Yesterday I had the extreme pleasure to participate in Denver Urban Gardens’ (DUG) annual bicycle tour in south Denver. Once a year DUG takes us on a cycling tour of some of their 80+ community gardens and then we have a potluck. Little secret here: the BEST potlucks are held by gardeners and foodies! Well, you can imagine. Like community gardening, the cycling tour was a way to commune with like-minded folks, make lasting friends, groove in the bounty of a summer’s garden and savor a morning in the sunshine! The weather couldn’t have been finer and did I mention the food? Yesterday’s tour covered about 8 miles of easy cycling. We started with our guide, Scot, from DUG at Rosedale Garden and then we pedaled on to South Grant Community Garden, Urquhart Memorial Community Garden, Steele School Garden, The Bridge Community Garden, and then back to Rosedale for our potluck. As will happen with firsthand observance and fun, I learned many interesting facts and insights about how community gardens and city farmers are flourishing! [Please visit the photo album at City Farmer’s Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/City-Farmer/139796795040]
resides in the University Park neighborhood and is the largest community garden in the Denver metro area with 80 plots plus common areas including an orchard, grape arbor, beehive and picnic/gathering area. Their composting operation in the back has been well established and honed over the years. Among other amenities and resources, DUG provides its gardens with the expertise of a certified Master Composter. This garden was established in the 80’s and has a board of directors. The beehive is a new addition and is the only community garden beehive in the city. The bees here will produce 300+ pounds of honey this year! The hive is maintained by its owner who will share the honey harvest with the garden and will also donate sweetness to Project Angel Heart. There is also a resident fox and her cubs at the garden. She maintains the squirrel and rabbit population at zero. Ms. Fox lives in harmony with the gardeners – children, teens and adults alike – and the garden has built a protective fence around her den opening.
is an intimate garden in the Platt Park neighborhood that was built on a former school playground. The school building has been converted to lofts. The garden has 18 plots, a small drum-type composter and a mascot bunny. The pet bunny lives in a cage and is fed organic greens and goodies from the garden and is the most serene creature I have ever beheld. When he’s not in his cage (as is often the case) he is being held and loved by the children of the gardeners. This is one beautiful example of the many ways to engage children (and animals) in the garden. Although children are naturally enchanted with gardening – this, I cannot underemphasize – it is valuable to have a number of outlets for their adventuresome and loving hearts. The kids at South Grant were waiting for us with muffins and chocolate kisses! Aaaaaaaaw. Big love to you, my little cowboy gardeners!
is an interesting case study in the Washington Park neighborhood. With only 12 plots plus common orchard, grape arbor and perennial garden, the garden looks much bigger. This is in part because of its shape (long and narrow) and because it is completely exposed between a CDOT wall and the street. No fencing here! You’ll have to check my facts here but, as I understand it, CDOT/TDOT tore up the garden 2 years ago in a capital improvement project. After the project was completed, the government agencies rebuilt the garden, upgraded the irrigation system and included a beautiful frieze on the barrier wall (I-25 is on the other side of the wall), among other improvements. Is this a great state or what? And while the orchard is only 2 years old now, they had a bumper crop of peaches last year (this year’s frost nipped all the buds around town). So much so that they had to prop up the limbs of the trees! Funny garden tidbit: this garden has a guerrilla gardener who plants perennials and other worthy flora in the dark of night. When I asked the ladies of the garden why they would need a community garden in a beautiful neighborhood with plenty of yard space they replied that, for some, their yards were devoted to flowers and, for others, there was too much shade in their yard to produce a crop. Not least of all, this garden provides a meeting and sharing place for neighbors. This theme was echoed throughout every garden that we visited. So sweet.
is a sprawling garden in the Washington Park neighborhood with 39 plots including a school garden and assistive gardening for seniors. Another interesting case study, Steele Garden is both school AND community garden. In fact, DUG’s philosophy is that an edible schoolyard must coexist with a community garden in order to thrive because:
- depending upon the climate zone, the garden’s main growing season may occur when school is out for the summer
- the co-existing community gardeners feel ownership in the school garden too and will shepherd it
- the community gardeners are a great resource for education, labor and skills, and TLC
- resources like funding, infrastructure and leadership can be shared
Interestingly, the leadership in this garden does not include a board of directors but lead gardeners rotate responsibilites over the years and budgetary and financing expertise are provided by DUG (as I understand it). Additionally, the children’s garden has a sponsor! Slow Food Denver sponsors this garden via its Seed To Table Coalition which supports school gardens and cooking classes in the metro Denver area (there are other initiatives around the country).
One of the things that I admired most about this garden was its assistive gardening plots. These plots are raised to seating level and little portable gardening benches are provided to allow access and comfort to its senior members. We cannot – we must not – forget or forego this important amenity in all our gardens. I, for one, was given the “seed” for gardening by my grandmothers and I will always treasure their gifts (little did I know at the time) as I continue to treasure the gifts of our elders. I hope you do too. Moreover, if your kids do not have grandparents nearby, what better place to find them I ask you?
The Bridge Community Garden (link TBD) in the DU neighborhood is one of DUG’s newest gardens and is in its first season! Constructed at the site of a razed and vacant residential lot that is owned by DU, this cute-as-pie garden is an effort between it’s neighbors and the student organization, DUET. The Bridge flourishes with great use of vertical gardening and space intensity (SPIN). Molly, the daughter of one of the neighbor gardeners made us beautiful tiny carrot cupcakes and we devoured them with bicycle-fueled gusto! Some of the things I loved were the hand-carved wooden garden sign, the elfin footbridge that was saved from demolition, the use of wire fencing to fashion an arbor for pumpkins to grow UP, a retaining wall made of broken/salvaged concrete and found flagstone pieces, and – perhaps most of all – a little wire basket at the entry with a sign that says, “Sharing the bounty. Take what you can use from the basket and enjoy.”
We finished our tour back at Rosedale with the now-famous potluck and lots of buzz about gardening and FOOD! Mr. Potato Guy brought a beautiful basket brimming with purple, white and red potatoes. I took home a serving of purple baby potatoes and enjoyed them last night for supper (boiled and then sauteed in butter with a sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper). They were sublime – thank you Potato Guy! I shared tastings from a quart of fresh, raw (unpasteurized) whole organic milk from my herdshare at Windsor Dairy – lots of yums and interest in herdshares (let me know if I can help you get started with your own herdshare). Laura Lavid of DUG shared her Garlic Scape Pesto (recipe please?) that rocked my world. Also of great note were a cold, creamy salad of peas, cheese and cashews; a cold saucy marinara-rich pepper salad; fresh strawberries and fresh rhubarb nectar. How lucky am I? We had about 29 cyclers and foodies who attended the tour and, among them, I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Brown. Joe is a filmaker, a librarian, a committee chair for Colorado Environmental Film Festival and a neat guy! As I understand it, he was filming yesterday as part of a new documentary for the upcoming CEFF festival. Joe do you have any comments you’d like to add?
Every community garden is unique and has something to offer the gardening community at large and Denver Urban Gardens provides a service to our gardens that is world-class and like none other. There are some things common to many or all community gardens:
- they are vital in providing a sense of belonging to the community: “I joined so I could get to know my neighbors!”
- they are efficient in the use of resources: shared, free, tax-provided (DUG is a SCFD recipient), year-round, etc.
- they are sustainable: they provide composting and they re-use, repurpose and salvage materials and infrastructure that otherwise would go to waste.
- they raise income from the sale of produce, from Farmers’ Market sales, annual pot lucks and thrift sales.
- they feed us, both physically, mentally and spiritually.
Take what you can use from the basket and enjoy.