Gardening can save us.

By News

written by Linda Appel Lipsius, DUG’s Executive Director 

On the surface to many, gardening might appear to be a lovely, quaint pastime. After all, with grocery stores on (almost) every corner, who needs to grow their own food anymore? 

Even if we have both the financial means and the access (neither of which is true for many Coloradans) to get all of our food, wrapped neatly in non-compostable packaging, grown using derivatives of neurotoxins and explosives, devoid of both flavor and nutrients, at supermarkets–should we? 

No. We shouldn’t. 

Every human should have the resources and skills to grow their own food. In soil. In a garden, on a rooftop, in a container. This simple, elemental act will reap exponential dividends.

Our current industrial food system has many consequences:

  • Dislocation from where our food comes from, resulting in passive, disengaged consumption 
  • Fruits and vegetables that are both nutrient and flavor devoid
  • A food system designed for our food to travel 1,000s of miles from farm to fork, requiring warehouses, coolers, and transport, contributing to greenhouse emissions
  • Harvested produce that loses its nutritional value as it sits for days to weeks before getting eaten
  • Chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are destroying ecosystems and harming farmworkers.
  • Extractive farming that depletes farm the land’s ability to be productive and to heal 

When we activate ourselves and our communities to grow their own food– to re-engage with the miracle that is our earth’s bounty– important lessons and truths reveal themselves:

  • The wonders of nature: how can one tiny little seed produce 50 tomatoes or hundreds of beans or the spiciest of peppers?
  • The critical importance of soil: that if it is healthy, thriving and full of beneficial microorganisms, crops (and the planet) will thrive
  • The importance of biodiversity, pollinators and beneficial pests
  • The mental and physical health benefits that come from digging in the soil (After a year + of the pandemic, I know I’ve learned that getting dirty on my knees with a fistful of dirt is the ultimate antidote to a day spent staring at a screen)
  • The reconnection to our resources: when we grow our own food, we’re less inclined to waste it

Please learn more. Take action. Become an intentional eater and grow something you like to eat. See what an organically grown tomato or cucumber from your backyard can taste like. Today. Plant a seed in a pot, a garden, or a park. And start demanding that our industrial food system delivers food with the same integrity as what you grow in your backyard – or on your roof or in your containers – by supporting producers with integrity.


Through Denver Urban Gardens, gardening communities grow more than 600,000lb of food each year across 188 community gardens, all consumed on a neighborhood level, using organic & regenerate practices. We teach people to garden and provide the space and community support to succeed. Imagine how much hyper-locally produced, highly nutritious food we could be enjoying if we all started growing our own… 

Meet the 2023 DUG Corps!

By News

This season, four wonderful 2023 DUG Corps members are here to support DUG gardens and host Micro Network events. Please help us welcome Rayanna, Kourtnie, Christina, and Sarah – and look for them in a garden near you!

Meet Christina

My name is Christina Highsmith. I’m one of the four DUG Corps members this season and am loving every moment of it! It’s a dream of mine to be a part of such an incredible organization.
I’m a backyard gardener and houseplant mom. I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley, and have since worn many hats in my professional life, mainly in the field of education, but also finance, dog training, and baking! It’s all about the journey!
My love for nature started when I was a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a kid with anxiety, I remember feeling grounded in the outdoors, whether it was cloud watching for hours, listening to waves at the beach, or getting muddy out in my own backyard.
I’m a huge believer in the therapeutic qualities of nature and hope to incorporate this into my professional life down the road!
When I’m not doing DUG Corps activities, you can find me wandering barefoot around the yard with my three burly rescue dogs, glass of wine in hand, and scheming my next big gardening idea.

Meet Sarah

Sarah came to Colorado, from the San Francisco Bay Area, to earn her bachelor’s degree in Organismal Biology and Ecology from Colorado College. She holds a deeply rooted interest in ecology and earth stewardship and has pursed this in a diversity of ways.

Sarah has studied flammulated owls in the ponderosa pine forests of Colorado and common nighthawks in the sand hill ecosystem of Florida. She has contributed to both longitudinal and short term demographic studies of threatened bird populations with a focus on the impacts of climate change.

Most recently, Sarah worked for Sprout City Farms, growing organic produce on an urban farm in Lakewood Colorado, where she focused, instead, on the ways in which our changing climate is impacting our food systems. She is excited to be member of the DUG team, working to build community around food and earth stewardship.

Meet Kourtnie

My name is kourtnie burse, I’m from New Orleans Louisiana. I enjoy the outdoors especially spring and summer. I love that everything seems to be rejuvenating and coming alive again, which I find to be beautiful.

