Edible Landscapes

June 13th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

How Denver is leading the way with community gardens aimed at feeding the homeless.

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Denver has a rich history of gardening for the greater good. Not long after Eleanor Roosevelt planted a “victory” vegetable garden on the White House’s South Lawn in 1943 – both to prevent food shortages at home and feed American troops stationed overseas – the city started its own major Victory Garden effort.

It also adopted the rallying cry “A Victory Garden on Every Lot,” and residents responded by planting 41,500 gardens the first season; by 1944, 50,000 were spread throughout the metropolis. The city even devised a model garden based on studies by Colorado State College (now University) on the best-performing vegetables for the climate.

According to a Huffington Post story, the tradition appears to have returned to Denver. The group Grow Local Colorado aims to use the city’s parks to produce 1,500 pounds of produce to help feed the homeless. Since 2009, the organization has been partnering with Denver Parks and Recreation with the goal of replacing ornamental park flowerbeds with edible landscapes. Along with a stable of volunteers, Grow Local plants and maintains the produce from the city parks before harvesting and donating the vegetables to local food banks.

As the video on its site explains, Grow Local started out with just one garden bed, which has been such a success that the city has since allotted 12 additional beds in eight different parks to the group. Much of the organization’s efforts this year will go to Denver’s Gathering Place, a drop-in center for homeless women and children.

The idea may not be entirely new – Treehugger points out that a group in Oregon, for instance, is planting a truly communal garden where planters will also harvest their own produce – and the communal garden model isn’t without its challenges (how to ensure that volunteers don’t harvest more than they contribute?). But Grow Local certainly seems to be a well-organized civic effort that’s working. Heard of an innovative Victory Garden lately? And what ornamental public spaces would you like to see replaced with edible landscaping?