Image by James Wheeler

Denver Urban Gardens is Selling Donated Community Garden Land

Updated: Jan 7

It's hard to even believe, but we just found out that Denver Urban Gardens is selling off one of it's community gardens. Yes, we're talking about Denver's very own garden non-profit D.U.G.—who's mission is to cultivate gardeners and secure sustainable land for gardens—is selling invaluable, irreplaceable community garden land to developers for $1.2 million.


This non-profit is selling off donated land for short-term profit to continue to run their organization into the ground. The El Oasis Community Garden, which was donated to D.U.G. for $1, is now being sold for $1.2 million and a pair of overpriced duplexes will replace the open green space with buildings.


These duplexes, like most all of recent Denver's excessive development, will be designed to cover every square inch of open ground allowed. No more green space for people to enjoy, no more vegetables to feed the community, no more pollinator and bird habitat, no more permeable soil. Well, to clarify, a small 1/3rd portion of the garden will remain, but it will be without easy pedestrian access as the plot will face an alley. The rest of it will all be paved over so that a few new residents can have a fancy modern duplex right next to the small remains of a community garden.



And, as usual whenever any company or organization does something wrong, they are acting as if it's totally OK to sell the donated land, citing that the developers who donated the land did not secure a written statement promising it would stay a garden in perpetuity, giving D.U.G. the right to sell it. The right? If the staff and board of D.U.G. truly cared about gardens, everyone would recognize that a short-term profit from the sale of a garden that can never replaced is unacceptable.


For a little bit of backstory, watch this video of the actual donor Rohn talking about the donation of his land 32 years ago to Denver Urban Gardens:

Above Video's Description From YouTube: 32 years ago, a plot of land was donated to Denver Urban Gardens on the promise that it would remain a community garden in perpetuity and never developed. Now, Denver Urban Gardens is breaking that promise and selling the land to be developed. Visit saveeloasis.com to learn more and help fight.

Here's the full unedited conversation: https://youtu.be/byfhtyqq3HY


Sign the petition and read what other residents and DUG supporters have to say about this sale: www.change.org/p/ramonna-robinson-save-el-oasis-community-garden


With a short-sighted sale such as this, it's hard to believe that Denver Urbans Garden has this Mission: Denver Urban Gardens comes alongside residents, and together, we cultivate gardeners, grow food and nourish community. DUG offers neighborhoods the essential resources for community gardens, including ongoing technical expertise with:

  1. securing sustainable land for gardens;

  2. designing and building gardens;

  3. supporting garden organization, leadership, outreach and maintenance;

  4. utilizing gardens as extraordinary places for learning and healthy living; and

  5. linking gardens with related local food system projects and policy.


We want to ask D.U.G.: Instead of selling off irreplaceable garden land, could other options first be considered? See suggestions below:


• Reduce Staff Overhead: Could Staff Salaries can be adjusted and staff can be reduced and replaced with more volunteers to make it financially sustainable?


• More Sustainable Programs: D.U.G. programs should be made more sustainable: Recruit more volunteers, reduce programs that are causing debt. D.U.G. should find ways to make programs financially viable through donations, volunteers and community support. If a program is causing debt, irreplaceable land shouldn't have to be sold to support debt-causing programs.


• Get More Donations: The worst thing D.U.G. can do right now is sell off a beloved community garden to pay off debts. Just the idea of this behind-closed-doors sale has and will continue to cause the total loss of confidence in donors who are donating to help protect and create community gardens! It's hard to have any faith in donating to D.U.G. now, knowing that, in any given year, their Board and Directors may decide to sell off donated assets to pay off debts. Rather than disappoint D.U.G.'s own community and donors by selling the garden, why not instead look into a "save the garden" campaign and call upon 17,500 contributors to write a check for $67.67 each, equaling 1.2 million dollars (as they mention in the video above). Or, better yet, just collect enough donations to pay off these new debts, and any extra donated beyond that could go towards future expenses. How much would that need to be? How few people would need to donate? Getting donations to erase the debt while streamlining D.U.G. staff and expenses, creating more sustainable programs, as well as recruiting more volunteers – this is the path that should be pursued and could allow for a sustainable urban garden program.

The Denver Urban Gardens sale of donated land is short-term thinking, and, in the long-run, this invaluable land will be nearly impossible to replace as land is finite in Denver and is quickly disappearing under development as far as the eye can see. Land is more valuable now than ever–and once a community garden is bulldozed and built-over, it is gone forever.


