Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Deserted garden in the food desert at Curtis and Downing

I happened to drive by the Community Garden at Curtis and Downing on August 6th and was surprised to see an overgrown weed patch, dry as a bone in the summer sun. I parked and took these pictures.

Later, on the Facebook page of Engage 8 I found pictures of the creation of this garden around May of 2012.


So it looks like Engage 8 was a prime mover in the creation of the garden. In case you are not familiar with Engage 8, here is an article from the Denver Post.

Councilman helps form nonprofit

Engage 8 gathers ideas from community, seeks solutions to issues

Posted: 12/28/2011 06:34:51 AM MST   Updated: 12/28/2011 06:34:51 AM MST   Author: Matthew Rodriguez

Councilman Albus Brooks has helped create a nonprofit in his Denver City Council district focusing on community outreach.
The organization, Engage 8, is focusing on a wide range of issues such as education, transportation, sustainability, public safety and economic development.
Executive director Tony Pigford said the organization’s goal is to solicit issues and ideas from the community and bring together volunteers to work toward implementing them in District 8, which stretches from downtown to Park Hill.
“All the assets to realize our goals are already in the community,” he said. “Engage 8 would like to be a puzzle piece that helps bring people together.”
The organization is partnering with Brooks’ office and the Denver Foundation on a listening tour of the district. The next stop on the “Imagin8 Tour” is 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at Pathways Church, 1595 Pearl St.
Pigford said some ideas that have emerged in discussions among officials and residents include putting art in storefronts along Welton Street or pairing youths with seniors for snow shoveling.

Matthew Rodriguez: 303-954-2409 or

The mission of Engage8 is to enrich and empower the residents of District 8. We do this by supporting their ideas, building upon their strengths, sustaining existing community organizations, encouraging civic activity and developing innovative initiatives.

Our community is in a unique position to become the model for socially-oriented community development. We have dedicated, passionate, and active leaders. The soil is fertile; now is the time to begin planting the seeds of change by building collaborations that achieve sustainable outcomes.

Levi Johnsen, current Director of Engage 8
I called Engage 8 and spoke at length with Levi Johnsen, the current director, about the project.
He was very helpful and, after researching further called me back with some of the history. Tony Pigford, the former director and founder of Engage 8, had organized the project. There was no water tap available at the site, and although Engage 8 had $2,500 for obtaining a water tap, Denver Water quoted a price of $8,500 to provide water at the site. In the meantime, YouthBiz Inc., also a not-for-profit, and the owner of the land, had subsequently put the property on the market for sale. 

Brandy Bertram, Executive Director of YouthBiz, Inc.
So I called YouthBiz, Inc., and spoke with Brandy Bertram, Executive Director. She was very helpful and explained that Tony Pigford had put the project together in a hurry. She said that Engage 8 and YouthBiz, Inc. did not have a written agreement or lease for the property and that the YouthBiz board had subsequently decided to sell the property. Although she seemed sensitive to the issue of how they had come to own the property in the first place, she was kind enough to send me the current brochure.

Digging in the property tax records revealed:

 and a bit of history, including the original sale by the City and County of Denver to YouthBiz, Inc. in 2008.
So, in conclusion, we have more questions than answers with regard to this "Community Garden":

1. Why did Denver sell this property in the first place? It looks like the perfect site for a pocket park like many of the other "triangle properties" created by the grid rotation of downtown Denver.

2. Why didn't Engage 8 secure the use of the property with a lease agreement before doing all the work to create the garden?
3. Why did Tony Pigford step down from Engage 8, the organization he founded on Sept 12, 2011?
4. As usual, when it comes to the City of Denver and land deals, the devil is in the details. Follow the money.

Note: I realize that this report is incomplete. I should call Tony Pigford and Councilman Albus Brooks to get additional details. However I felt obligated to get this much of the story out now, with the hope that additional details will be forthcoming. Please feel free to comment if you have additional information.

P.S. Email from Levi Johnsen: 

levi@engag​ (

The planter beds were picked up on Saturday and will now go towards a garden that helps produce one ton of fresh produce per year that goes to Denver Urban Ministries. Thanks for your inquiry, which helped light a fire under the process of getting those planter beds activated!



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