Grow Local Colorado
Cultivating community, one veggie at a time
Thirteen years ago, 20 individuals concerned with climate change, food equity and building community got together and agreed that planting a garden was a good way to address all three.
Not a garden filled with pretty flowers, though. One that produced organic, pesticide-free vegetables to share with those whose life circumstances—be it lack of funds or ability to get to a store selling fresh produce—prevented them from maintaining a healthy diet.
Located in backyards—like the one belonging to 89-year-old Ralph, whose love of gardening is heightened by the joy of giving back, and public spaces like Civic Center Park, the Governor’s Mansion and South High School—the gardens in 2021 produced 9,637 pounds of organic produce, 100% of which was distributed to food banks, community pantries, shelters and communities in need.
Additionally, in partnership with Metro Caring, GLC gleaned 9,700 pounds of apples, pears and plums from trees in 93 locations that had produced an overabundance of fruit.
The experience of “being outside, in a garden, with people has such a healing aspect,” maintains GLC co-director Barbara Masoner. Whenever volunteers gather to tend or harvest, “everything is quiet at first,” Masoner adds. “Then the chitter-chat starts. You hear people telling their stories, sharing their experiences, and that can be just as important as being able to provide nutritious food to someone who needs it. It brings out the best in everyone.”
Being part of GLC, she says, “allows people to see what a difference they can make in their own little space.”
Co-director Linda Kiker arrived at GLC in 2015 following careers as a respiratory therapist and personal chef. “I was a private chef for 20 years, but never grew food,” she recalls, adding that with GLC, “Every day is like a master class. It has given me the opportunity to reconnect with people and lead a fuller life.”
“If our garden is at a shelter, say, we ask the (staff ) what their clients want,” Masoner points out. “That’s so we don’t impose our tastes or values; we let the recipients choose.”
The result is gratifying. A garden at The Gathering Place at Federal Boulevard and I-70, for example, is planted with cucumbers, tomatoes and other veggies that can be eaten straight from the garden. The supervisor at a church-run day shelter for men experiencing homelessness or living with HIV loves to cook and consults with Kiker on recipes that incorporate the crops in meals that the clients can take with them to enjoy later.
The yields from other gardens go to organizations like Slow Food Denver, Metro Caring and We Don’t Waste, and to help stock the Denver Community Fridges where anyone who is hungry can help themselves.
“Grow Local Colorado is a valuable organization,” says Arlan Preblud, the founder and executive director of We Don’t Waste. “With an abundance of food being grown by committed members of our community, they are contributing to the reduction of food insecurity and should be applauded.”
As for GLC’s future, Masoner says it is “Always unfolding, always evolving. Linda and I run it from our homes in a minimalistic way. We’re not tied to specific goals because setting specific goals prevents you from
expanding and exploring.”
In addition to gardens located at private homes, two shelters and several care facilities, Grow Local Colorado has gardens at Civic Center Park, Observatory Park, Harvard Gulch Park, the Colorado Governor’s Mansion, Christ the King Lutheran Church, First Universalist Church, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, Community Ministry, Corey Elementary School and South High School. Volunteers also are needed to transport produce to food pantries or pick up snacks for those doing the gardening.
Joanne Davidson’s backyard garden yields enough tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, radishes and kale for her to share with two friends who are no longer able to garden.