Audrey Hepburn, the world-famous actress and legend once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
Perhaps these words couldn’t be truer for former Metro West Housing Solutions’ (MWHS) resident Kathy Ross.
The 66-year-old said that finding her green thumb while participating in the community gardens at Lamar Station Crossing partly inspired her to pursue her long-time dream to purchase a home—and a garden—of her very own, for the first time in her life.
“Owning my own home has been on my bucket list. I tried a couple of times over the years and couldn’t make it happen,” she said.
This time, though, all the pieces fell into place for Ross. She just purchased and moved into a single-story bungalow in Pueblo, Colo., in a neighborhood brimming with historic and unique homes. Ross, who is a visual artist, said her new home has a large yard—a blank canvas waiting to teem with flowers, fruits and vegetables come spring and summer.
MWHS began its community gardens program to bring many of their research-backed benefits to our resident communities. This includes greater access to nutritious produce, reduced grocery bills, improved mental and physical health and stronger interpersonal ties.
The garden program is mostly free and open to any resident willing to get their hands dirty at one of MWHS’s 150 plots around our resident communities. Year over year, there’s never a vacant plot as interest in participating has been strong.
“Everyone gets something different out of it,” said Daniela Dillon, resident services manager. “For some seniors, the gardens provide a sense of purpose. For families, it could be a way to learn something new and teach their kids about healthy food.”
The sense of community that has sprouted up within the resident communities is maybe the most remarkable impact of the gardens. Family and neighbors who work next to each other in the gardens find themselves closer than ever. What starts out as looking out for each other’s plants often becomes looking out for each other as neighbors and friends. Gardeners commonly leave baskets of tomatoes and zucchini’s on their neighbor’s doorstep for them to enjoy. Kristi Walsh, resident services coordinator, said she knows of two single moms who met in the community gardens located at their property. Five years later, they cook each other’s family a meal once a week to lighten each other’s workload at home.
It takes a community
MWHS partners with Denver Urban Gardens on providing supplies, seeds and transplants to residents, as well as training and education. The Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, which is located next to the Residences at Creekside, a senior community, recruits volunteers to help seniors wake up their gardens in the spring and put them to rest in autumn.
“It’s a win-win—the students have a good time hanging out with our residents and the seniors just gobble up their energy. It’s such a fun way to engage the community,” Dillon said.
The gardens can often serve as the centerpiece to plan other resident programs around. MWHS often will bring in a cooking instructor to showcase creative and healthy ways to use the bounty they worked so hard to grow.
“The staff at Lamar were so encouraging with the garden—it was such a nice experience and definitely very inspirational for me,” Ross said.
A bittersweet change
Ross said that she hasn’t planned her garden yet at her new home, as she’s focusing on making interior updates this winter. But she said she plans to install raised beds similar to the ones she worked in at Lamar Crossing Station. Tomatoes will certainly make an appearance the first year, she said.
“Once it warms up—I think that’s when the garden fever will hit for me,” she said.
Although Ross is excited for her next chapter in life, she said she will miss many things about living at Lamar Station Crossing.
“I liked the arts community and the people that lived there. I got to know many of my neighbors from the garden experience,” she said. “I told my daughter a few days ago that I miss the everyday interaction with people that I got at Lamar—now I have to get in my car to get that.”
She said she will also miss her apartment and its mountain views. She’s grateful that she could call Lamar Station Crossing her home for many years.
“I think there’s a huge population of people out there who are like me, on a fixed-income for whatever reason—whether it’s retirement or disability—and without housing that’s accessible and within their means, I don’t know where they’d be,” she said.
Growing power: MWHS residents speak out about the gardens
Last year, MWHS asked residents about the impact of community gardens. Here’s what they told us:
- “I always had a garden. So happy to be able to still do it.”
- “It’s the best psychological therapy and it’s right on site!”
- “I am a first time gardener and I was very excited. I am glad I participated and looking forward to next year.”
- “I love fresh vegetables, getting my hands dirty, and watching everything grow.”
- “It helps us make new friends, grow our own foods.”
- “It is my passion.”
- “It gives me a reason to go outside and socialize. Thanks for this opportunity.”
- “Working in the garden brings joy to me and to others. It is healthy and healing to be with nature.”
Megan Schmidt is a staff writer at Metro West Housing Solutions.