Will DUG cease to exist if the land sale does not close this year?

The assertion on DUG’s website that if this sale does not close we will be responsible for the loss of El Oasis and DUG’s permanent demise is exaggerated and improbable.  If DUG ceases to exist, it will be the result of years of poor budgeting and weak fundraising.  DUG and the board have yet to be held accountable for actions which have led to this sad and arguably preventable event.

DUG’s executive director stated in an email on Sept 12, 2020:

What if we don’t do anything?

 If we hit a cliff, meaning, DUG does not have enough to cover payroll or expenses, we will have to start thinking about cutting more personnel, trimming down operations, and down the road, possibly shutting down the organization.

which is a different scenario from what is currently posted on the DUG website:

“We need to be clear: If this sale does not close as planned during this calendar year, DUG will cease to exist, resulting in the loss of not only El Oasis Community Garden, but also 180+ other gardens throughout the six-county metro area. “

Is DUG’s financial situation a result of COVID?

It is an exaggeration to claim that COVID-19 was the primary factor forcing  the decision to sell this property.  

Form 990 Tax Filings publicly available up to 2018 [ProPublica] show that DUG expenses exceeded revenue in five of the eight years between 2011 and 2018 (‘11, ‘12, ‘15, ‘16, ‘18).  Net assets (total assets minus total liabilities) declined from $735,301 in 2010 to $124,310 in 2018, according to the same tax filings.  During that same period, the organization continued to add new gardens while failing to match revenue with expenses.

The organization recognized that disparity, but failed to raise the necessary funds or rein in an expanding budget to correct it.  Instead, in 2013 DUG collateralized El Oasis Garden in exchange for a $300k line of credit. In 2015 the loan was increased to $400k; and in 2016 it more than doubled to $650k.  The contention that funding sources have steadily dried up over the past decade is not borne out by a similar non-profit just a few miles away — Growing Gardens in Boulder County.  From 2011-18, their revenue steadily grew from a bit under $500K to close to $1.4 million, while their assets increased from $500K to almost $2 million [CauseIQ] without mortgaging or selling assets.

Did DUG approach El Oasis to explore fundraising alternatives before selling the garden to a developer?

As gardeners, we were not asked before the sale of the land occured to help in fundraising or suggest alternatives. Our efforts in doing so now have been completely rebuffed. 

DUG has a network of 188 gardens and 17,500 gardeners. Simple back of the envelope math shows that if each gardener donated a bit more than $68, DUG could raise $1.2 million, the amount the developer is paying for El Oasis.  For those gardeners unable to afford that amount, that figure could easily be offset by donations from many El Oasis neighbors and other concerned citizens throughout the DUG network, who have expressed disappointment in the loss of a beloved Denver green space and have offered generous pledges when asked in the past 10 days if they would pitch in to save the garden.

We were told by the Executive Director on 9/12/2020 that the organization needs $200K to get through the rest of the year. This comes out to $11 per gardener, a small contribution to buy the organization more time to come up with alternate fundraising possibilities to preserve the El Oasis garden and a crucial piece of DUG history.  Even if some DUG gardeners would be unable to contribute that amount, many would be able to contribute more if only asked.

Is it true that, according to DUG, El Oasis will keep one third of our garden in perpetuity?

We have been assured that the remaining garden space will be designated as a perpetual garden.  But, what will that garden look like?

The space that will remain a garden after the sale of the front 2/3 of the current property is land in the middle of the block, accessible only by alleys on two sides.  The alleys carry vehicle traffic to neighbors’ garages, a definite safety issue for families and children who will have no pedestrian-only access to the garden.  Also, the smaller garden plot will be in the shade of the new duplexes that are being built. There are a number of fruit trees in the front two-thirds of the garden that will be lost. 

Sadly, we will no longer have street frontage where, currently, we are able to interact with other members of the neighborhood.  With a tinier space hemmed in by houses and alleyways on all side, neighbors walking by won’t be able to see our garden (which is how many gardeners discover our beautiful space).

It is true that El Oasis has larger plots than other gardens, but we pay for the square footage and pay money on top of that. The plots are productive, feeding families, and we are sharing with the larger community, including weekly contributions to our local food bank.

Does DUG have plans to sell other community gardens?

DUG sold their headquarters in RiNo a few years ago, but despite getting proceeds from the sale of this land, DUG has found itself in a position where it needs to sell another asset, and this time it’s a garden.

El Oasis is not the last DUG garden in danger of being sacrificed to cover operating deficits.  On May 6, 2020,  DUG additionally collateralized the Pecos Community garden at 3220 Pecos St.  We do not know the purpose of this lien; however, at this time both El Oasis and Pecos Garden are held as security for loans originated by DUG.

Is there any legal reason DUG cannot sell the land?

There is a difference between what is legal and what is right. DUG says “our team of lawyers said the deed is not restricted.”  

That statement is particularly grating to El Oasis gardeners, because we are still in contact with the original donor of the land who sold this property in 1988 for $1 to DUG on a handshake agreement that it would remain a community garden in perpetuity. The donor was trusting, and perhaps naïve, in not obtaining legal counsel to insure that the promises of DUG would be kept, but without the benefit of foresight he had no reason to believe that this non-profit organization, dedicated to what he considered an admirable mission worthy of support, would renege on a “promise made.”

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