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Partner Post: The GrowHaus’ 7 Tips to Make a Vibrant and Sustainable Urban Garden

Let’s talk about urban gardening! Of course growing your own food is fun and rewarding, but what’s more is that it may lead you into eating more fruits and veggies; you can control what chemicals and pesticides you want, or don’t want, to touch your food; and it may save you a few dollars during your next trip to the grocery store. Not to mention, we think you’ll have a good time in the process! Here are seven tips to making your urban garden sustainable, unique, and vibrant! To learn more check out a workshop at The GrowHaus on the second Saturday of every month.

Compost

Compost is not as complex as it is often made out to be. An old trash can or two, with holes punched for drainage, and potentially painted with fanciful designs, can make for a worthy bin.  What’s more, diverting food scraps of almost any kind from the landfill is one of the best ways to reduce your waste footprint!

Utilize No-Dig Principles

There’s really no reason to spend energy and time digging up your garden.  Tilling the soil can degrade nutrient content and destroy the microbial ecology that is great for your garden, while leaving your soil exposed to the harmful effects of the sun.  Worms and bugs help to fertilize our soils naturally, and continue the cycle of life! Once your garden is in shape, leave it be, and don’t compress the soil by walking on it! In addition, add mulch or other browned plant materials around your plants to help retain moisture (especially in the dry climate of Colorado).

Use Creative Designs like Mandala and Keyhole

Straight-line rows are so last season. Consider designing your garden with non-traditional drainage ridges. Mandala, keyhole, and terraced designs are good ways to construct your garden that aren’t the traditional rectangular rows.  These designs maintain a creative flair while also allowing footpath access to the edges of every bed of plants.

Incorporate natural elements such as rocks, wood, and water.

Adding environmentally sound aesthetic to your garden can make it appear more natural and help you avoid using unnecessary plastic or metal boundaries in your garden – items that will inevitably degrade over time.  Stone, slate, field stone, and dry wood are all useful additions to decorate your garden with – not to mention repurposed items of a vintage flavor, for decoration.

Build More Advanced Garden Structures

Herb spirals are a fun way to create gardens in small spaces, for plants that need different levels of shade, like those of herbs and spices.  A mound covered with a spiral or other patterned design is a beautiful way to include excess rocks, pieces of concrete, or any material that supports small amounts of soil and plant material.  Succulents and creeping plants are other garden items that live and look well in rocky terrain.

Advanced systems could include water collection through rock rivers, retention basins, and the stepped up addition of an aquaponics or vertical garden.  Fish ponds, aquariums, and vertical constructions that use eaves, gravity irrigation systems, and other additions will make your neighbors jealous!

Intercrop using guilds, mixing plants that support one another

Permaculturalists sometimes classify vegetables and other plants according to their growing style.  Diggers like tubers loosen the soil, crawlers cover the undergrowth, protecting soil. Climbers wend their way up supporters like trees and corn stalks, feeders provide nitrogen plant food to the soil. Protectors can repel insects and other pests, and so on.  Growing plants that complement one another has a learning curve, yet that’s part of the fun! Tomatoes could be supported by bush beans and zucchini, with an intermixing of herbs, spices and flowers. Example guild guides can be found online.

Be creative and have fun!

Having a garden is an expression of natural artistry.  Make something truly yours, using your favorite plants, farm animals, and other innovative additions.  The sky is the limit when you’re growing!

The Alliance Center is proud to partner with organizations like Re:Vision to create a better future for all. As we prepare to break ground on our own sustainable urban garden next month, we are thrilled to share Re:Vision’s story of the incredible, life-changing impact urban gardens can have on communities.

 

At Re:Vision we believe access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege. Whether through teaching families to grow their own food with our Re:Farm program, or beginning to plant the seeds of community-owned wealth at the Westwood Food Co-Op with Re:Own, our purpose is to create a thriving, resilient community. We achieve that using a three main strategies; we cultivate community food systems (Re:Farm), develop local leaders with our Promotoras (Re:Unite), and grow community wealth by creating a locally owned economy (Re:Own). We believe by providing residents with tools, training, and inspiration, the community will come together to solve some of their most pressing issues.

In 2009, Re:Vision started working in the Westwood neighborhood of southwest Denver. Westwood is bordered by Federal to the east, Sheridan to the west, Alameda to the north and Jewell to the south. You might know the area for its amazing taquerias and Vietnamese food. What you might not know, is Westwood faces significant health and economic disparities because of decades of underinvestment and inadequate resources; 37% childhood obesity rate (compared to the state average of 27%), and while Westwood has the most residents under the age of 18, it also has the fewest open spaces and parks in Denver. The average household income is less than half the Denver average, and less than 4% of the population has a college degree. There are no supermarkets, schools are overcrowded, and it is dangerous for youth to walk through the neighborhood. Yet, despite decades of neglect, Westwood is one of Denver’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, where 84% of residents are Latino, and approximately 60% of whom are first generation immigrants.

So, with all of these alarming statistics, why focus on food access and sustainability? Because that’s what the community wanted. When we spoke with residents, they mentioned a desire to be able to grow their own food as not only a means to save money on their grocery bills and improve access to and consumption of healthy foods, but also as a way to reconnect with the land. Many of our community members have agricultural backgrounds, and had to give those up in Denver’s more urban setting. They also gave up traditional ways of cooking because fresh produce, like chiles, and various herbs needed to cook certain dishes weren’t accessible, due to their price or actual availability. When budgets are limited, often times families are forced to make a choice between purchasing foods that will go a long way (think processed and shelf-stable foods) and produce. With the Re:Farm program, families don’t have to make that choice. Their gardens yield enough produce to feed the family and often times their neighbors as well. And if they have excess produce, they can take a variety of classes at our educational kitchen, La Cocina, to learn new culturally relevant farm-to-table recipes, or how to can and preserve so they can enjoy their produce year round. Families who participate in the Re:Farm program report continuing to eat more fruits and vegetables even in the off season.

What began with teaching seven families how to grow food in their own backyards, is now a thriving program changing food access in one community. To date, Re:Vision’s Re:Farm program has helped families throughout southwest Denver establish 1,765 annual gardens, collectively producing more than 500,000 pounds of fresh produce and saving those families over $1 million in grocery bills. In this current 2018 season, we have just over 260 families participating in the Re:Farm program.

 

Written by JoAnna Cintron, Re:Vision Director of Communications and Individual Giving