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Sensi Magazine

Room to Grow

Jun 18, 2019 01:54AM ● By Leland Rucker
Time was when almost everybody kept a little garden. America was more rural than urban, and space wasn’t at such a premium. Today, people who live in city apartments with nominal space want fresh veggies and fruits, too, and these days, growing your own seems more appealing than ever.

There are plenty of tiny grow box kits and designs aimed at tiny spaces in apartments, but for many, that isn’t quite the same as digging around in the dirt and planting things you want to care for and nurturing them in a natural setting until they are ready to become part of your meals.

Gardens have never gone out of style, but they have been particularly important at certain times in our history. The early colonists, of course, had their own home gardens for their home basics; today we just hit the grocery store for greens.

During World War I and World War II, many American crops were siphoned off for soldiers overseas and to aid the severe food shortages across Europe. Governments in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and the US were encouraged to plant Victory gardens to support these efforts and to promote local food production. By 1945, the end of World War II, 40 million American families acted.

The wars ended and interest in gardens for food waned as more people moved to cities. Today, Americans live in small urban areas at a time when fresh food is seen as part of a sustainable lifestyle.

Studies on the subject suggest that people involved in community gardens eat more vegetables and fruits than those who don’t. Well, duh. But taking it a step farther, people in community gardens are sharing their own knowledge and soaking up others’. That should be a goal for everyone, right?

You get all that in a community garden, and much more. To be honest, I was surprised at the increasing number of citizen plots around the Front Range. Growing Gardens, a nonprofit that works with local gardens, manages more than 500 plots in Boulder County, and there are more than 180 in the Denver Urban Gardens network alone. Most of them are open to the public.

A good place to get your feet wet is the American Community Gardening Association, which offers lots of information for budding gardeners. Denverites can locate plots nearby at the Denver Urban Gardens website, while Colorado Springs residents can use the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens site (see sidebar for links). These sites specialize in general information to get you thinking.

It’s not too late to get started this season. There are still some plots available around the Front Range, and plenty of summer remains to grow a bounty of crops. Some can still be started from seeds in June, including herbs, lettuces, and leaf greens like chard and kale. Get climate appropriate seeds from local Colorado garden seed companies such as Lake Valley (LAKEVALLEYSEEDS.COM), Bounty Beyond Belief (BBBSEED.COM), and Broomfield’s Botanical Interests (BOTANICALINTERESTS.COM). A variety of vegetables can be planted outdoors in Colorado as late as July: broccoli, brussels sprouts, beets, kale, and more. You can find a handy graph of what to plant when depending on your location on the Urban Farmer website (UFSEEDS.COM).

If there’s no plot available near you after all, gardens require tending start your own. Sure, it takes more time and effort and commitment than just renting/using an existing plot, and it might be too late to get a garden started this season. But if you start planning now start planting the seeds, if you will a community garden just may grow. Here are some things to consider as you begin:

If you have been talking to neighbors and friends individually, take it a step farther and get everybody together. Find out what people want from a garden and what should be planted for best results in your locality. (And no, you can’t plant cannabis.) Use social media to reach out to possible stakeholders, like property owners, government, NGO organizations, and horticultural societies.

Watch for and attend events from local gardening organizations. For instance, the Denver Urban Gardens organization has a Garden Troubleshooting class June 15 and a Fall Gardening class and plant sale Aug. 24, and others offer cooking classes and seasonal farm-to-table dinners. These are great places to network and learn more.

Once you get a group together, identify member strengths and begin using them to get things done. Create rules with everybody’s needs, desires, and behaviors in mind. What resources in the community are available? Does your township offer incentives or subsidies for community gardens? Should you find a sponsor to help subsidize the operation or will membership dues support your efforts?

Perhaps there is a parcel in your neighborhood that isn’t being utilized and gathering weeds. Consider the long term when looking at leases. Plan ahead: number of plots, sunshine and water needs, room for tools, storage, soil and compost, and space between individual plots. Is liability insurance necessary? Create volunteer work crews to clean and design the plot. Making the entire area respectable and inviting will win over other neighbors who might be skeptical, so make sure the entire space looks good.

Get the kids involved by having special garden opportunities for them, both to learn how gardens work and how gardening promotes sustainability. Don’t forget that they are the future of the garden itself.

There are all kinds of ways to keep communications open these days. Consider any approach that seems to work best for everyone. Look for opportunities to sponsor events based around sustainable gardening. Post regularly on a bulletin board in the garden itself and social media pages to keep everybody up-to-date. Most of all, have fun; gardens are one of the keys to establishing real community and friends. To build a village takes a village. Happy growing.