Fall/Winter letter from DUG Executive Director Michael Buchenau
As another growing season comes to a close, much of our attention at DUG has turned once again to supporting a significant number of new garden projects emerging throughout the city. As we meet on each new project with community members, various agency and city officials, the support we’ve received has been extremely encouraging. It seems that the idea of community gardens throughout our city is officially coming of age.
It hasn’t hurt that the research findings from the Colorado School of Public Health continue to reveal the potential for community gardens to play an important role in a broad approach to improved health in our urban communities. Community gardens are everyday landscapes that address daily needs for healthy food while promoting substantive connections between people and their living environment. They are also a tangible action that communities can take and maintain on their own, and as such have gotten the attention of a broader audience, especially of late.
In fact, we’ve been asked recently by numerous urban planners, health officials and policymakers to outline the tangible actions they should consider as they work to establish a network of community gardens in their jurisdictions. As actions relate in particular to land planning, we’ve suggested the following:
– foremost, establish that a need and desire for a community garden exists from within the community, including a commitment from interested parties to participate throughout the process of establishing, using and maintaining the garden;
– ensure that planning processes include a public outreach component that is inclusive and connects with potential participants that might otherwise be overlooked;
– ensure that community gardens are part of land planning processes up front, so that they don’t end up an afterthought that then has to be retrofit into urban development;
– ensure that community gardens are considered a primary and permanent open space option as part of all master planning efforts, on par with valued elements such as playgrounds, bike trails and community plazas;
– work to establish zoning codes which protect community gardens, while liberally allowing them in appropriate zone codes and identifying them as a use-by-right;
– rather than private property, consider properties for community gardens where they become part of the permanent programming of a site, such as parks and open spaces, school grounds, institutions, and affordable housing developments;
– ensure that community gardens are available and accessible to all communities, especially in food desserts and in low-income communities with marginalized and isolated populations;
– promote the establishment of community gardens and garden-to-cafeteria programs at schools for the primary purposes of teaching children hands-on lessons in healthy nutrition, science, environmental stewardship and social studies; and
– encourage programming that connects community gardens to other entities in local food systems including food banks and shelters, farmer’s markets, and local chef networks.
Collectively, these steps can go a long way in improving community health, and we are thrilled to be a part of this movement toward healthy, self-sustaining communities. We are grateful for the tremendous support we’ve received these past 25 years, and as we move forward, we hope that you will continue to join us in growing community- one urban garden at a time.
Denver Urban Gardens
This letter was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2010 Edition of The Underground News.