The Creation of a Community Garden
By Anne-Marie Miller
I would like to take you, with my words, to a special place. At first glance it might not seem special to you. Just a bit of land nestled by a house of prayer, with a creek running through the back of the property. It has a small wire fence of sorts enclosing small measured plots. Is this a place for the dead to rest, you ask? No, it is a place of new life! It is in this place where people come out of their houses to shake hands, with dirt under their nails, and become a community. It is a place where the older and wiser come alongside the younger and inexperienced. This is a place where people get a chance to work to provide food for their table, where there was none before. The wooden sign anchored into the ground has letters chiseled out of it that spell out “Creekside Community Garden.”
(The above introduction written by Hunter Rian Miller Eagle Scout Troop 437)
I had someone over to my homestead the other day who said, “Wow, all that you have done here is a little overwhelming. How did you accomplish all this?” By “all this” she means my front yard garden, chickens, meat rabbits, and fruit trees. I told her, “It was done one small step at a time.” I reminded her that a few years ago I didn’t know how to grow anything! I didn’t even know what kale was! How did I get from not even knowing what kale looked like to growing the majority of my family’s food? Creekside Community Garden, that’s how. Here is a little glimpse into the creation of this community garden and the story behind it.
A mother stands, head bowed and eyes closed before a window. She often prays before this bit of framed glass. Somehow, she feels that her petition can easily slip out the window and rise up among the clouds to her Father. This evening she is asking; “How can I feed them Father? I have so many little mouths to feed. They are always hungry. I am asking you to make a way.” She opens her eyes and sees a field of green grass which stretches far and wide. This is her answer. She knows it with a certainty that she knows her own name. She grabs her toddler’s hand and marches across the street, feeling brave, but at the same time uncertain. A man of the cloth meets her at the church house doors. She inquires about the field of grass and learns that God has already paved the way. There is already a group planning a community garden. Would she like to join in? Yes, indeed she would, Thank you Father.
Then, those seven people met and worked under the hot July sun. At this point, I’d like to note that fall/winter is the best time to start a project like this… NOT the middle of July in Texas! This was work that some were familiar with, our veterans of war mostly, and work that some were not so used to. It was the kind of work that made the mother feel like she was going to either pass out or throw up or maybe both. Before long, there were plots measured and tilled out of the grass.
Then, there was a need for water. Hauling the hose across the parking lot all the way out to the garden wouldn’t work forever. We called around and found a company that was able to install the piping and two water spigots in the garden in exchange for a free garden bed for the owner of the company’s wife. Now, this is my kind of guy. He knew what his wife would enjoy and went after it. The church generously paid for a water meter and the City met us more than half way with water usage. The city would pay for 90 percent of the water if the gardeners would give 20 percent of their produce to those in need. Wow, win-win situation for everyone!
All the gardeners planted. They watched for the signs of new life. Their sprouts emerged from the soil full of promise. Sadly, all of those tender sprouts were eaten by rabbits! There was nothing left but crusty brown earth to show for all their efforts. Two steps forward, three steps back. A rabbit-proof fence around the garden was definitely needed. (Just a note here: Some of the gardeners thought that fox urine might be a good deterrent for rabbits. I am not sure about the rabbits, but it is for sure a huge repellent for gardeners! I decided that if I had to work around that smell then I was done with gardening forever!) We ended up putting a 3-foot rabbit-proof fence around the garden with green metal fence stakes for the posts. The gates were made of a simple but brilliant pvc/wire combination. Around my front yard garden I made a beautiful white picket fence out of free pallets. (Let us know in the comments if you would like more details about fencing and we will include an article about that in the future.)
There were so many stumbling blocks in the creation of this community garden, but when all was said and done this is where I learned to grow my own food. This is where I learned that okra got bigger than me! This is where I learned that one collard plant is enough for a family of seven for the whole winter. Asparagus, artichoke, eggplant, beans… you name it, I learned how to grow it from watching and soaking it all in. More than that, this is where I met people of all ages and from all walks of life, from different countries, with a blend of languages, personalities and struggles. We shared with one another food and burdens alike. Here is a little glimpse into some of the people I met in among the veggies.