My education background is in environmental science/Geography, from the University of Colorado.

I absolutely love animals of all kinds and currently have a small backyard flock of chickens . I love to farm, ride horses and grow crops of all kinds and enjoy times with my family and friends.


Meet Rayanna

Hello, my name is Rayanna Schutt. I grew up in Commerce City, Colorado, with lovely views of the Purina Dog food factory and the Suncore Refinery. As beautiful as the surrounding views were – something was missing.

As an early teen, my close friends and I set out on a journey to “re-wild” our blocks, introducing native pollinator plants, and learning about food deserts and the issues that creates in the inner cities.

It is a humble honor to be surrounded by so many like minded individuals, here at DUG – and to share our passions for food justice, Earth Care and heirloom tomatoes!

Climate Action One Seed at a Time

By News

Written by Linda Appel Lipsus

DUG is a Climate Organization 

…among other things.

Or is it?

This topic has come up a number of times for me over the past month in various discussions. While I firmly believe DUG is a climate organization, I was shocked to hear so many people say community gardens are not places where we can have climate impact. Why aren’t we making the connection?

Maybe the disconnect lies with size. Gardens are small and we have a cultural obsession with bigger is better. If what you are doing is not a billion of something with a million of something else in one fell swoop, it’s not meaningful. Maybe the disconnect lies with speed. Gardening and growing is inherently slow, intentional work and does not provide instant gratification and instant results, so it must not be working.

Or maybe the disconnect lies with scale. With gardening, you help a tiny seed grow or you sow a mere 10’ by 10’ plot of land while our climate problem is SO big and vast and overwhelming and incomprehensible that these small steps cannot possibly make a difference.

All of this, I believe, is a manifestation of learned helplessness. Making the health of the planet someone else’s problem to fix.

And I get it. It is all so overwhelming. And, in response, I stand firm that DUG’s (unstated) mission is to undo this learned helplessness vis-a-vis our planet.

 All change starts with one step by one person. Growing food and connecting to the soil is something humans were meant to do. We are of the earth. We are dependent on the earth. And the earth is dependent on us acting with care. If we don’t, we get evicted, and that process seems to be underway now.

Each and every one of us has a sacred bond to the land beneath our feet, and that bond can be maintained, nurtured and stewarded by so many simple steps. And, when lots of people take those steps, we do, in fact, create change. When you think of it in terms of billions of people vs. hundreds of corporations, the potential of our collective impact far outreaches that of Fortune 500 CSR goals.

To that end, this earth week I ask you to be curious. Read something. Do something. Talk to someone. Take a minute to set your intention on a new habit you can cultivate that will help heal our home.

Some gardening hacks:

Heal your Soil – As the earth’s “skin,” soil is one of our planet’s most important resources, and it is being ransacked by conventional farming and ranching practices.

You can help reverse this degradation in your own garden, raised beds and even container gardens. 

✔️ Use natural alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers which kill both the bad and the good bugs, of which there are many. Another option is integrated pest management.

✔️ Add compost to your soil at the beginning and end of each season. Compost is rich in microbial life which is what infuses your soil with everything it needs to grow healthy, nutrient-rich food. 

✔️ Plant fall cover crops to do the work in the cold winter months!

✔️ Opt not to clear your garden at the end of the season. Naked soil is vulnerable and rapidly loses moisture and nutrients. Leave the plants in or cut them down and spread the mulch over the winter.

✔️ Support organic, regenerative producers

✔️ Take action and write to your local lawmakers and offending businesses to stop poisoning our soil and our food system.

Increase Biodiversity – Plant different things every year in different places to serve varying functions and attract pollinators. 

✔️ Plant pollinators – Attract and support your friendly pollinators by adding plants and flowers that welcome bees, butterflies, etc.

Find the space, even in a food garden, because pollinators help the entire ecosystem. The Butterfly Pavilion is a tremendous resource. 

✔️ Crop rotation – Your soil has a memory and each plant gives and takes different things. By rotating what you plant where, you let your soil breathe and reset each season. 

✔️ Try not to monocrop – Just as we hear about conventional agriculture monocropping corn, soybeans, etc. you can fall into the monocropping trap, too.

You might really love a certain variety of tomato or pepper and only want to grow that one. This approach might serve you for a season, but not multiple. Mix it up.

✔️ Plant in guilds / practice companion planting – Certain plants benefit from being planted near each other. They provide support and resiliency. Most have heard of the “Three Sisters” – corn + beans + squash – example.

These life-giving crops each serve distinct and complementary purposes to each other that result in a thriving trifecta.

