DUG staff training trip to Denver - March 2017

Bringing your inspiration, insights, and ideas back from over the mountains in Denver!

Last week Garden Project Staff headed to Denver to figure out how to expand the impact of school and community gardens.

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Who says work can't be fun? Especially not when you are hanging out with this staff!

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We brought, Kenny, our traveling monster friend along!

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At The Garden Project we want to see that everyone has access to the benefits of school and community gardens. 

HOWEVER, the model we have been using successfully, providing a paid manager in each garden, has a catch - it is hard to find funding for multiple paid garden managers! We realized if we want to support increasing the number of school and community gardens in our area we need to think a little differently.

Luckily we don't have to reinvent the wheel. Our neighbors in Denver, DUG (Denver Urban Gardens), with over 30 years of experience have a thriving network of school and community gardens they support, all run by VOLUNTEER GARDEN LEADERS. In fact the DUG network includes over 160 gardener-led school and community gardens!

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Brainstorming with DUG Garden Leaders at a Master Community Gardener Training Session

Here is a taste of what we experienced...

NOTE: Want to talk more? Give us a call or email to find a time to come by!

1. All gardens are unique

"The only way to successfully serve your community is to first figure out what your community is."
                                                                      
 - DUG Community Garden Leader 2017

Tricks of the trade for Garden Committees:

- Include people with lots of different strengths and skills
- Have a suggestion box at the garden.
- Have a notebook for people to record their volunteer hours.
- Set up a Gmail account for your garden (this will help keep consistency as garden leaders cycle through).
- Have a garden historian who keep pictures of the garden as it develops each year.

A common struggle we see around this can be answered by the question is your garden a production garden OR an educational garden? Most gardens fall somewhere in this spectrum, but knowing what you want to get out of the garden is important.

Our AmeriCorps member Rachel appreciated this nugget of wisdom from a panel discussion on school gardens, "When a students just throws a bunch of seeds in the ground and drowns them in water it's okay, that is an opportunity to facilitate a learning moment for them. The school garden isn't there to produce pounds and pounds of food, it's there to teach kids how to grow food and care for living things!"

2. Make sure everyone knows the garden is THEIRS!

This is important in school gardens where sometimes teachers who support the garden in concept don't actually take their students out to the garden. Find ways to help teachers feel like the garden is "theirs." They will feel more comfortable, less worried that their students might "mess something up", and therefore more likely to use that garden!

"Give teachers a chance to see their students 'go crazy' in the garden having fun!"
                                                                      - DUG School Garden Leader & Teacher 2017

This is also worthwhile in community gardens where the success and maintenance of the garden depends on everyone chipping in. How to foster this culture of inclusivity and ownership?

- Be welcoming! If you don't know someone introduce yourself, they are probably hanging back and feeling shy just like you.

- Give everyone a job. Everyone has something to offer, in big and small ways. Have people sign-up for teams or roles at the 1st meeting of the season. And take into account physical abilities - just because someone can't pull weeds or haul wheelbarrows of compost doesn't mean they don't have something to offer. All gardens need help with things like fundraising, planning social activities, making art, etc.

- What do you do at your garden to engage people and make them feel welcome?

3. Just RELAX

"You define how it's going to be, your attitude determines other people's experience...Emphasize joy and fun!"
                                                                         - DUG Community Garden Leader 2017

One teacher at the Engaging Community in School Gardens Training told a story about how her principal texted her one night, "The radishes are bolting!" She said, "I didn't know what that meant, but it didn't sound good!" She did some research and found out the radishes were going to seed, flowering, and that the flowers were edible. So "we ate the flowers and everything was okay." There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities.


Do you want to start a school or community garden?

We want to help!

Check out our Starting A Garden Committee Resources and get in touch with us.
The Garden Project can provide support helping you with:

- Horticultural/Gardening Knowledge 
- Increasing Community Engagement
- Education (Youth and Adult Programming)

Please contact us at info@thegardenprojectswcolorado.org or 970-259-3123 to talk more about starting a successful school or community garden.

A big thank you to the staff at Denver Urban Gardens, for welcoming us and talking with us, especially Lara Fahnestock, Michael Buchenau, and Mikhaela Mullins. Also, to the staff at Slow Food Denver/USA for an amazing lunch and more learning!

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Of course no trip with this crew would be complete without some biking!
Picking up produce with Denver Food Rescue to be distributed to families in need.

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Geeking out about the fish and the aquaponics system at The GrowHaus

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Talking with our friends at Slow Food USA about Youth Farm Stands at Schools

See more photos HERE.


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  • commented 2017-03-29 11:07:55 -0600
    Thanks Sharon! Talking with Garden Leaders like yourself was one of the most inspiring and helpful parts of the trip! It was a joy to learn from you and with you!
  • commented 2017-03-28 22:28:07 -0600
    Was so good to hear about what’s happening in Durango. Keep up the great work!

    Sharon Roulhac
    2017 DUG Master Community Gardener Program