Once, I met a young mother that took the bus to work her night shift caring for the elderly. When her shift was over this young mother would walk down the road to care for her veggies so that she could hold out a plate of food for her four kids and husband at the end of the day.
I met another woman at the garden who had left a hurtful situation. In this small apartment, where this young lady had taken refuge, the hours ticked by unfulfilled. But in the sunlight, working the soil, under the watchful eye of her Father and Pastor and friend, she found peace and comfort. This mother taught kids of all different ages and colors to plant things of all different ages and colors. In a time in America in which people are clearly hurting to find common ground, we came from different backgrounds, races, ages and opinions. We came together around growing our own food.
The next step to creating a community garden is cardboard and wood chips… lots and lots of cardboard and wood chips! This is what will make your pathways. We all scrambled to see who could score the most cardboard. Not bragging here, but I happen to be a cardboard hound. I know, if only I could be an engineering genius, but no, heaven help me I was given the gift of acquiring copious amounts of cardboard in a pinch! After MUCH telephone pleading, we scored wood chips. We stood that day with our heads tilted up and looked thankfully at the huge mountain of wood chips in front of us, realizing that we were going to get a good old-fashioned garden work out! Hey, some people pay monthly for this kind of workout. Afterwards, we were thankful but sore. Very, very sore.
This week is a very special week for both my family and Creekside Community Garden. I say this because my son John, of whom I am so proud, is putting in raised beds at our community garden for his Eagle Scout project. Most gardens start out with raised beds, but we didn’t have any money for that at Creekside so in the beginning we measured out plots and tilled up the ground. It’s funny, as time went by some of the garden beds started to tilt to the left or the right. Some grew in width and length. The gardeners on the North side of the garden discovered that there was once a blacktop road under their beds and one lucky gardener dug up third base! There is history here for sure, just not sure we want it in our food. Eventually, we got some old wood and framed out the beds, but it was far from the raised bed gardens we were dreaming of. Today, my friends, family and community have come together to be the wind beneath an Eagle’s wings (Eagle Scout that is) and put raised beds in our garden. Go John, our soon-to-be Eagle Scout!
Next, what do you fill those beds with? Well, my scout scored a dump truck full of compost, but there are many other things you could do. I myself have developed a friendship with a local horse stable owner. They scoop the poop into a huge pile outside the barn and I come with my shovel and hopefully some strong helpers. Are we ready for another garden workout? Yes, we are! Bags of leaves or bales of straw are also good soil builders. Hey, there are advantages to living in the city – curbside soil building fuel for the taking! Fall/winter is a good time to build soil for spring planting. You might try some old branch trimmings in the bottom of the bed, a little Hugelkultur experiment, if you will.
I hope the story of this struggling community garden has inspired you to join a community garden near you. If you can’t find one, then create one. Churches are a good place to start, but any bit of land you can get permission to use is a blank canvas waiting for stories to be painted on. Yes, there are struggles, obstacles that you might think are insurmountable. I am here to tell you there is beauty, reward, joy, fulfillment and food mixed in the earth. There are miracles and amazing stories waiting for you among the veggies if you dare to create a place for them to grow!
Anne-Marie or Dash (for the hyphen in her name) is an urban farmer in Dallas, Texas. She raises chickens and rabbits on less than ¼ of an acre. Plus, she has turned her front yard into a large stand-out-in-the neighborhood vegetable garden. In addition to the farming she does on her homestead, she helped create a community garden literally from grassy field to thriving garden. What stands out about her little urban homestead is her determined out of the box approach to overcoming obstacles. You can follow her adventures on her little urban homestead by visiting her blog, BloomWhereYourPlanted.com.