Gardening in a DUG community garden
Most DUG community gardens are comprised of many separate garden plots that are cared for by individuals or families. Community gardeners care for and harvest from their own plot. Shared spaces like pathways, perennial herb and flower beds, sheds, and gathering spaces are cared for by all members of a community garden. The day to day operations of the garden, including new gardener sign-ups and organization of community work days and potlucks, are handled by volunteer garden leaders or steering committees.
First, identify a garden (or two or three) that work for you by using our garden list here or our map here. Contact Denver Urban Gardens with the name of the garden you are interested in (303.292.9900 or firstname.lastname@example.org), and we can give you the contact information for the garden leader. Please note that some gardens serve particular populations and are not open to the public, and gardens with asterisks on the list are full for the season. If a garden is showing full and you would like to join the wait list, let us know and we can put you in touch with the garden leader.
Denver Urban Gardens has assisted neighborhoods and community groups in establishing more than 165 community gardens across the Denver metro area. The great majority of DUG community gardens are located in the city’s low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. Many gardens are located at schools, community centers, churches, public housing developments, and in parks. Denver Urban Gardens owns a very small percentage of our community gardens. In most cases, we work with local governments, schools, or other organizations to develop long-term lease agreements.
Plot fees vary for each garden, but the average plot fee is $35 a year and helps us to cover the cost of water and other annual expenses such as compost. Plot fees can be waived for those who are unable to pay. To assist gardeners, DUG operates Grow a Garden for low- to moderate-income residents.
Plot sizes vary from garden to garden, but most are 10 feet by 15 feet or around 150 square feet.
Applications are available from garden leaders in the spring. We do not post them online to ensure that gardeners first speak with garden leaders before turning in their applications. Garden leaders send all applications and plot fees to DUG in late Spring.
DUG and agency partners begin turning on water at gardens in late April to early May, weather permitting. The average date of last freeze for Denver is May 5th, therefore DUG staff closely monitor weather forecasts beginning in late April to evaluate the earliest date to turn on water while minimizing the risk of freeze breaks in water systems.
When liquid water freezes solid, it increases in volume about 9%. As the remaining liquid water inside a pipe is relatively incompressible, this increase in volume easily breaks irrigation pipes, from flexible poly pipe to solid brass. Anytime the air temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees F) for several hours, exposed pipes containing water are at risk to freeze and break, especially above ground pipes such as hose bib risers and back-flow prevention valves.
DUG and agency partners begin turning off water at gardens in early to mid October. The average date of first freeze for Denver is October 7th, therefore DUG staff closely monitor weather forecasts starting in October to evaluate the latest date to turn off water while minimizing the risk of freeze breaks in water systems. Once the water is turned off, the irrigation lines are drained and/or blown out with compressed air to remove all water, thereby eliminating the risk of costly, wasteful and time consuming freeze breaks.
Since community garden plots are gardened by individuals or families, volunteering in a community garden typically does not mean planting or harvesting. Volunteer opportunities in community gardens are most often related to garden construction or improvement. Click here to learn more about volunteering with DUG.
Potential gardeners only need to submit to a background check if they would like to garden at a school-based community garden on Denver Public Schools (DPS) property.
Denver Public Schools considers community gardeners to be school volunteers and requires that each gardener comply with DPS Volunteer Services Policies. Therefore, all gardeners who wish to garden at a school-based community garden in Denver, including family members of students, fall under the classification of a DPS Volunteer, and a background check will be required. While a photo ID is required, it does not need to be issued by the US Government. For example, a foreign photo ID such as a passport, license, student or Consulate ID would suffice. A social security number is also not required to complete the process. The information provided by a volunteer on the background check form is completely confidential and is never shared with other government agencies outside of DPS. Background check forms are available from the garden leaders at each garden.
Denver Urban Gardens is grateful for our longstanding partnership with DPS. Gardens on school grounds allow DUG to increase our organizational capacity by eliminating the costs of land acquisition and water tap fees. More importantly, participants at school-based community gardens are afforded the opportunity to interact with school communities, strengthening the sense of community in urban neighborhoods and creating partnerships among teachers, students, volunteers, and neighbors.
Building New Community Gardens
Partnering with community members to build and support community gardens is the foundation of DUG’s mission. Click here to request a new garden information packet. Once you have received the information in your packet, contact us with any further questions. If you feel you are ready to start the process, send in your completed community garden application. A staff member will contact you within two weeks. DUG partners with community members to create deeply rooted, lasting spaces for community building, and this means that we choose the projects with the greatest potential for meaningful community impact and sustainability. If your community garden project is not quite ready, DUG staff can work with you to identify your next steps.
