When you’re having an anniversary, throwing a party is a popular way to celebrate. Haul out a shovel to dig in the soil during the party, and most people think you’ve gone off your rocker. But if you’re Denver Urban Gardens, getting your hands dirty is what your big day is all about.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary, DUG has teamed up with Denver Parks & Recreation to break ground on their 100th community garden at Ruby Hill Park at the corner of West Florida Ave. and South Platte River Drive. Residents are invited to bring their picnics to a free celebration, dubbed ‘Flourish!’, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25. Music, cooking competition, and activities await participants.
“In a lot of ways, this is a milestone,” says Michael Buchenau, Executive Director of DUG, “we’ve had our nose to the grindstone trying to build quality gardens, one at a time.” Ruby Hill Park was selected for the garden location because of its incredible history, beautiful views and proximity to neighborhoods that can benefit from a community garden, he said.
Although community gardens have been a part of the Denver landscape for generations, DUG’s roots began in 1985 as the brainchild of Chris Cordts, a Colorado State University Extension Agent. Watching the thriving efforts of community garden pioneers such as
Denver Highlands resident Marty Roberts, who turned abandoned lots in her neighborhood into the Shoshone, Pecos, and El Oasis community gardens, and the creation of the Emerson Garden in Capitol Hill, Whittier Garden in Five Points, West Washington Park, Rosedale Gardens in south Denver, and the San Rafael Garden in Uptown, Cordts wanted to connect and support the gardens through a nonprofit organization.
“During the early years, our roots weren’t with DUG. We ran our own things, managed our own budget,” says Dave Conant, Garden Leader of Rosedale community garden. Cultivating a plot there since 1986, Conant remembers the transformation of garden management from a loose group of independent gardeners to a focused, committed part of DUG.
“People were suspicious that DUG would come in and be too controlling, that they’d interfere with rules on how we could garden. But we’ve evolved over the years; DUG raised our consciousness on what community gardens are all about. They have the best vision and goals for community gardens, and we needed to rise to that level.”
The Rosedale location is the largest community garden in Denver, and gardeners regularly donate produce to the food bank and Project Angel Heart, a non-profit that provide nutritious meals to gravely ill persons.
Formally incorporated as a 501c3 organization in the spring of 1985, DUG spent a decade with a volunteer board working to expand the organization. In 1994, they hired Buchenau and David Rieseckas as Co-Executive Directors. Buchenau has captained the organization alone since the departure of Rieseckas over six years ago. “I have an M.S. in Landscape Architecture from Harvard, and worked in design for a while. But I really wanted to give back to the community, to do something to connect people,” he said.
With its Free Seeds and Transplants program, 99 community gardens, and DeLaney Community Farm, DUG’s Community Supported Agriculture project in Aurora, the organization is growing. “Our castle on the hill dream is a garden in every neighborhood. We will never feed the city – that’s unrealistic – but we’re part of the urban fabric, along with parks and neighborhoods.”
Local chefs from Bistro One, Limon, Jonsey’s, Root Down, Village Cork, Black Pearl, and WaterCourse will compete using locally-grown, fresh ingredients and the winner determined by a panel of local celebrities. Throughout the day, families will also have the opportunity to interact with hands-on garden and sustainability-themed activities.
Swallow Hill will host a concert of an all-star lineup of musical acts, including national singer/songwriters Patty Larkin and Lucy Kaplansky, national children’s musician Justin Roberts and local Latin reggae band, Mono Verde. The World’s Largest Ukulele Lesson – that’s right, ukulele – rounds out the day’s fun.