Community Gardens Grow in Dallas Neighborhoods

December 8, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Andy Garcia
atgarcia@smu.edu

Beneath the rumblings of Interstate 45, two dogs frolic. Their owners stand by, absorbed in both the movements of their canine companions and the atmosphere surrounding Deep Ellum’s Bark Park.

Within the grove of pillars upholding one of Dallas’ main arteries, different spheres of life intersect. The supportive pylons are decorated with images of dogs, while nearby sculptures twisted in various shapes reflect the neighborhood’s artistic spirit. Music from a nearby bar pierces through the sound of speeding vehicles overhead and the scent of fried food perfumes the evening air. In this path of green space at the crossroads of Good Latimer and Canton Street, Dallas is alive.

Less than 100 yards away, there is another green space. Nearly untouched, this track of land is expected to become the site of Deep Ellum’s first community garden.

The Deep Ellum garden is not the only Dallas community making an effort to go green. According to Gardeners In Community Development, there are more than 30 community gardens in Dallas. From Paul Quinn College’s student-operated garden in Oak Cliff, to a community garden run by refugees in East Dallas, these gardens provide food for healthy living to local communities.

“Urban gardens are a means for community development and cooperation,” Sari Albornoz from the Sustainable Food Center in Austin, TX said.

On Nov. 8, the Deep Ellum Urban Gardens Committee voted on a business plan for the proposed project. As stated in the plan, the project seeks to “provide opportunities for themselves, increase their healthy activity, get to know their neighbors, learn from each other, and create a productive and beautiful commons.”

The plan highlights the creation of two community gardens in Deep Ellum. The first location, on the corner of Gold Latimer and Canton Street, is projected to be operational by June 2012. The second proposed location is at the corner of Malcolm X and Gaston, next to the City of Dallas Fire Station.

On Oct. 31 the DUG Committee completed a fundraising campaign that raised a total of $13,285. This funding will serve as the seed money for the first garden.

“Once again, Deep Ellum has proven that we will do what it takes to continue to bring new and unique things to the neighborhood,” Kelly Clemmons, the DUG project leader said.

While the dirt for the first garden has yet to been broken, Deep Ellum has already seen the effects of the DUG committee. Starting in the summer of 2009, fifteen planters were placed in locations across the community. Each planter offers organic food used by local business and community members. In an effort to further incorporate the community, local artists painted murals on the sides of the planters.

Katie Jensen, one of the volunteers who worked on the planters, said people in Deep Ellum have appreciated that local artists were engaged in the project. She believes DUG’s ongoing mission to greenify its neighborhood reflects Deep Ellum’s spirit.

“It shows the greater Dallas community, Deep Ellum is still a robust community,” Jensen said.

Paul Quinn College Students Learn From Campus Garden

In the Spring of 2010, Paul Quinn College established an organic farm on its football field. The farm helps combat hunger in a food desert. The surrounding Oak Cliff community is more than five miles away from the nearest full service grocery store.

According to Andrea Bithell, PQC’s farm manager, the local community has been encouraged to actively participate in the farm. Bithell said people will come and see plants they never knew existed before and are able to take the crops home.

“They love to come down here, they love to harvest,” Bithell said.

For students at PQC the farm provides a living laboratory to learn about agriculture and food distribution. Students from biology classes explore different growing methods for plants. Social Entrepreneur students work on how to handle the economic responsibilities of the farm and how to best sell crops to local businesses.

Some students are further invested in the farm. Gabriel West, a junior legal studies student at PQC was one of the original students involved in the farm. As part of work study West works four-hour shifts daily. His duties include weeding, watering, harvesting, and teaching other students and community members about the gardens.

“It not only gives you the opportunity to produce your own crops, but it also gives you a sense of teamwork,” West said.

PQC currently has plans to expand their farm. In the spring it is expected the school will begin harvesting tilapia. Bithell also hopes to put a chicken coop inside the football field’s announcer booth.

Since 1987, The East Dallas Community Garden on the intersection of Fitzhugh Avenue and Bryan Street has provided refugees with the opportunity to grow and sell their own food.

Originally designated to ease the assimilation process for immigrants from South East Asia the East Dallas Garden only offers plots to refugees.

Many of the crops grown in the garden are a reflection of popular Cambodian and Lao diets, including water spinach, bitter melon and green onions. Crops not used by the farmers are sold to pay for water, tools, seeds and other costs.

Refugees Tend East Dallas Community Garden

March 30, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Mai Lyn Ngo
mngo@smu.edu

Three old Cambodian women are squatting, sifting through the dirt on a little plot of land off Fitzhugh Avenue and Bryan Street one afternoon. They are tending to luscious sprigs of Thai basil and mint and cilantro. It is freezing, but they wear only thin jackets over native sarongs or pants.