It is unlikely that land will become available in the future at affordable prices, and who would even consider donating to D.U.G. now that they are selling off previously donated land to development for $1.2 million?


“If this sale doesn’t close, Denver Urban Gardens will cease to exist” says Ramonna Robinson, chairwoman of DUG’s board.


Well, we hate to break it to you D.U.G., but if you sell off donated community garden land to development, this too, will cause your demise.


Gardeners like ourselves will never donate to D.U.G. again knowing that at any point the Board and Directors can and will sell off their donated assets to the highest bidder. Selling off priceless, irreplaceable donated garden land for short-term profits to pay off short-term debts is reprehensible and betrays what D.U.G. is all about. Land is finite, and once it's gone, it's gone. It's time to look at the books.


Where is Denver Urban Gardens' Annual Report?

What are their Expenses? D.U.G.'s annual report cannot be found, and does not exist on their website or anywhere on the web to our knowledge. We are curious what the expenses and revenue numbers are. Specifically, it would be good to know what their expenses are, so we've found some documentation below.


Below is the Revenues/Expenses areas of the 2018 Form 990 for Denver Urban Gardens:

There are a lot of expenses here, we are curious what can be done to cut back Other expenses which total to $1,234,709, as well as Salaries, which total to $873,122 in 2018. That's a LOT of money, surely we could reduce these costs through donations of materials, staff salary reductions, and increasing volunteers! For more details, below are screenshots of Denver Urban Gardens' Revenue/Expense numbers from 2017 and 2018, found on: https://www.causeiq.com/organizations/denver-urban-gardens,742374848/





D.U.G. Salaries: The Executive Director's salary, while we cannot find the exact numbers anywhere, is over $100K, according to a job posting from November 2019:

Source: goodfoodjobs.com/jobs/126575/executive-director


The Development Director's salary looks like it starts at $75,000. Source: dug.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/DUG_Development-Director-1.pdf What if the Executive Director's, Development Director's and other staff salaries could be reduced and some positions reduced to part-time, or even become shared volunteer positions? With Denver's population growing exponentially, I'm sure there are lots of passionate gardeners who would be happy to help run the organization without causing it undue financial stress. And with the massive amount of people unemployed by the pandemic, now is a great time to recruit volunteers so they can do something important while they weather this storm. Now, more than ever we need more gardens and more community gardeners to help feed us all healthy, local, sustainable food. We also need to protect our open green spaces and wildlife habitats in our urban areas.

If Denver Urban Gardens' salaries and program expenses are creating debt which then causes them to sell off irreplaceable community garden land, then adjustments need to be made.


El Oasis Garden is one of the largest and last green spaces in this community, and this precious donated greenspace has now been sold by Denver Urban Gardens to a developer. Developers are chomping at the bit to destroy any open space and small historic homes to be covered in concrete and buildings, and Denver is all too happy to grant them permits and change zoning to allow them to do so. Denver Post recently wrote an article about Denver's overdevelopment contribuiting to the rapid loss of greenspace:

Denver looks to tree-planting to help shade city as heat islands grow and new greenspace proves elusive.

City forester laments “concrete is definitely getting poured faster than we are planting trees” Denver leaders who for two decades have backed densification, paving over greenspace with concrete and asphalt to accommodate more people in the city, now are turning to trees for relief from worsening heat islands that amplify climate warming. Read full article »


You got that right, now that Denver has permitted hundreds of small affordable & historic buildings and landscapes to be destroyed to build cheap, poorly constructed density units, our city has been heating up. Flooding has increased, and our air pollution has worsened. And putting trees into concrete-locked sidewalk areas usually results in an unhealthy, struggling, dying trees. We need to preserve our open landscapes and bare earth – and grow healthy trees in landscapes, not in concrete.

Last Note:

The developer who made this back-door deal and who believes that making money is more important than preserving a community garden is Caliber Construction.


We'll be sure not to hire them for any work, who wants to work with a company who would happily bulldoze a beloved community garden to build a couple of overpriced duplex units? But don't worry, they'll tell you that the bathroom and kitchens will look SO good.

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DENVER YIMBYs FOR GOOD:
Yes, in my backyard! 

We support protecting open space, historic neighborhoods including our small, affordable single-family homes, and planting more native plants in our neighborhoods, parks and parkways to support our wildlife and community for a better future.

 

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