As president of our Rose Roots Community Garden, I have been remiss in sharing with you my vision, goals and focus for our community in alignment with our garden motto “Gardeners Creating Community” and our mission to create an inclusive community growing local organic foods, supporting pollinators, and bringing many generations up appreciating, respecting, and nurturing nature.
First, though, I’d like to share some background on how I developed these ideas over time. As a new Rose Roots gardener, these were some of my experiences:
My sons were raised eating dirt in the garden, gaining independence and confidence, developing a diverse gut biota, and learning how food can be grown supporting healthy soils and a healthy environment. The garden gave us (and still does) one of our most peaceful outlets as a family.
I’ve met incredibly inspiring, inclusive and thoughtful people who are doing wonderful work towards growing community with a focus on inclusivity and equality and a passion for caring for Mother Nature.
I’ve gardened now with three generations and found our garden is a great place to spend peaceful time together and integrate multiple generations with local community.
Over time, I've seen the challenges of any young non-profit community group play out.
I've heard marginalizing comments about young people, other leaders, our founders, new gardeners, gardeners with big ideas, families who don’t “do enough” and members who “don’t have follow through”.
I’ve seen leaders chased out, I’ve seen mediation required between gardeners, I’ve seen entire groups of gardeners aim to separate and start their own garden due to lack of trust, I’ve seen whole leadership teams quit and I’ve seen notices come to gardeners that the garden will be dissolved if “someone else doesn’t step up”.
I’ve seen individual gardeners called out on social media and in meetings for perceived infractions
I’ve seen age-ism towards all ages, and classism with an Us and Them mentality.
I’ve seen my neighbors quit because they "can’t handle the drama”.
I’ve seen more and more signs go up telling gardeners the Do’s and Don’ts and signs torn down in sign wars
I’ve seen pumpkins stolen from plots every few years and, gardener’s vegetables vandalized.
I’ve seen turf wars, exclusive behavior and private decisions made behind seemingly closed doors.
Forever A New Gardener
While I may have misperceived some of these interactions, I felt like a “new” gardener for many years. I didn’t really understand where to get information or updates. I didn’t understand garden processes or know how to seek out resources to become a better gardener. I didn’t know how to integrate into the community. That may have been partially my fault. Having undergone 6 major surgeries in my first years gardening resulting in major physical limitations for some years, and having two small boys running me ragged, I may have missed a few monthly newsletters in my rammed Inbox. I can see how young families struggle to read anything that comes at them (you know who you are and I get you! If you can’t find it in your inbox, check out our website or Kiosk!)
You’re Not Alone
If I have witnessed and experienced all of these things, I’m guessing some of you may have too. And for those of you who have kept your garden experiences to yourself, I’d like you to know- You’re Not Alone (note: please share your experiences and ideas for improvement at our Feedback button at the bottom of each page on our website at www.roserootsgarden.org). Having talked with garden members across the Front Range, I’ve learned many of these issues are common in community gardens, and communities in general, but they have been exacerbated by the stressors of the pandemic and many have had to re-examine what community gardening means to them, what they get out of it, and what they want to give back.
People are Mostly Good
I still believe most people are mostly good, altruistic, considerate and thoughtful and no one is perfect (and no one is meant to be) so we have to learn to offer grace to ourselves and others. I believe community gardening can be the place of healing for individuals and community that has become so polarized. In community gardens, people can be together, find commonalities, respect and appreciate their differences, value their shared goals, and feel gratified knowing they are helping their community and the Earth. In the garden, people can learn from each other and can learn to feel love and respect for each other despite their different approaches to life.
Rebirth and Rebound
In some of my most challenging times I found solace and peace in the garden, watching the rebirth, the growth, the strength of the tiniest shredded stems rebounding after a brutal hail storm. After my first husband was run over and I found him under the runaway truck, we spent a year helping him learn to walk again, and all our friends sent us bulbs to grow a garden. After I had cancer and mastectomies at 27, I watched bleeding hearts grow larger by the day, as I went through a series of reconstruction surgeries myself. Gardening has always made me believe I could rebound and be healthy, strong and beautiful one day too. Nothing is perfect in a garden, and it teaches us resilience because as Audrey Hepburn said, “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”. Since gardening is one of America's favorite hobbies, I think others find it as healing and peaceful as I do.
Rose Roots Gifts
Like all families, we have had rough times but many gardeners continue to show love by lifting each other up and caring for our community space. When I was physically limited, my family and fellow gardeners helped me start my garden and I’ve seen others helped in the same way. When my son was being attacked by red ants head to toe, every gardener came running and helped me strip him and spray him down. Every time I see gardeners helping and supporting each other, I am reminded why we garden together.
Ways Gardeners Give Back:
I watched, with my small sons, a team of community volunteers donating their time to pour a foundation and raise our barn for all to enjoy.
Today I see how community members walking by the garden smile when they see bright flowers and lush greenery, thus engaging community.
Leaders organize work days in which gardeners build and maintain plot borders, weeds are kept at bay with back breaking labor in community spaces, youth spaces are created, equipment, outdoor furniture and structures are maintained, a composting system maintained by hard working members creates rich soil, community events bring people together, and many continue to serve as selfless stewards of the garden.
Gardeners help other gardeners set up watering systems and learn various ways to mulch and save water and keep back pests and weeds.
Hand painted beautiful signs and a Little Library add color and bring education and reading opportunities.
Educational signs offer ideas on growing herbs for health and cooking.
