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Connecting with Nature and Building Community

Meet Shay, Avid Rock Climber, Outdoors Enthusiast, Philosopher, and DUG’s Food Access Coordinator

Born and raised in Taos, New Mexico, Shay grew up with nature as his backyard, exploring with his younger brother.  Shay brings a love for plants, cooking, and community to his work as DUG’s food access coordinator with a pretty good handle on Spanish as a second language.

We sat down with Shay to learn more about what makes him sparkle from the inside out, here is a condensed and edited version of that conversation:

What was it like growing up in Taos?
It was great. My dad is a trail runner, so outdoor activities were a norm. Growing up, we were always outside, going on camping trips out in the woods, especially to undeveloped places where we could just pitch a tent for the night, or sometimes skipping the tent all together and simply falling asleep staring at the stars. And in the winter we would go skiing at Taos Ski Valley.
Taos felt like a place where people could be free to be who they are, a very artsy community, filled with interesting people.

You loved Taos very much, why did you leave?
For school. I went to the University of Pennsylvania to study, which was a big change.

What did you study?
After going back and forth between economics, computer sciences and some classes in political sciences, I finally decided to major in Political Sciences. Although, I’d have loved to major in philosophy. I’m an avid philosophy reader, especially of contemporary leftist theory.

What did you do after finishing school?
I moved to New York to work at a law firm as a paralegal, which I did for two years thinking I wanted to go into law school. But I realized it wasn’t for me, I’m too much of a romantic, hopeless optimistic, and this experience actually made me want to become an anti-capitalist, and a corporate job wasn’t really in my future anymore.

So from New York to Denver, what made you come to Denver instead of Taos?
I wanted to live in a city bigger than Taos but still be close to my family, and Denver is the closest to Taos, four hours by car, so it was a good in-between place. Plus, Denver is surrounded by nature and with easy access to outdoor activities, from the foothills to deep in the mountains. In fact, I love the Conifer area so much that my dream is to buy a place up there and build a glass brick greenhouse where I can use the sun to heat up the space while allowing the light to come in. 

So besides reading philosophy and outdoor activities, what other hobbies do you have?
I love to cook! I cook a lot of vegetarian and vegan meals that are also gluten free because I have a gluten sensitivity. I also love plants. I share my small apartment with my partner Marley, our two dogs – Franklin and Otis, and 38 houseplants – from large fig plants to tiny succulents and everything in between; but my favorite one is a Moth orchid named Kyle, who is now in full bloom.

Was it your love for plants that brought you to DUG? Or what made you decide to apply for the Food Access coordinator position?
Even though I love plants and I love being around people who love plants, that wasn’t the only reason for joining DUG. When I moved to Denver I began looking for non-profit jobs working toward food sovereignty and saw the amazing work DUG is doing in the community, which was exactly what I was looking for. 

During my time in college in Pennsylvania, I traveled to Sierra Leone to work with the Sierra Leone Children’s Fund, a non-profit organization forming farming cooperatives to boost food cultivation. It was a rewarding experience to support the efforts of a community striving for food sovereignty in the wake of multiple disease outbreaks and a civil war. 

My goal as DUG’s Food Access Coordinator is to connect anyone and everyone who is interested in growing their own food with the resources we offer at DUG, from seeds and plants, to our online educational resources, workshops, and events. I want to embed myself in the community leaning on DUG’s mission to work with other organizations to bring even more resources to our community.

Make sure to say hello to Shay when he is out in the community delivering Grow a Garden Kits and providing other services to make our city a better place.