Growing a garden and a community

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Veteran and rookie gardeners got their hands dirty Saturday preparing plots at the new Anythink Wright Farms library community garden.

This new garden at 5877 E. 120th Ave. in Thornton is just one of many that are sprouting up across the Denver area.

Tough economic times, a desire to eat healthier and a push for locally-grown produce have all contributed to the increase, said Abbie Harris, development and communications coordinator with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG).

“In 2007 and 2009 (there) was (a) period of time we saw a big explosion in interest in what we do,” she said. “People were becoming more aware of what they were eating and where it was coming from — at the same time the economy took a downturn.”

DUG has provided technical assistance to community gardens since the mid-1980s. It operates 127 gardens in the metro area, with 12 more gardens slated to open this year.

“We went from just adding a couple gardens — maybe five a year — up until 2008,” Harris said.

“Now we build up to 10 to 20 gardens a year and that’s not slowing down. We have been growing a lot in Adams and Jefferson counties the past few years.”

Harris said DUG is seeing the most growth in Jefferson County.

“Just a couple years ago we only had a couple gardens (there), now we have 19 with more coming,” she said.

There are nine DUG supported gardens in Adams County, with two more opening this year. One of those new gardens is at Anythink Wright Farms, which has 28 plots.

This is the third community garden at an Anythink library location. Commerce City and Perl Mack community gardens both have around 20 plots and are in their third year.

“We have this land, people want to garden — so why wouldn’t we?” said Ronnie Storey-Ewoldt, public services director at Anythink. “It’s about education and more than anything else, with the gardens and the libraries, it’s about making a connection with the community.”

She said she wasn’t sure how the garden concept at Wright Farms would be received at first, but all the plots were quickly reserved and paid for.

Christine Gallegos, a 27-year Thornton resident and Anythink Wright Farms employee, immediately signed up for a plot at her work.

“I’ve been gardening on my own for about 30 years,” she said. “I usually share what I grow with the food bank at church and family and friends, but I’ve never gardened with people in a community and been able to share knowledge. It’s an exciting experience I think I will enjoy.”

The guidelines for the Anythink community libraries are: a gardener must pay an annual fee between $30-40 for water costs, have seeds planted by June 1, commit to water their garden, use organic practices and put the plot to bed by mid-October. A gardener in good standing with the garden will get a plot the following year.

People interested in a plot can contact the individual libraries and be put on a waiting list. Storey-Ewoldt said she does not think the other four Anythink libraries had enough space to support a garden.

Mapleton Public Schools Community Garden at Skyview Campus, 8990 York St. in Thornton, is in its second year of operation.

The garden is operated by the district and community members. There are 42 plots, and half of those are designated for students.

“Our community garden at the Skyview Campus provides our students with hands-on learning experiences and opportunities for collaboration, while also helping them to give back to the community,” said Superintendent Charlotte Ciancio.