A small fire they built nearby serves to keep them warm and cook the food they’ll eat for lunch. They will tend their gardens all day. There is still much work to be done before they can walk the two blocks home.

These women and a few others are all that is left of the families that escaped from Cambodia and Laos in the late 1980s to seek safety and new opportunities in Dallas. Today, they grow vegetables that remind them of home. They grow what they eat. They sell what they eat.

Opened in 1987, the East Dallas Community Garden provides a venue for refugees to support their families and grow exotic vegetables that make adjusting to America easier.

Today, about nine people tend the garden throughout the year.

Their Stories

Krath Mou and his family came here from Cambodia. His son, Kyle Pin, describes how his father worked as a farmer in Cambodia before immigrating to America in 1986. Mou has worked in this garden for the last 20 years.

“We came here to start a new life. Back in Cambodia during the 1970s, there was a war. We fled to Thailand just to get here to America,” Pin said on behalf of his father, who cannot speak English.

The community garden is a one of a kind in Dallas. When it was established, there were no zoning policies at the time or any requirement for selling licenses. The difference between this garden and other markets is that the land is only offered to refugees.

In the late 80s, an influx of Cambodian and Laos immigrants came to East Dallas. Most of them were poor and unable to learn English, so businesses and organizations in the Dallas community came together to reach out to the community. A garden seemed to be a great idea and these businesses decided to sponsor a garden.

Don Lambert, executive director of the Gardeners in Community Development, described how difficult it was for the refugees to adjust. He said the sponsors got the idea when there were numerous complaints of refugees growing their own gardens in random plots of land around the neighborhood.

“Most of these people were farmers back home,” Lambert said.

In 1999, the Communities Foundation of Texas finally acquired the land from its previous owners. GICD leases the land and uses it as a garden for refugees. Every refugee pays $30 a month for each plot of land. The money goes to tools, water, and other amenities.

Once the weather becomes warmer, refugees can be seen gardening and picking their seasoned plants. Shoppers can stop by the garden to buy bags of chili peppers, cilantro and basil for a few dollars.

Voeun That has tended to her own plot in the garden for the past three years and enjoys growing her native vegetables such as bitter melons, mustard greens and exotic spinach. She said her reason for coming here from Cambodia is the same as many other immigrant families.

“In my country have a lot of war and I didn’t like it. I just wanted to find a place to live and take care my family,” That said.

Challenges

Unfortunately for gardeners such as Mou and That, the weather has been too cold in recent months for them to tend their gardens. They have been waiting for warmer weather so they can go back.

It has been difficult for the garden to stay open all these years. After its opening it was hard for the farmers to work the land because their vegetables could not grow. After the first five years, most sponsors discontinued funding for the garden, making it difficult to pay for tools, seeds and water.

In 1992, the garden was revived.

“When the garden began to fail, they asked me to help, so I put together a plan to revive the garden,” Lambert said.  “It was a two to three year process to revive the garden.”

Lambert described the trash and debris that littered the garden because the land had become a place where these refugees would store anything and everything they thought might be useful. Drug dealers would loiter at night and thieves would break into the garden and steal tools. Sometimes syringes and needles could be found in the pile of trash in the back.

The families that tended the small plots of land had to learn how to grow food in such a difficult environment. They had to adjust to the differences in the soil, the dry Texas climate and the limited amount of rainwater.

“They love to water. They even water when it rains. They would love to see it flooded,” said Lambert.

Lambert was able to slowly teach refugees successful gardening techniques and methods. During the warmer months, the garden flourishes with vegetables such as bitter melon, winter melons and lemongrass.  For most of these families selling their vegetables is their only source of income, other than government aid.

“If they resist something and if you show them that it works, they will grasp it right away,” Lambert said.

The attempts at the American style of gardening are obvious at the site. Greenhouses are made from random pieces of wood and plastic sheeting. Mulch and carpet are placed between beds to make it easier to walk back and forth as the refugees tend to their plantings. Nothing is wasted.

The Future

After 22 years, the garden still struggles to stay afloat as the older families begin to move away and the workers start dying off.

Lambert points to a wall that holds pictures of every refugee worker, most of them very old. Lambert lists who has become too old to work, who is too sick to work and those who have already passed away. He worries about the gardens viability.

“It’s not sustainable because people are getting old. They are dying off,” said Lambert.

The newer families of refugees are coming from countries such as Somalia, Burma and parts of Africa. Lambert hopes they may help keep the garden from going.