Words: Jonah Goldman
Photos: Laura Dart of d'art photographie
Think back to the first time you felt a connection to food. For Larry Stebbins, the director of Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens, the detail, color and taste of that moment has never faded. Decades ago, in his grandfather’s garden, Larry tasted the sweet juices of a home-grown tomato. Larry has been a committed gardener ever since.
That commitment lead Larry to share the gift of home or self-grown produce to so many others and out of that process came Pike’s Peak Urban gardens (PPUG). Created in the winter of 2007, Colorado Springs had only three community gardens at the time—a fraction of most other cities. Denver, for example, had more than 100 gardens. Larry saw a void in the Springs that needed filling and he began to fill it with delicious, locally grown food.
In America, less than 2% of our population is involved with food production and a small number of major companies control the vast majority of our food.
In America, less than 2% of our population is involved with food production, and a small number of major companies control the vast majority of our food. With agricultural consolidation causing a growing disconnect between humans and food, an increase in diet-related illness and a slew of environmental problems, the value of Larry's work cannot be overstated. Especially in Colorado Springs—where food deserts and food insecurity impact many communities—empowering and educating people about gardening and proper nutrition is essential to creating a stronger and more sustainable city.
In 2008, with the help of Pikes Peak Community Foundation (a local philanthropic organization), Larry was able to begin work on a larger scale, planting seeds of knowledge through his gardening class and literal seeds in the gardens he started. Larry began with modest audiences of only 70 people in his first years of gardening classes, but word of his good work spread and soon Larry had to move to school auditoriums to accommodate groups of more than 300 people.
The organization has given gardening talks to over 5,000 people in the region and seeks to implement three new community gardens every year.
Today, Colorado Springs boasts a much larger number of gardens, thanks to Larry's efforts, and the number continues to grow. The organization has given gardening talks to more than 5,000 people in the region and seeks to implement three new community gardens every year. Additionally, Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens has helped incubate two new urban farms and has erected an off-the-grid domed greenhouse behind Galileo School of Math and Science in Colorado Springs.
Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens continues to innovate, revise and redesign their approach so that the number of urban gardens will continue to skyrocket and the social impact of these gardens can be amplified. Through initiatives like Pike’s Peak Victory Gardens in 2013, PPUG constructed 11 raised beds in the backyards of deserving families, providing ongoing mentoring and professional gardening advice. Now, Pike’s Peak Victory Gardens is looking for “growing pods” that will allow neighborhoods to produce and consume local food on a larger scale.
The food we enjoy from these gardens makes us healthier and more connected to the earth, but Larry's work does much more than that. These gardens connect people and remind us that gardening is a basic human right, and we must do it. In a world where connection and access to clean, organic produce is increasingly threatened, Larry Stebbins and Pike’s Peak Urban Gardens empowers the Colorado Springs community to reclaim the freedom to grow food.