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Digging Into Dahlia Campus

Focus On Health & Well-Being & Farms & Gardens

Story by Jean Ercolani
Photos courtesy of the Dahlia Center
for Health & Well-Being

Park Hill Garden Walk 

The 2019 Park Hill Garden Walk committee is thrilled that the Dahlia Campus for Health & Well-Being is one of the featured gardens this year. If you’ve never been to Dahlia Campus at 3401 Eudora St., you need to visit this incredible Park Hill community on June 23 as part of the Garden Walk. 

What could have been just another clinic evolved into a campus of family friendly services. It’s like a community within our community. This state-of-the-art facility, which opened in early 2016, was the result of more than two years of conversations with people who live in Park Hill.  

Darcie Ezell, community engagement coordinator, and other team members met with hundreds of Park Hill residents in an attempt to assess the true needs of the community. Dahlia Campus is the result of these conversations.  

Access to fresh fruits and vegetables was one of those needs. More than an acre of the three-acre campus is devoted to farming and gardening. There are four primary garden/farm areas. The main farm cannot be missed. This one-acre urban farm is planted each spring with over 100 varieties of food-producing plants.  

Renee Marcoux, the market farm manager, has been farming this area by hand. To say the least, she is very excited to announce that she has a new tractor. That should help make her job a little easier. Regardless, she is always looking for volunteers to help work the gardens and farm, and she will teach people about plants and gardening along the way. In fact, teaching urban farming is one of hers primary goals.  

Marcoux also oversees a pollinator garden made up of a variety of native and/or water-wise plants that attract pollinating insects. Her goal with this garden area is to have something in bloom from early spring through to the first frost. Close to the pollinator garden is an herb garden filled with a large variety of herbs.  

Every Wednesday from mid-June through October the Dahlia Campus hosts a Farmers Market, which is open to the public. There are also two annual plant sales every spring and fall. (The date of the spring sale will be announced soon.) 

Benefits of the harvest

The second garden area is called the Community Farm and is managed by Mo’Betta Green. This is a family-friendly area where kids and adults can learn about prepping, planting, maintaining and ultimately enjoying the benefits of the garden harvest.  

There is also a Therapeutic Garden, which is managed by a horticulture therapist. This space is used to provide mental health treatment therapy to children and adults. Working in a garden provides comfort, relieves stress and provides a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere for communication and healing. 

The fourth garden area is the aquaponic greenhouse. This amazing space raises fish and grows produce year-round. Aquaponics is an integrated system that mimics a natural ecosystem by utilizing the byproduct of one species to grow another. This overly simplified description of aquaponics will blow you away in reality. Both the vegetables and the fish from this part of the campus can be purchased.  

Due to the highly sensitive nature of the aquaponics system, this area will not be accessible to Garden Walk attendees. However, you will be able to take a peek through the windows to get a look at the gardens inside. You can also arrange a tour of the aquaponics greenhouse on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. by signing up online at https://mhcd.org/venue/dahlia-campus/. (Note: If you are not able to make it to this year’s Garden Walk on June 23, you can also arrange a tour of the Dahlia Campus at the website.) 

Dahlia Campus takes gardening and farming much further than just growing plants. The campus also has a kitchen where cooking classes are taught; participants learn how to cook healthy, affordable and delicious meals. And then there’s the Food Box program, a year-round program that provides fresh greens and produce. All programs at Dahlia Campus accept SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks.  

Caring for mind, body, community

Dahlia Campus and the people who work here are truly something special. When you meet them, it is obvious that they are passionate about their work and what Dahlia Campus means to the well-being of Park Hill and Denver residents.  

Obviously, the Garden Walk was focused on the garden and farm aspect of Dahlia Campus. During a recent tour of the campus, it became clear that this is much more than gardens and farms. The wide and varied services take a new approach to community well-being by providing whole person care for mind, body and community. Mental health services are offered, from infants to teens, parents and caregivers and adults of all ages. There is an early child development center and all types of community classes. There’s even a children’s dental office on campus that provides free and reduced cost dental service to children under the age of 18. What I have described is only the tip of the plethora of services offered. 

While visiting Dahlia Campus, I had the pleasure of interviewing a few of the team members. Here’s some of what they shared with me. 

Question: What is unique to Dahlia Campus that other facilities of this type do not offer?

Dahlia staff: All of it! The fact that a mental health center is a partner with dental health, physical health, food production, early childhood education and several community organizations to support the neighborhood make this campus completely different from anything in the country.  

Question: What aspect of Dahlia Campus is most popular with visitors?

Dahlia staff:  It depends on the person’s needs. Otherwise, it’s probably the physical design of the building, the culturally appropriate artwork, the fact that there are bilingual employees at the campus and that the building is wired for the deaf and hard of hearing. 

Question: What is requested of Dahlia Campus most often by the people who frequent the facility?

Dahlia staff:  Room reservation, and especially the gym. People use these spaces for birthday parties and other community events. 

Question: What is your goal for the Dahlia Campus?

Dahlia staff:  Better health for the community through mental health and well-being support, whether that’s dental care, childcare or quality food. We want no barriers to the services we offer. We also want to make all community members aware that this space is open to them whether they are just visiting, taking a cooking class, volunteering or wanting to learn about gardening. All are welcome here. 

I asked the team members to tell me about their favorite aspect of the Dahlia Campus. The common theme was the fact that the campus was designed and built based entirely on the needs of the community. It was also abundantly clear that they love their jobs. Here’s a snippet of some of their favorite things. 

Darcie Ezell: “The teaching kitchen. Like any home, the kitchen is at the heart of the campus. It’s a gathering place and a place for good conversation and community camaraderie. My other favorite place is the meeting room. It’s truly work space where great ideas, good conversation and true community bonding takes place.” 

Renee Marcoux: “The farm. It provides a green, welcoming space to the campus. It’s the front porch. I love talking with the people about the campus and teaching them about urban farming.”  

The Fine Print

Where and How To Get Your Tickets To The Garden Walk

The 19th Annual Garden Walk is Saturday, June 23. The daylong event has become a Park Hill institution, in which gardeners throughout the neighborhood open their gates to welcome in the public. 

Proceeds from the ticket sales go to the Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Registered Neighborhood Organization, to help support and sustain its various programs throughout the year.

Information about the many gardens that will be featured this year, in addition to the Dahlia Campus, will appear in the June issue of the newspaper. Tickets are available now at parkhillgardenwalk.org. They are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors (age 65+), and children under 12 are free. Advance tickets are available beginning May 17 at these Park Hill locations:  

• City Floral: 1440 Kearney Street

• Spinelli’s Market: 4621 E. 23rd Ave. 

• Cake Crumbs: 2216 Kearney Street 

• Park Hill Community Book Store: 4620 E 23rd Ave. 

• Park Hill Library: 4705 Montview Blvd. 

• Pauline Robinson Library: 5575 E 33rd Avenue 

• Ace On The Fax: 7100 E Colfax Ave. 


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