DUG offers neighborhoods the essential resources for community gardens, including on-going technical expertise with:
1. Securing sustainable land for gardens;
2. Designing and building gardens;
3. Supporting garden organization, leadership, outreach and maintenance;
4. Utilizing gardens as extraordinary places for learning and healthy living; and
5. Linking gardens with related local food system projects and policy.
Depending on the needs of the community, DUG can be involved every step of the way, including garden organization and leadership development, funding and fundraising, design and construction, education, and longterm garden support. Critical to our mission is the belief that we need to come alongside neighborhoods, in a support role, as they work to create their own urban community gardens. We seek to enable, unite and empower participants to reach out and build their community.
To ensure the longevity of a community garden, Denver Urban Gardens does not typically seek to build gardens on privately owned land. Community gardens work best when they are permanent spaces for community enjoyment, where the use as a garden is part of the longterm programming of the site.
About Denver Urban Gardens
Denver Urban Gardens is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is funded through a variety of sources, including individual contributions, grants from government agencies as well as private and corporate foundations. Community support is critical to our success! Click here to donate to Denver Urban Gardens..
Denver Urban Gardens is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We currently receive funding through a competitive grant program offered by the Denver Office of Economic Development for our community garden operations in the City and County of Denver, and frequently partner with city and county agencies across the metro area in garden lease agreements, program development, and neighborhood improvement.
Denver Urban Gardens and the Denver Botanic Gardens frequently partner, but are two separate nonprofit organizations. Currently, Denver Botanic Gardens is a partner on a DUG Community Garden just east of the Botanic Gardens, and they have graciously hosted multiple DUG events and workshops in the past.
The best way to learn about employment opportunities through Denver Urban Gardens is to participate in DUG training programs such as Master Composters or Master Community Gardeners, or inquire about seasonal internships with Denver Urban Gardens. You might also consider becoming a regular volunteer with DUG.
Gardening and Composting Resources
Denver Urban Gardens offers training and education programs that make learning interactive and engaging. Through DUG, community members, community gardeners, and students of all ages can take part in workshops and education and training programs in community organizing, basic horticulture, composting, and more. Increasingly, we are making our resources available online.
Don’t see what you’re looking for? Contact us!
Theft and Vandalism in Community Gardens
It’s important to remember that most produce theft is not malicious. Often, people that steal produce are hungry and take from the garden if an opportunity presents itself. On rare occasions, a community gardener might be tempted to take produce from another gardener’s plot. Recognizing the incredible disappointment when a long-awaited vegetable is taken, seasoned gardeners tend to adopt the attitude that “if they needed it that bad, I hope they enjoyed it.”
DUG recommends the following strategies for deterring theft:
Install a Donation Basket: Affix a donation basket to a fence post near the front gate of the garden, where gardeners can easily donate their extra vegetables on their way out of the garden. Ideally the basket should include an informal sign offering the extra vegetables to neighbors in need and requesting that the basket be left in place. It would also be useful to explain on the sign the way the garden works and how to go about getting on a list for a plot. Rather than asking all gardeners to donate surplus to the basket, another strategy is for your garden to designate a community plot, cultivated specifically to provide produce for the basket. Donation baskets make non-gardeners feel welcome and included and that can go a long way toward creating a sense of community in your garden and neighborhood and in turn preventing theft.
Plant Perimeter Edibles: Plant a row of food along the outside of the garden fence, such as a raspberry hedge, or grape vines, that people walking by can snack from, potentially curbing their temptation to enter the garden and take vegetables from individual plots.
Educate the Broader Community: Create a flyer mentioning all of the neighboring business, institutions and police officers that are partnering with the garden in an informal neighborhood watch program. The purpose of the flyer is to help spread the word that a community garden is a neighborhood asset and that a garden works best when everyone does their part to help prevent theft and vandalism. The flyer should also explain how a community garden works, how to get involved and that “community” garden doesn’t mean the produce is free for all community members to take. Recently, DUG has developed signage for gardens to attach to their perimeter fence, which asks passersby to respect the garden and the hard work of the gardeners and to please not take produce without permission. To obtain one of these signs for your garden, please contact DUG at 303.292.9900 or email@example.com.
