the Montbello Fives Loaves Community Garden. Brittany Morris Saunders, Head of Community Affairs for Amazon in Denver, shared  “We are delighted to see our partnership with Denver Urban Gardens at the Montbello Five Loaves Community Garden come to fruition. This invaluable resource not only provides healthy food to the community but also brings the neighborhood together for community building and educational opportunities.”

Our gardens sustain the neighborhoods in which we live by building community, regenerating the soil, providing the essential skills– including the ability to grow your own food– all while supporting health and wellness. It takes a village (or a garden) to help care for our great city and we deeply appreciate all of our garden adopters’ commitments to our community and the environment.

We look forward to deepening the roots of these amazing partnerships in the years to come!

Learn more about Garden Adoption here.
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