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Community, sharing, and connection: A collective approach to gardening

Gardening in Colorado already comes with challenges of short growing seasons, false spring and summer starts with late snows, winds, hail, and cycles of drought. Most of those patterns were here even before the more recent and obvious shifts due to increasing climate crisis. I spoke with Mya, a former food advocate in the Denver area, who said “having a garden is a journey.” She said she is “about 12 years deep into a regular practice, and it’s still different every year … How to keep up with a natural cycle that isn’t natural anymore is a big part of the challenge.”

How are gardeners then thinking about Colorado gardening’s future in light of weather extremes and the climate crisis? One answer is that gardening becomes communal or, perhaps, returns to its community-oriented roots through education, sharing, and connection.

Community engagement and awareness

Gardeners I spoke to talked about the need to engage in their communities as well as the potential of gardening to engage community. To navigate challenges and shift practices in light of extreme weather and other climate-related challenges, they talked about sharing knowledge, experiences, and support with each other. One main way this happens is through online community groups, each with thousands of members who regularly post questions and advice. Groups such as Denver Area Garden and Homestead Enthusiasts, Colorado Organic Gardening, Gardening in Northern Colorado, and Colorado Native Plant Gardening are just a few. I have found these gardening groups on social media to be very active compared to other topical groups. I think that says something of gardeners in and of itself.

In learning more sustainable and resilient gardening practices, it helps to have a gardening community both locally and online. One of the shifts gardeners talk about in response to gardening for climate change is planting more native seeds, especially expanding native pollinator plant habitats. Yet gardeners also discussed concerns of sprayed pesticides or herbicides that may damage pollinators and beneficial insects. This highlights the importance of knowing and having relationships with neighbors and community area management. Gardeners and gardening communities can be platforms for cultivating engagement and awareness around a more collective commitment to environmentally friendly and climate-forward gardening approaches. It is a grassroots approach, but without the grass, you might say. Gardens can be spaces for conversation that might relate to problem solving, or sharing tips challenges and support, all of which can promote awareness of our local pollinators and food supply.

Of course, community education, seed saving, and communal gardening are not new practices or mindsets. Native peoples across the U.S. have and continue to preserve connection and gardening through a rematriation and kinship of seed saving in community. To learn more, visit the Sacred Earth area, an ethnobotanical garden, at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This garden specifically highlights and celebrates important indigenous learning from over 20 tribes in the Four Corners and goes beyond the more widely known Three Sisters crops of corn, squash and beans. It highlights and shows us the way back into community for sharing and connection through growing.

Seed sharing

As a gardener, one of the most rewarding practices is sharing and swapping seeds and seedlings. In the first year in my current house my neighbor, Nancy, gifted me some dragon tongue bean seeds. I plant seeds that came from those originals every summer now and it reminds me of community and resilience. Humans saving seeds dates back tens of thousands of years. Seed sharing has been about connection, community, and survival. There is a house in my neighborhood that is a pollinator garden with a seed bank, much like the little book libraries that have popped up. Last summer I was able to get some bachelor button flower seeds to spread in my own pollinator corner of the backyard. In a world of climate crisis, this practice becomes critical. Local and native seeds are important because of their regional adaptation and previous success.

One gardening commenter Sarah shared, “I seed save and am working on varietals that survive all kinds of wonky weather. Currently, I have about 20 different seeds multiple generations in.” This reflects the benefits of seed saving for plant varieties adapted to the specific challenges posed by Colorado’s climate. Selective seed saving helps contribute to the long-term sustainability of gardens in the face of changing environmental conditions, whereas purchased seeds often lack any genetic or biological familiarity with Colorado ecosystems. Commercial seeds, depending on the corporation, may also be treated with insecticides, fungicides, or genetically modified, which may be important to you.

The nature of seed sharing is based on a gift economy. Here are a couple upcoming events:

• Louisville Library Seed Swap with Wild Ones Front Range, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 2 at Louisville Public Library, 951 Spruce St.

• Wild Ones Front Range chapter seed swap at Woods Boss Brewing Company, 2210 California St., Denver, noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 23. Native spring sow seeds will be available and Denver Urban Gardens will have summer produce seeds.

Other ongoing options, available dependent on supplies, are through many public libraries:

• City and County of Broomfield’s Colorado State University Extension office has a Seed Library. You can fill out a membership form and visit the Seed Library on the second floor of the Broomfield Library to “borrow” seeds to plant.

• City of Aurora has a Seed Library on the lower level of the Central Aurora Library. They host open-pollinated and heirloom seeds to grow. These seeds are sourced from Aurora Seed Farm at Nome Community Garden in Aurora and the connected work of Revols Beehive to support the values of food sovereignty, local food production, and community interdependence.

• The Arapahoe Libraries offers Seed Libraries at all their locations including their bookmobile for the 2024 season. Flower, herb, and vegetable seed packets will be available from March 4 through June 15 for families to select up to three packets per day/visit.

• Manitou Springs Seed Library serves the El Paso County housed at the local library.

To gift and to receive such life and potential that exists within a seed grows critical hope.

Local food supply and connection

Concerns about local food security and supply are connected to seed saving and sharing. Sharing regionally adapted seeds is one key practice to strengthening local food supply and reducing climate impacts. Some gardeners I spoke with expressed concerns about potential disruptions in the global supply chain, emphasizing the need to refocus on local food supply. A gardener named Sara said that for this upcoming year, she was “switching over to trying to grow things that can be stored or canned for the future. This year I am trying amaranth and quinoa, plus a ton of beans that can be dried.” Some Front Range gardeners also are considering how to mitigate the impact of potential supply chain breakdowns and shift into more local growing.

Growing to support your own food supply and security is one part. The other connection is growing local food to support our communities. Modern community gardens and food share programs are critical to food security and availability along the Front Range. With the drastic increase of the cost of fresh foods, food insecurity issues will likely increase more, too. Individuals coming together in their communities to support local food security can be key in mitigating the impacts of climate and social crisis. During the early years of the coronavirus pandemic, the practice of Victory Gardens returned to the mountain west. The practice of food gardening for local public sharing was made popular during World War I by the government to boost community supported food supplies. Colorado State University Extension Offices started its Grow & Give program as a modern Victory Garden project to address food insecurity by connecting regular gardeners to food donation sites. Their website or your local extension office can offer easy ways to get involved this coming season as any little bit of produce helps.

If you are looking for an area to garden or to be a part of gardening without doing it all yourself, community gardens are the place to be. Denver Urban Gardens is a network of 200 community and school-based gardens that are open to the public. All of these gardens and the volunteer gardeners who support them follow three agreements: Earth care, people care, and fair share, with an aim for each plot to share 10% of the food they grow. Plot availability across the sites is first come, first serve so be sure to check out which DUG gardens are near you soon. There are many other community gardens located in neighborhoods and other cities, some of which are connected to nonprofits like Denver Botanical Garden’s Community Garden at Congress Park. As you walk or bike your neighborhood, be on the look for other community gardeners and start up a conversation about how you can connect and share in the growth.

Tamara Yakaboski is a Colorado gardener, backyard beekeeper, and eco-coach at

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