Department

Life According To...Chris Adams, Gardener

As president of Denver Urban Gardens' board of directors, Chris Adams is charged with keeping 81 community gardens thriving across the city. Here, he talks about gardens as classrooms, local food, and the miracle of seeds.

May 2009

As president of Denver Urban Gardens' board of directors, Chris Adams is charged with keeping 81 community gardens thriving across the city. Here, he talks about gardens as classrooms, local food, and the miracle of seeds.

I grew up at 7,200 feet in the mountains, and the growing season was about 10 weeks. I know what it's like to get rock-hard tomatoes from a grocery store, and maybe that's why I am so giddy about gardening now.

There's abundant enthusiasm and demand for community gardens. We're seeing this upsurge in interest, partly because of the economic times, but also because of the simplicity of growing your own food and the sense of healthiness.

I've had the honor of helping create a garden in my own neighborhood, Stapleton. It's one of the few places in Denver where, within 100 yards, there are town houses with lots of empty nesters and single parents, there's subsidized housing, and then there are homes that sell for a million dollars. These folks didn't interact that much previously, but now that the garden is there they interact regularly. And it's around something inherently healthy and life-promoting.

I lived in Wash Park before, and though we knew our neighbors—we'd bump into them on the street—we didn't have a lot of interaction with them. Old neighborhoods are wonderful and I love them, but I think they also need some kind of focal point.

What I really love about gardens is that they bring the community together. It's a focal point for people to get together, interact, and engage in community-building activities.

Many of our gardens are at schools, which creates a great educational opportunity. We teach kids about nutrition, botany, how things grow, and that food just doesn't come from the grocery store.

The garden is a classroom, a laboratory, and a metaphor, and a guide to how to live.

When I talk up DUG, I find myself tripping over all the garden metaphors: organic growth, planting seeds, even going back to the creation story—[Adam and Eve] were in a garden. I think it's so foundational to how we think about our world.

If you're spending time in the spring planting and protecting these little growing shoots, you're orienting yourself toward caring and nurturing, and that can't help but rub off on nearly everything you do. It profoundly changes your life, your work, and your relationships.

When you think how much effort and energy goes into getting an apple from Chile to Colorado, and you think about the energy crisis, and energy being a source for war, if we can grow our food close to home it orients us toward peace with our neighbors.

The "urban" part of DUG is important—we're not escapists. There aren't many Luddites in our group. These are people fully engaged in modern urban life.

I love my iPhone. I love my laptop. I love technology—it's great. But at the same time, show me technology that is more impressive than a little teeny seed, that, combined with a little soil, a little water, and a little nurturing, can turn itself into a succulent fruit. Every time a seed grows out of the ground and makes a tomato, it's a mini-miracle.

When times are hard, being connected to the earth can help people.