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Denver, CO: Emerson Community Garden Endangered

  • Subject: [cg] Denver, CO: Emerson Community Garden Endangered
  • From: adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2006 08:52:40 -0400

Article Launched: 4/19/2006 10:45 PM

Capitol Hill gardeners dig in to save longtime community plot
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH | After 30 years of vegetables and flower power, the Emerson Community Garden lies fallow after new owners put property on the market
By Elana Ashanti Jefferson 
Denver Post Staff Writer

For three decades, the Emerson Community Garden has existed on borrowed time. 
This unfenced open space on the southwest corner of East Eighth Avenue and Emerson Street grew out of an era in which Capitol Hill fostered low-rent, leftist enclaves, natural grocers and coffee-klatch bookstores. After a friendly handshake agreement between gardeners and the property owner, it became a sanctuary to inner-city refugees like Greg Talbot, an IT systems engineer who last year cultivated showy produce like purple carrots and black tomatoes. 
"Some people put in flowers and maybe some raspberries," Talbot says. "I turned my plot into a full-tilt production." 
Since the garden's inception, a neighborly verbal agreement made way for the only community garden in a crowded urban neighborhood. It provides a soil- rich refuge for many Capitol Hill residents who chose the backyard-free convenience of condo living over a single-family home. 
"All we did was furnish (the property owner) with some vegetables," says longtime community gardener Yvonne Prendergast. "They always told us that if they sell (the land), that would be it. Everybody understood that." 
Then, the original property owner died. Ownership of the land was transferred to a family trust, and placed in the care of a commercial investment and property management company. 
Earlier this year, just as the gardeners divvied up plots and water access in anticipation of the growing season, the trust decided it was time to sell. Michael Buchenau was among the first to hear the news. 
"We were calling the owners to tell them that we were headed toward putting a tap in" at the request of Denver Water, says Buchenau, executive director of Denver Urban Gardens. That organization has represented the garden since 1985. 
"(The owner's) posture had changed," Buchenau says of those conversations earlier this year. The property manager kindly, but firmly, asked that all gardening cease. Concerned community members scrambled for a solution. 
One neighbor wanted to buy the land herself and preserve it for the garden. Others tried to hatch a plan where individual gardeners purchased square-feet of the property, which would add up to a type of garden co-op. 
Most of the 60-plus gardens D.U.G. manages are on institutional or municipal land. The organization owns a handful of properties, but those were donations. Rewind six years and there was a movement underfoot in Capitol Hill to devise a group ownership plan for the Emerson Garden property, with hopes of avoiding just this type of quagmire. 
"Then 9/11 happened," Buchenau says, "and the gardeners felt uncomfortable asking people to put money toward the garden." 
For now, members of the trust that owns the land are taking time to establish their selling price. That could be a bad omen. 
"The owners told us a ballpark amount, but if they're having trouble coming up with an exact figure, someone probably wants more," Buchenau says. 
Consider that AmCap, the corporation enlisted to oversee the site, has King Soopers, Safe- 
way, Starbucks and Checker Auto Parts outlets leasing properties all over the country. 
The upside is that this challenge to Emerson Community Garden has prompted the kind of neighborhood camaraderie that first gave birth to the garden in the 1970s. 
"We see this as an opportunity to engage the neighborhood," says Mary Fulton, a policy analyst whose apartment overlooks a sliver of space where she had hoped to do some Xeriscaping. Even before Fulton was a gardener, she liked to loaf around the blooming grounds. 
"This garden has existed for 30 years," she says. "We want to sustain that tradition. This is larger than just these individual plots." 
What are neighbors keeping an eye on in your community? Contact staff writer Elana Ashanti Jefferson at 303-820-1957 or ejefferson@denverpost.com

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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