“Water Me” signs are available to gardeners so people can help each other’s plots survive and thrive when they are traveling.
Leads offer inclusive orientations and mentorship to new members.
Gardeners share specialized skills to support the garden.
The “Bloom of Honor” makes someone’s day when it’s secretly placed in your garden.
Gardeners have shared their talents in workshops on growing specific vegetables and healthy cooking classes with garden produce.
Community projects such as our Westside Landscaping project with a Neighborhood Improvement grant aim to improve soil, plant trees, and offer locals a reflective space in nature.
Multiple generations interact and new members and master gardeners learn from each other in the shared space.
As we approach our 10 Year Anniversary, I see people reaching towards the light, just like the flowers and produce they grow and share. I thank our founders and garden leaders every day for their vision in creating such a special place, and their tireless continuing work to make our garden one of the most beautiful and productive in the Front Range.
Community Support and Engagement
With more and more awareness about the importance of mental and physical health, it is valuable to see gardeners come to the garden in isolation and leave uplifted, having shared moment with another gardener or learned something that gave them confidence in a workshop. I saw a master gardener diagnosed with terminal cancer come to the garden every day with her oxygen tank and develop a legacy pollinator garden and mentor new gardeners before her passing. I see teams work together to get food donations from our garden to those in desperate need. I see those requiring ADA access able to participate in gardening and garden events when they might otherwise be isolated. I see seasoned gardeners quietly reaching out and offering mentorship to new overwhelmed gardeners seeking knowledge. I see young children marvel at the miracle of being able to pick a carrot, tomato or strawberry they’ve grown and eat it right from the garden! These experiences are why I still treasure community gardening and strive to continue to nurture our community.
Everything Starts from a Seed
As I see new gardeners and people new to the community seeking connection, support, and empathy (because everyone has a story to tell, whether it’s shared or confined to the heart), I’ve seen people step up and offer selfless support. In “Can you Dig This” the documentary on Urban Gardening and Rebirth, a formerly incarcerated Gardener said, “What happens in this garden let’s you know that you have a choice. You can change. It lets you know that everything starts from a seed. You can have a rebirth. Every day is another shot.” Each season at Rose Roots, we witness the natural cycles of birth, death and rebirth over and over, and it reminds us we are part of something greater and all connected by that shared experience, and that is comforting. I am constantly reminded of a saying I heard on a meditation podcast, “Nothing is perfect, nothing is personal, nothing is permanent.”
In the spirit of celebrating Pride Month, I’m so proud to be a small part of this gardening community who is focusing on inclusivity in these ways:
This year we added the inclusivity statement to our website: “We welcome all races, ages, religions, countries of origin, sexual orientations, genders and abilities. We garden together, learn from, and honor each other’s journeys”.
In following our parent organization Denver Urban Garden’s model, we added to our mission statement: “We will work with each other and the land to create a better local food system and a fertile, abundant world for the children who follow us, prioritizing Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in all garden operations”.
We added A “Feedback” tab to the bottom of every page of our website to track feedback and engage gardener input as well as as suggestion box in the Barn.
Monthly Meetings are open to All Gardeners and are well publicized.
Offering both in-person and online conveniences for gardeners like Service Hour Tracking, Online Registration and Sign Ups, and Reminders about Events.
We are increasing requests for gardener feedback and ideas through surveys and end of season polls.
We’ve developed a Youth Leadership Team to offer a space for youth to express their creativity.
Our food donation program has expanded to serve multiple community organizations and needs.
We’ve restructured our gardener outreach into ten Service Teams that any gardener may join and are helping support gardener networks.
We include a diversity appreciation moment at the beginning of many monthly meetings.
We have added a Finances page to our website with monthly financial summaries for transparency, along with Agendas and Minutes for increased gardener awareness and participation in garden management.
We offer All Gardener trainings in Composting, crash courses in Garden set-up, and help gardeners finance Master Gardener training.
We have refined our leadership election process in our Bylaws, ensuring notice is given for nominations and an independent party oversees the process.
We are offering garden leads name tags so outreach is more comfortable for gardeners seeking mentorship.
We have outlined our 8 Community Spaces on our website where everyone may work together and learn from each other.
We have a garden phone number (720) 702-8806 where we can be responsive and track feedback, as well as use to send updates to keep members informed.
We added a “Member Highlights” section to our Kiosk so gardeners can learn more about each other and from each other’s gardening experiences.
We are uplifting gardeners sharing gifts by financially supporting our Youth Team and sharing gardener tutorials online for others to learn from.
We maintain a Blog, Newsletter, and Calendar on our website to share information with gardeners and encourage participation.
We are planning celebrations for our Ten Year Anniversary next year, started our first Spirit Apparel store, are reviewing our history and the many contributions made.
So in honor of Pride Month, which is a pretty big deal around here, I challenge each
and every gardener to, in Jason Mraz’s words, “Look for the Good” in everyone. As they say, in a world where you can be anything, Be Kind (Ref Zak Abel’s song “Be Kind”). Finally, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and keep trying, keep learning, keep helping, keep improving, keep making mistakes, keep failing
forward, and keep finding ways to show love to your garden community.
See you out at the Garden,
Erin Newton, Rose Roots President
These thoughts are my own, and may or may not reflect the views and experiences of our Rose Roots Leadership Team. All members may submit thoughts and insights on gardening for publication in our Rose Roots Blog. Send submissions to email@example.com