Growing a Healthy Community in Colorado Springs

In a time where pesticide usage has become a common practice on many farms and genetically modified foods have made their way to the grocery stores, it’s easy to see why many people have taken up the responsibility of growing their own produce. Since food costs have been increasing substantially, a glut of store-bought produce has become unaffordable for the average American family. As such, it’s no mystery why many people have begun to look towards alternative and more economically friendly options for their produce. The fear of harmful mass-production techniques that cause harm to our bodies has ignited a passion for healthy and locally grown foods. In Colorado Springs, for example, we’re clearly establishing interest in producing our very own agriculture. Community gardens have begun to appear all across the city, especially since people are beginning to realize that self-sufficient gardens improve one’s health and finances. It would benefit everyone to learn how stress-free, financially profitable, and rewarding urban gardening can be.

Many people tend to think of urban gardening as a time- and space-consuming nuisance, but in fact, the opposite is true. When I began my first garden in Denver, Colorado, my compost bin consisted of a large plastic trash can on the corner of my third story apartment deck, with my small patio serving as my garden. I began by growing tomatoes, arugula, spinach, potatoes, strawberries and many different herbs in my first season as a gardener. When the season ended, I broke down my plants and tilled them back into a compost pile.

The next year, I moved into a house with a tiny back yard, sectioned off a six-by-eight foot plot of land, and built a raised bed for my garden. All the compost I had gathered from my patio garden was then transported and tilled into the soil, creating the foundation and devotion for my new love, my garden. Though a garden proves to be a lot of work, the perks far outweighs the setbacks. There is something very rewarding about taking that first bite into a vegetable grown by your own hand, not to mention that organic vegetables grown from home will surely be more flavorful, hold more nutrients, and not be subjected to harmful things such as pesticides, which infect most store-bought produce.

My son and my dog in front of my 2012 garden.

My son and my dog in front of my 2012 garden.

The key to a successful and plush garden is the integration of well-developed compost and soil, which in turn will ensure a high crop yield. Items such as fruits and vegetables are more commonly accepted in organic fertilizer, but most people don’t expect that things such as dog hair, the inside of your vacuum bag, coffee grounds, ashes from the fireplace, grass clippings, and even cardboard tampon applicators may be used in a compost pile. Through a simple Internet search, you can find lists of hundreds of items that break down easily. The key is to continuously till the compost into your soil daily, thus decomposing the organic materials.

Take a minute to think about how many times you have thrown a banana peel or apple core into the trash without a second thought. Creating a compost bin would be far more practical and require just a little added commitment. Dedicating some time out of your day to till any new compost into your soil is all it takes to make a nutrient-rich soil that will give you a lush and healthy garden. Just this last summer, I harvested anywhere from two to five pounds of tomatoes each day in the peak of the season. Tomatoes and peppers began to take over my garden towards the end of the season, forcing me to get creative with my cooking to attempt to use all of the crop, even after I gave neighbors some of my harvest on a regular basis.

katy food

The final harvest before the freeze.

With only three community gardens in operation in Colorado Springs in 2007, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens has increased this number substantially by launching an additional nine community gardens in our area. Though the number of people taking the venture in urban gardening has by no means skyrocketed, many people are waking up and realizing the advantages of raising your own food. John A. Perez, State Representative in California, states in an article in California Agriculture that kids perform better in school, employees are more productive, and the rate of obesity is lowered when communities begin to eat healthier as a result of urban agriculture. Aurora and surrounding cities such as Denver, Lakewood, and even our very own Colorado Springs have started implementing laws to make urban gardening more acceptable, including allowing residents to raise hens in their very own backyard although sensible rules must apply. In a Denver Post article, Megan Mitchell points out that urban chicken farmers must have a permit and pay a one-time fee of forty dollars and inform the neighbors if a coop is placed within fifteen feet of their property. Roosters are not allowed in the urban area for obvious reason, and an appropriate fine is issued for any resident wishing to break that law.

If more people become aware of the advantages that growing our own food can have in our immediate social circles, the number of people participating will increase considerably. Contrary to what some believe, gardening in the city is not all that time-consuming, nor does it require too much space. All one truly needs is a little bit of dedication, knowledge, and the desire to want to establish a healthier community. As soon as each urban gardener would recruit one more person into the fold, our community will grow healthier and happier in short order. It’s hard to imagine a more productive short- and long-term collaboration.