Since staring down the possibility of closing in October, Denver Urban Gardens officials say they have been able to financially stabilize the organization with a land sale, and El Oasis in North Denver has reopened.
Two-thirds of the land at El Oasis that is located in the Highland neighborhood was sold to developers for $1.2 million last year. They plan to build a housing complex there, and DUG is using the funds to pay off a $500,000 line of credit incurred when other funding sources dried up.
Now, Linda Appel Lipsius, executive director of DUG, said the nonprofit organization is making efforts to ensure it never falls into dire financial straits again, and they will begin establishing equity protocols to make sure all of the organization’s 188 gardens remain sustainable. Appel Lipsius became interim ED of the organization mid October of 2020 and the full time ED in January of 2021.
“There’s definitely been a lot of reflection and definitely a pivot in what DUG is doing,” Appel Lipsius said. “Up until 2019, there was a lot of new gardens being built. (Now), we are not building new gardens; we are instead focusing on the gardens and the network that we have.”
Gardeners who were in danger of losing their plot have been invited back to El Oasis, Appel Lipsius said. If there wasn’t space left at El Oasis, they were given first priority at Bryant Webster Community Garden about a block away.
“What we’re doing … is working with local partners, companies to support the gardens to make sure that every garden has what it needs to be a productive garden and community space,” Appel Lipsius said.
Additionally, DUG is looking to hire seasonal staff to support garden leaders, such as helping with growing techniques and community events, and for every garden there are about one to three leaders, Appel Lipsius said. DUG has about 17,000 gardeners participating in its network.
“A lot of our gardeners don’t have access to the internet, don’t speak English,” Appel Lipsius said. “We’ve been doing in-person plot applications in Spanish, but if you don’t speak English and you’re not on the internet,” it can be hard to get a plot.
Appel Lipsius said DUG has been posting fliers near its community gardens in both English and Spanish.
Andy Karsian, who began a campaign to save the El Oasis garden once the sale was made public, said he is overall pleased with the way DUG has handled the transition to a smaller lot.
“It’s not bad right now because the construction on the duplex hasn’t begun, so we were able to take a bunch of flowers and transfer them,” Karsian said. “We got all the stuff we wanted to save into the new one. DUG has done a nice job in developing the new garden and bringing in some new folks and a nice blend of new and returning gardens.”
Karsian said some things have changed and gardeners at El Oasis have had to make a few adjustments, such as getting access to nearby water.
“It’s going to be a transition year,” Karsian said. “As you know, it was unfortunate how (the sale) was brought about, and the outcome is resulting in a new community garden that reflects the kind of the changes of how Northside is changing.”
Karsian said about half of the gardeners have returned since El Oasis reopened.
“For those of us who did come back, it’s nice to build something from the ground up for the community, even if it is a smaller space,” he said.
Interested in getting involved with Denver Urban Gardens? Visit https://dug.org/ or call 303.292.9900 for more information!
Eric Heinz is a freelance journalist based in Denver, who most recently covered Los Angeles City Hall for City News Service.
Editor’s Note: The print version of this story erroneously stated that Appel Lipsius became ED at the start of 2020. She became interim ED in October of 2020 but the full time ED at the start of 2021. We regret the error.