Go ahead and get rid of your lawn – There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to go lawn-free. As to the “how,” Resource Central can help you figure this out, and Boundless Landscapes has shared some ideas too. 

Compost – You can compost almost anywhere you live using a variety of methods. Composting not only captures food waste to create a rich and productive soil amendment, it keeps organic matter out of the landfill where it emits high levels of methane. Composting means you’re both creating a net positive and reducing a net negative. 

And, as always, if you are looking for a 101 on regenerative practices, please watch the film, Kiss the Ground. Grab some popcorn and invite your friends!

Happy Earth Day. Let’s start reclaiming hope today.

2023 Garden Leader Symposium: Building Community, Inclusivity, and Engagement

By News

This past Saturday, February 18, we hosted more than a hundred Garden Leaders from across the Denver Metro Area for our 2023 Garden Leader Symposium. It was wonderful to see smiles and welcoming hugs as we reconnected in person after two years of virtual symposiums.

We started the day with refreshments and casual conversations before Lt. Governor Diane Primavera officially kicked off the meeting. The Lt. Governor introduced the four DUG Corps members who will be supporting our work this growing season, “Serve Colorado has partnered with DUG and Colorado State University Extension to bring on four AmeriCorps members who will be helping with youth education and leading workdays over the next nine months.”

From the opening remarks, we transitioned to Garden Operations, as our team, Lara, Eliza, Taylor and Marisa, presented the Garden Leader Resources DUG has, how to find them on the website, and who to contact for different needs and scenarios.  

One of the goals of this year’s symposium was to workshop the topics of building community and engagement in the garden, and what a supportive growing environment looks and feels like. For both of those, garden leaders and DUG team members huddled in smaller groups for breakout sessions to share ideas and resources.

We also held a panel discussion about “Cultivating Safe Space: Supporting Unhoused Community Members in the Garden,” with the support and expertise of community and government organizations, like – Terese Howard from Housekeys Action Network Denver, Chris Richardson from Wellpower/STAR, Lana Dalton, Director of Unsheltered Homeless Response HOST, Vi Bright, Mutual Aid Monday, Kristine Thomas, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Our keynote speaker, Evan Harrison from Kiss the Ground, addressed the topic of Regeneration and the importance of redirecting Farm Bill efforts and funds toward a regenerative agriculture model that supports us all.

It was amazing to see all the community members that keep our gardens running in one space. We look forward to an amazing 2023 growing season! 

And we are especially grateful to our sponsors Specialty Woods Products, Birdcall, Everyday Pizza, Boochcraft, Illegal Petes, Great Divide Brewing Co. and Patagonia Denver.

Composting, One of Denver’s Strategies to Combat Climate Change

By News

The City of Denver has a bold goal to reduce its total GHG emissions by 65% by 2030 (from a 2019 baseline,) a targeted pledge to the Race to Zero Initiative, a global campaign established by the United Nations during the COP26 in 2020 to reduce global emissions. 

To achieve that goal the City of Denver has identified key strategies and specific high-emitting human activities. One of the key steps to achieving the city’s  2030 targets is to reduce methane emissions from organic waste (including food waste and yard waste) in landfills. In 2021, the state of Colorado published the CO Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap Report unveiling a plan to reduce GHG emissions incrementally in the next decades. 

This report highlights organic waste as the largest contributor to landfills in Colorado, emitting methane as it decomposes in the landfills’ anaerobic environment. Even though methane accounts for only 11% of all GHG emissions, it is detrimental to the environment as it traps 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2. Scientists estimate that at least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane from human actions as reported by NPR.  

The city established a goal to divert 50% of waste from landfills by 2030 with a bolder goal of 100% diversion by 2040, which includes 57% reduction in tons of residential food waste collected by the city.

The Role of DUG

DUG is committed to supporting these goals as an educational partner providing skills and education to the community through the Denver Master Composter Training Program, a ten-session course in partnership with Denver’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability & Resiliency (CASR) that prepares individuals to be master composters and to share their new skills with the community. DUG has been running the Master Composter program for over 20 years directed by Judy Elliott, Senior Education Specialist. 

In 2022, ‘Jungle Judy’, as she is known in the community,  trained 22 master composters through a series of 10 classes, on topics ranging from soil basics, composting processes and biology, vermicomposting, building a compost pile, and teaching techniques. The participants had the chance to tour several industrial composting facilities to better understand how large composting processes work in comparison with at-home practices.

