Cover Story

COVER STORY: Community gardens provide numerous physical, mental benefits for all ages


Carlson Elementary class visits the Idaho Springs Community Garden with Scraps-to-Soil Founder George Marlin and Preschool Teacher Margie Marlin

By Jeffrey V. Smith
There are plenty of reasons to participate in a community garden. Benefits range from the physical to mental. Here in the mountains, they provide an opportunity for people with limited space, soil or water rights to grow their own vegetables and flowers while giving an opportunity to meet neighbors and increasing community ownership and stewardship. Creating a space protected from local, voracious wildlife is another motivation for area gardeners to work together while learning from others how to grow a special variety of vegetable or distinct bloom in a difficult growing region is yet another perk.

Several residents in mountain communities throughout the Peak to Peak Region and Clear Creek County have banded together to create community gardens in their towns. Idaho Springs, Gilpin County, Nederland and Estes Park all have working community gardens this summer—some even still have a few plots available. Lyons gardeners recently lost their community space, but pledge to return soon.

“I like community gardening over individual gardening because I enjoy the interaction between gardeners,” Vice President of Scraps-to-Soil Ursula Cruzalegui said. “I like the sense of shared abundance that comes with trading a surplus in carrots to your neighbor for a share in their abundant tomatoes. I like to hear cooking ideas and gardening techniques. Some of my best friends were made at the [garden]; they are the best gift the garden can give.” Cruzalegui, who helps run the Idaho Springs garden, also finds community gardening offers light exercise, improved eating habits and an increased awareness of, and appreciation for, fresh food. “Gardening is an activity that can improve lives.”

Idaho Springs benefits from having a community garden in a number of ways, according to Cruzalegui. Most importantly to her—and the mission of Scraps-to-Soil—the garden provides a space for people to learn to love and benefit from gardening. She also sees many “very meaningful” benefits for the entire community. “The garden makes Idaho Springs look and feel better to locals and visitors alike,” she explained. “It is a symbol of local community activism that contributes to a sense of community pride. Pride affects communities from reduced vandalism and disregard to increased cohesiveness and participation.”

The Scraps-to-Soil co-founder and her partner Cameron Marlin  saw some weed-infested land at 2225 Miner St. in June 2010 and were inspired to plant a garden. By fall, an all-volunteer group began construction on an expanded community garden that was completed the following May. The Idaho Springs Community Garden now provides 34 plots for $50 to residents of Clear Creek County. Two plots are raised beds designed within ADA guidelines and three others are intended for educational use by the Kids Day Program. Now in its sixth season, the garden includes a shaded area for education, a tool shed, tools for garden users, an automatic irrigation system and protection from wildlife.
The official opening day for the garden is May 15. Gardeners will be preparing it for the 2016 season and all Clear Creek residents are invited to take part in a potluck and barbecue. The 8th Annual Summer Kick-Off, June 4 from 11 a.m.-noon in Idaho Springs’ Citizen’s Park, supports Scraps-To-Soil and includes a parade and free barbecue.

Floyd Wright, an Estes Valley Community Garden board member, shares many of the same ideas as Cruzalegui. He believes gardening provides an outlet for physical activity, fresh vegetables, an enhanced knowledge of what it takes to grow food and a sense of pride from the accomplishment of successfully growing a garden.  “A community garden is about much more than just individual gardens,” he said. “It is also about building a greater sense of community within a town.” He also points out, few people garden in Estes Park because anything outdoors is eaten by wildlife.

Estes Park’s community garden, located on the corner of Manford Avenue and Community Drive in Stanley Park, begins its first season this summer after breaking ground last November. The idea for a community garden grew out of book studies on environment and sustainability issues that began more than seven years ago. When the idea for a community garden came up, the group discovered high-altitude gardens in Vail, Aspen, Steamboat, Summit County and Grand County were successful, so they moved ahead for one in Estes Park. Plots have now been awarded to 58 gardeners and at least 13 more are on a waiting list.
“The people who have come together to accomplish the community garden have done so because they believe in the benefits of gardens to a community,” Wright explained. The beauty of plants and gardens, the “value of gaining and sharing the knowledge of how to grow food,” the culinary aspect of growing fresh food, as well as growing items not available commercially are among those benefits. “Also, the sharing of horticultural knowledge and skill is valuable to any people and community. There is a strong interest in gardening in this town, but few outlets.”