Engage Watchful Eyes: If you seem to have a problem with theft (or vandalism), notify gardeners and neighbors and ask them to keep an eye on things. Make friends with neighbors whose windows overlook the community garden, trading flowers and vegetables for a protective eye. Talk to the community officer in your area and ask them to be sure and add the garden to their daily route. If you suspect that youth are vandalizing your community garden, alert the administrators of the local middle and high schools.
Confronting Someone in the Act: With every strategy, communication is critical, and that means talking to the produce thief if you happen to catch them in the act. It’s important not to accuse, but rather approach them in a friendly way, explain how a community garden works and that taking produce without permission is not allowed and then invite the person to get involved as a gardener or volunteer. Gardeners are generous people and they tend to be very willing to share their harvest, but they are especially willing when asked.
Planning Your Plot to Deter Theft: Consider arranging your plot to be less inviting to theft, including planting potatoes, other root crops, and/or less desirable vegetables at the edges of your plot, while being sure to harvest crops like tomatoes and peppers on a daily basis as soon as they ripen. Other creative ideas include planting crops such as purple varieties of cauliflower and beans and white eggplants to confuse opportunistic thieves.
Garden theft, while frustrating, is usually an act that comes from a place of hunger or misunderstanding. Community gardens, by their nature and location, will always be more prone to theft than home gardens. As a community gardener, you will have a much happier growing season if you anticipate and accept that garden theft sometimes happens, regardless of the steps you take to prevent it.
Vandalism is a willful act of destruction that is often difficult to police or prevent. It has been DUG’s experience that most vandals are neighborhood youth just looking for something mischievous to do. The best solution is to be as inclusive as possible and provide ample education about the garden to the surrounding community. DUG encourages community gardeners to invite neighbors and young people to enjoy common spaces in the garden and even to get involved as a participant. Community gardens tend to be left alone when gardeners are present in the garden, when gardeners and neighbors know each other and when everyone values and understands the purpose of the garden.
In addition to many of the strategies suggested to deter theft, DUG also recommends the following for preventing vandalism:
Visiting the Garden Often: Encourage all gardeners to visit their garden regularly, including spending social time in the garden. A garden that is continuously populated by gardeners is the best deterrent for vandalism.
Invite Neighbors to Join a Garden Celebration: Host a potluck or picnic in the garden and invite the whole neighborhood, including neighborhood youth! Offer activities at the potluck to interest youth, such as painting a mural together. People who feel excluded from the garden are potential vandals. Also consider inviting local police and community officials to garden potlucks and celebrations.
Be Diligent about Locking the Gate: It is worth being thoughtful about locking gates when leaving your garden. While this may not keep out determined vandals that are just as willing to climb a 6ft fence as they are a 4ft one, it does have the potential to keep out those that are wandering by “just looking for something to do.”
Add Lighting: Consider requesting alley or sidewalk lighting from the City, or even install a few solar powered low voltage lights on the interior of the garden.
Have Children in the Garden Paint a Mural: Arrange a project with the children in the garden to paint a mural on a garden bench back or to hang on the outside of the fence. The mural can include a request for the community to respect and look after the garden, as well as a message about how much the children care about their garden. Often, youth involved in the garden become the garden’s best protectors.
Be Thoughtful when Planting Pumpkins: If your garden plans to grow pumpkins, consider making them less visible in the garden is some way, including their location. Their bright orange color and their size become a major temptation for vandals. Even consider planting gourds and miniature pumpkins instead.
Involve People in Their Own Process of Behavioral Change: If specific individuals are known to be vandalizing the garden, provide a positive channel (win-win situation) for them to personally get involved in repairing the damage. Have them replant, work on digging in compost to soil that has been compacted or be engaged in making improvements to small areas of the garden. Most people would rather be recognized for acts in which they can show a sense of pride than for those in which they have been responsible for damage.
In addition to growing spaces, DUG community gardens are community gathering spaces, and often have space for community gardeners to host neighborhood events. A community garden can be a wonderful location for a small event, but whether a garden is open for outside events is up to the gardeners and gardener leaders at each particular garden. If you are interested in holding an event at a particular garden, contact us, and we can put you in touch with the garden leaders.
DeLaney Community Farm is DUG’s urban community supported agriculture project in Aurora. In general, DeLaney does not host events that are unrelated to the farm mission.
Denver Urban Gardens does not provide event support or event planning services.