“I tell everybody about the garden,” says Donna Moody, co-leader of Sanctuary Community Garden. “I told somebody today and somebody yesterday, and people just smile and just love to hear about it.”
The five-year-old Denver Urban Gardens project in north Aurora provides a space for families and individuals to grow food for themselves and their community. The spot currently comprises fifty garden plots, but it’s set to double in size on Saturday, September 19, thanks to financial support from Tito’s Handmade Vodka and the Colorado Garden Foundation.
Moody became a leader at Sanctuary Community Garden three years ago, but she grew up on a farm between Eaton and Greeley and has always loved digging in the dirt. “That’s how I got into gardening, because it’s kind of my second nature — my first nature, actually,” she explains. And her farming background is something she has in common with many DUG members.
Sanctuary’s members are predominantly Nepali and Burmese immigrants and refugees. Moody says that many families are from the countryside and like to grow what they like to eat: vegetables such as water lettuce, ugli fruit, chin baung and kin poon (two herbs used in Burmese cooking) — produce that’s expensive or hard to find in Denver.
The garden is also located in a part of Aurora that’s considered a food desert, though there were once supermarkets like King Soopers and Safeway in the neighborhood. But those are now closed, so the garden helps families fill a need for fresh, healthy food.
Nessa Mogharreban, manager of construction volunteers for Denver Urban Gardens, says that food access is key to the organization’s mission to make safe, sustainable gardens. “We work really closely [with community members] to make sure the space is going to be sustainable for years,” she notes, by teaching and emphasizing the importance of planting organic, conserving water and using compost.
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That long-term relationship between DUG and the Aurora garden's members is what drew Tito’s to contribute to Sanctuary Community Garden’s expansion project. Lisa Huddleson, director of strategic philanthropy for the Texas-based distillery, says that through the company's Block to Block program, Tito's often “works closely with nonprofits and charity organizations that exhibit active engagement in their neighborhoods...by growing or expanding community gardens and farms.”
Ultimately, it’s all driven by neighborhood gardeners, and by volunteers such as Moody. “It is my passion,” Moody says. “I’m really supposed to be working for a living, but sometimes I just get into this volunteer stuff and forget to go to work.”
But she knows it’s also an equal exchange. She's found Sanctuary to be a place that’s meant for sharing knowledge, food and culture. “We’re all there for the same purpose," she says. "Most gardeners truly do love each other, because they have that same good purpose in mind.”
And now, the expansion will give the garden more room to grow.