After 10 weeks, the Master Composters began a 40 hour volunteer community outreach commitment to share their newfound knowledge. Throughout the spring and summer months, the Master Composters taught 25 2-hour composting classes educating 232 participants on how to start a compost pile, how to compost with red wiggler worms at home, and how to divert waste from landfills. They also visited farmers markets across the Metro Area to educate market patrons, they engaged in community events, and joined DUG garden events, reaching 1692 community members, and amassing 1140 volunteer hours, going above their initial commitment.

The 2023 Master Composter Program will support the rollout of the Pay-As-You-Throw program providing waste management education to residents as they transition to the new expanded waste collection service.

Applications to join the Master Composting program are opened with only six spots left available. The cost for the entire program is $75. Apply by emailing Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott at to set up a time to come to the office and interview.

Grow a Garden Opens February 1st

By News

Exciting news! DUG’s longstanding food access program Grow a Garden is now accepting orders for our 2023 Garden Kits!

Choose from our five signature Garden Kits that contain seeds and seedlings
that will grow well– and eat well-– together! Pay what you can with our sliding scale using our suggested program fee of $60 per Garden Kit as a guide. Choose what’s right for you to pay–whether less or more or than the suggested program fee. No one will be turned away for inability to pay.

Pick up your kits from one of our 17 distribution partners the week of May 15th-20th then get planting with the support of our Plant Care Guide and a community of gardeners in DUG Online.

We only have 2,000 kits available, so order yours sooner rather than later!

If you’re new to gardening and need a little extra support, we’re also offering FREE gardening mentorship to the first 30 people who apply in the order form!


DUG Says Goodbye to Ainslie O’Neil

By News

On December 18th 2022, the DUG community and Denver suffered a terrible and unexpected loss when Ainslie O’Neil was struck by a car while biking and died of her injuries at the age of 32.

Ainslie was a landscape architect, designer, educator, and gardener. She was passionately devoted to creating a better urban future in the city of her birth–physically, socially, economically, and culturally. She was a part of the teaching team for the Denver Permaculture Design Course for ten years and was recently working with DUG in multiple capacities: re-designing a garden with her landscape architecture skills and as a member of the Therapeutic Garden Initiative task force. She was honest, brave, focused, energetic, and endlessly positive in all her endeavors. 

Ainslie was a committed bike commuter, sometimes arriving at classes or meetings after riding for an hour or more. Her death at the hands of a car, while biking along a dedicated bikeway, is a particular wrench of the knife for those of us who knew her.

While the city is continuing to allocate more money for bike lanes and biker safety, we still undeniably live in a car culture, with all the speed, violence, and chaos that can bring.

Ainslie loved her family, her friends, her dog, and her garden. She loved the mountains, a long hike, and a good soak in a hot tub. She loved collaborating with others to create space for radical change, and exposing students to new ways of seeing the world. Her memorial at the Posner Center was a testament to her impact, as people from all walks of life and all parts of the city and beyond packed in to celebrate a life well lived.

Here within the DUG staff, Ainslie had many friends, and her passing has shocked and stunned us. Of course death begets life, and every day is an opportunity to weave elements of Ainslie into our what we do: a deep care for people and the land, a tireless motivation to do good work, and a recognition that taking time in the garden is one of the best ways to care for ourselves, finding peace and belonging wherever we are. May she lead us on.

The Countdown to Colorado Gives Day is On!

By News

Donations to DUG are being matched $ for $ through the end of the year!

Colorado’s largest day of giving, Colorado Gives Day is happening on Tuesday, December 6th, 2022! Help us meet our goal of $75,000 to support Denver Urban Gardens’ programs in 2023!

As we approach the end of year, we’re not talking about the problems we’re facing–we’re focused on how we can work together to make things better.

For us, it starts with hope.

That it’s still possible for the world to be a sustainable place for generations to come, that we can grow and nurture our common ground, that we can heal ourselves and the soil while building regenerative local food systems.

2022 has been a monumental year of growth for us as an organization and we’re looking forward to digging in deeper next year. From planting new food forests throughout the city and providing critical resources to gardens through our Baseline Infrastructure Initiative to deepening gardening skills for people of all ages and providing opportunities for community and home gardeners to connect and learn from each other, we’ve got our hands in the soil and our eyes focused our vision of a sustainable urban future where people are deeply and directly connected to the earth, each other, and the food they eat.

We believe that by growing in community, we’re strengthening our ability to access healthy food, live in harmony with the earth and each other, and be more resilient. Join our growing movement to spread seeds of hope across metro Denver.

A better world is not only possible, we’re ensuring it is coming.

When you give to DUG, you’re investing in a sustainable urban future where people are deeply and directly connected to the earth, each other, and the food they eat.

Plus, through the end of 2022, every dollar you give is DOUBLED through our match–just one more big reason to give!


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!

By News

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