Planting seeds

A former baseball field at Asheville’s Pisgah View Apartments is finding new life as a community garden. The project has brought together activists, educators, students, Warren Wilson College, UNCA and local businesses.

Let’s play ball? No, let’s plant beans: Volunteers (from left to right) Mellasia Skyes, Mattie Smith, Gwen Jamison, Shannon Zambricki, Robert White and Jade Smith in the Pisgah View ballfield-turned-garden. photo by Cecil Bothwell

“We decided to take back our community not by fighting drugs but by giving people a sense of pride—an option that builds up instead of tearing down,” Pisgah View resident Robert White told Xpress. “There’s a City Council member who thinks that offering people $2,000 to snitch is a way to fight drugs, but think how much more good could be done if they put $2,000 into this kind of community project.”

White and his wife, Lucia, came up with the idea and pitched it to Pisgah View Manager Alison Smith and Assistant Manager Isaac Coleman several weeks ago. Both immediately embraced the plan.

“I think this is really going to be a positive thing for the community,” says Coleman. “It will provide economic opportunities as well as organic food. Robert White is really putting a lot of energy into it.” The garden is already up and running, and more beds are in the works.

Joy Harmon, executive director of the Swan Educational Center, is also participating, notes White. “She’s really creative; for instance, she has used drumming to teach math. Now she’ll be doing that with gardening. The kids can calculate the number of square feet in a bed or the number of days until harvest.”

Asked about those lessons, Harmon explains: “There’s an economic component, too. Greenlife [Grocery] is going to let the kids sell produce, and we’ll help them set up bank accounts, so they can learn about earning money and saving.” But she’s quick to point out that the project isn’t just for children and isn’t only about gardening. A survey conducted by the Asheville Housing Authority, notes Harmon, found that children, the elderly and new mothers are the most underserved populations at Pisgah View. “So we have set up an elder program with UNCA; student interns will start in the fall. We have already initiated a knitting circle for elders.” Harmon is also employed by the I Have a Dream Learning Center, which is based at Pisgah View (see “Making the Grade,” April 4 Xpress).

Other volunteers are also getting involved. West Asheville resident Shannon Zambricki, a nursing student, learned about the project and decided to pitch in. “I really believe in what they are doing here,” she says, adding, “I’m really committed to making this a success.” Besides working in the garden, Zambricki plans to share her knowledge of herbs and wild plants by conducting educational walks.

Warren Wilson College student Gwen Jamison, an artist, has volunteered to teach classes combining art and time in the garden. “I’ll get the kids to do what I do,” she explains. “I study something—say, a flower—get the dimensions, count the petals, really examine it. Then I start drawing.”

There’s also a historical component, notes White. “Part of this will be a slave garden—not just the foods that slaves grew for their own consumption, but the crops they were forced to pick, like cotton. And Shannon came up with the idea of planting a Native American garden too, growing the plants that were cultivated before the European invasion.” He adds, “We’re fully willing to admit that we’re not experts: We’re winging it. But we’re getting help and advice from a lot of knowledgeable people.”

In addition, stresses White, “What we want to do is build community. Some of the parents are understandably skeptical; they want to see results. We’ll reach the parents through the children who get involved in the garden.”

Gesturing toward the ball field, White exclaims: “Imagine this with fruit trees—apples, pears, cherries all along that border, and beehives, too. Think of this whole ball field under cultivation. We’ve got to build the soil, but this can be enormously productive.”

Harmon adds: “The people who live here are told that they have so little, but looked at another way, they have what everyone in Asheville wants—homes, land and community. There’s always news about how dangerous the projects are, but I walk around here daily, and I’ve never been in a more open and friendly community. And with this garden, they will realize what a beautiful place they live in.”

Individuals and businesses from all around town are supporting the effort, notes White. Asheville Agricultural Systems donated organic fertilizer, Warren Wilson College farm contributed a truckload of manure, Bonnie Frontino and Lynn von Unverth of Sisters Floribunda in Swannanoa contributed hundreds of vegetable and herb plants, and Greenlife Grocery has donated plants and seeds.

“There are a lot of people who want to work with Pisgah View residents, but they aren’t connected,” Harmon concludes. “We could get more money coming in and have more success if we get people to work together, and this garden will do just that.”

To learn more about the community-garden project or to get involved, call Robert White at 545-9709.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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