Nederland’s Community Garden, located at 34 East First St., has seen a few seasons, but is being reorganized this year under the guidance of Elizabeth Allen and the town’s Sustainability Advisory Board. Local gardeners have been “working behind the scenes” since fall of 2015 to reopen the garden by June 1. The town’s board agreed to waive water fees and gave $350 for facility repair. When the snow subsides and clean-up gets under way—a work session is planned for May 7 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.—organizers hope to have 25 plots to rent.

A community garden is also located at the Gilpin County Fairgrounds, 230 Norton Dr. north of Black Hawk. Plot applications are due by May 6 and participants are required to attend a meeting, May 7 at 1:30 p.m. The site of the garden is also home to Gilpin County’s CSU Extension office and three demonstration gardens. Affordable workshops and classes are held all year, including “Vegetable Gardening for the Mountains,” May 7 at 2 p.m. Learn what vegetable grows best in the mountains, with tips for wildlife, insects and more. Get a jump on the growing season with the “Mountain Plant Sale,” June 4 at 9 a.m.. Watch for additional gardening-related classes all summer.

Community gardening is popular for a wide range of age groups. “Gardening can be great for a diverse group of people,” Cruzalegui said. “Most age and ability groups can handle the physical demands. I believe that everyone should consider getting into gardening. It can be especially beneficial to people who are looking for positive social forums. The garden is a great way to create the kinds of lasting relationships that make life sweet.”

Community gardens can also serve as an outdoor classroom where youth can learn skills, like practical math, communication, responsibility and cooperation. They also provide the opportunity to learn about the importance of community, stewardship and environmental responsibility.

Every person who gardens has their own motives, according to Wright. “Common reasons are to get out and enjoy the sunshine, to feel the dirt under your feet and on your hands, experience the satisfaction of physical work, enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of your labors, meeting the people of your community and enjoying a fine meal with ingredients from the garden,” he said. “A community garden is a place to gain knowledge and encouragement about how to grow and use the food you grow.”

A community garden is not intended to compete in the commercial food chain, Wright explained. “The purpose… is more about expanding horticulture knowledge within a community, providing learning opportunities for people of all ages—especially children—in subjects like biology, horticulture, soil science, entomology and culinary arts. [It’s also about] getting people outdoors for meaningful activity, and bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together for a greater sense of community participation and connection,” he said.    If interested, keep in mind each has its own rules, fees, and requirements of service. Some sell out in advance of opening day, while others still have opportunities to take advantage of the current season. Additionally, garden clubs, gardening classes and garden projects exist throughout the region.

Upcoming classes include “Habitat Hero Gardens for the Mountains,” June 11 from 10 a.m.-noon at Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center, 20 Lakeview Dr. in Nederland. Learn to create a garden designed to attract and benefit songbirds and pollinators.     The center also hosts Master Gardeners from the Colorado State University Extension Program to answer questions about high altitude gardening. The free “Ask a Master Gardener” days take place May 14, May 21, June 11, June 18 and June 25.

A “Mountain Garden Workshop” presented by CSU Master Gardeners takes place at the Georgetown Heritage Center, 809 Taos St., May 14 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Join Clear Creek County Master Gardeners for a day-long workshop on a variety of high-altitude gardening topics including vegetables and ornamentals. Both sessions are $25, or $15 each. Another Master Gardeners class, “Invasive Species,” takes place May 26 at 6 p.m. Find out about those nasty weeds and plants that tend to take over and how to control them at the free class.

Estes Park in Bloom, a community-wide effort involving businesses, residents and government to promote the beautification of town, presents its fourth educational program, “Painting the Landscape with Floral Displays,” May 7 from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Estes Park Museum. Parks Worker Keri Kelly presents a free program on creating and maintaining floral displays, how to prepare garden sites, designing floral displays, plant selection, maintenance and commonly used plants on town properties. For more information or to become involved in the Estes Park in Bloom project for 2016, contact Kelly at 970-577-3782 or

Idaho Springs Community Garden/Scraps-To- Soil
2225 Miner St., Idaho Springs • 303-949- 0980

Estes Valley Community Garden
Manford Avenue and Community Drive, Estes Park

Gilpin Community Garden/CSU Extension Office
230 Norton Dr., Black Hawk  • 303-582- 9106

Nederland Community Garden
34 E. First St. • 303-258-3266

Lyons Community Garden groups/197094777105912/

Originally published in the May 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly

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