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Etkin Family
Food Forest Initiative

‘Food forests’ are one of the most ancient forms of land stewardship, and we are expanding the idea of what an urban garden can be by planting food forests across metro Denver.

DUG’s Etkin Family Foundation Food Forest Initiative was launched in the spring of 2022 with the goal of planting accessible food forests in small, underutilized areas in public spaces and community gardens. In 2023, the program expanded to 20 food forests.

DUG is currently seeking public or privately-held land for future sites. Learn more about the criteria for site selection.

By combining trees, shrubs, perennials, and some annuals, DUG food forest sites mimic the resilience and productivity of a natural forest. Different sizes and ecological niches allow a wide diversity of plants to thrive together while yielding food, medicine, and habitat–and that diversity reduces the need for maintenance over time.

For thousands of years, cultures around the world have designed their own unique food forests based on the needs and opportunities of their region.

We aim to do the same and create public-access, shady oases planted with water-conscious dryland techniques and built to thrive in a changing climate and feed the community at the same time.

This initiative was made possible through initial seed funding from The Giving Grove and The Marcus Foundation as well as a transformational gift from the Etkin Family Foundation.

DUG Food Forests by the Numbers:


Food Forests


Fruit Trees


Nut Trees


Berry Bushes

Explore the food forests in the DUG Network by clicking on each icon to learn more.

Benefits of Urban Food Forests: 

  • Stimulates community vitality through community-based cultivation of fresh fruits, nuts, and berries – a natural extension of the tried and true community garden model
  • Conserves resources and helps restore healthy ecosystems by capturing carbon, producing oxygen, enriching soil, and diversifying habitats
  • Enhances food access by making free, healthy fruits, nuts & berries available for ALL, especially urban-dwelling kids and adults who might not have access to green spaces or fresh, affordable produce
  • Promotes food sovereignty by giving people the land, resources and knowledge to grow their own
  • Provides widely documented mental health benefits associated with spending time in nature – reduces isolation, anxiety, depression etc.
  • Replace parasitic sod and grasses, ensuring our precious water is used wisely
  • Re-introduces heirloom and native species, helping Denver transition to climate-appropriate plants and trees
  • Attracts pollinators with biodiverse and climate-appropriate greens spaces, bolstering all life in the city
  • Reduces the heat island effect by helping to grow the urban canopy
  • Contributes to Denver’s compost system with discarded/past-date produce, providing the city with soil enriching inputs

Each food forest has at least two Tree Keepers who will shepherd and steward the site. These food forests are their perennial playground, where they can make changes as needed–but it is also be their responsibility to ensure the survival and establishment of the trees and plants.

Commitment and Expectations for Tree Keepers:

  • At Least Two-Year Commitment: We want this to become something you own, love, and care for for a long time to come, and the less turnover the better. This is not just a place where you take orders from us at DUG, but something that reflects you and your passions and skills.
  • 30-60 Minutes of Work Per Week on Average: There will be less to do through the winter, a lot more to do during pruning season, and you will be expected to keep close tabs on the site at all times so you can see disease and pest issues as they arise. The most consistent and crucial work is watering for tree establishment.
  • Work collaboratively with at least one other Tree Keeper to meet goals. This will be someone outside of your family, although you are more than welcome to involve partners, family, and friends in this work.
  • If you ever need to transition away from being a Tree Keeper, we ask that you recruit and find your replacement.

Support, Training, and Materials from DUG:

  • A Bucket of Materials: Orcharding book, pruners, pruning saw, tie tape, limb spreaders, hat, and t-shirt. These are yours to keep for as long as you’re a Tree Keeper with us–if you ever need to find a replacement, we ask that you transfer the pruners, saw, and book to that replacement.
  • Throughout the year there will be a series of tree-care workshops, with priority and free access given to our Tree Keepers. We will also convene some potlucks and community gatherings for our growing network.
  • You will get access and notice about national tree-care trainings offered by The Giving Grove.
  • DUG staff will be on-call via text or email to answer questions as they come up.
  • If you want to add new plants to the food forest, we will find you funding, volunteers, and schedule workdays to get that accomplished.

Become a DUG Tree Keeper!

DUG is searching for volunteer Tree Keepers for new food forests at DUG sites! 

The role doesn’t require any previous experience with taking care of trees; you will be trained in pruning, pest management, and general tree health.