Three years ago, Robert White and his wife, Lucia Daugherty, sized up an abandoned baseball field at Pisgah View Apartments, the West Asheville public-housing complex they call home, and envisioned a beautiful communal green space. From that prodigious act of the imagination sprang the Pisgah View Community Peace Garden, which today teems with life. Besidess providing organic vegetables, fruits, herbs and eggs, the garden gives residents a chance to learn about urban farming in a supportive, empowering community environment.
The transformation wasn’t easy. “Originally the space … was without anything growing but grass,” Daugherty recalls. “There [were] soda cans in the soil, condom wrappers and other trash on the ground. The soil was acidic, which is not ideal for growing, and claylike.” But thanks to the community’s collective labor and the couple’s consistent care, rich, brown soil now supports a flourishing harvest.
Beyond the immediate physical rewards, however, lies a deeper philosophical dimension grounded in White’s vision of “leveraging the community.”
“We want to work with the kids, engage parents and stress the importance of reciprocity,” he explains.
The joy the space inspires is immediately apparent: Children wander amid rows of bright-red strawberries and play with the chickens roosting in a community-built hen house as volunteers of all ages and races work side by side.
The Peace Garden is also a CSA farm supported by eight local families, whose subscriptions get them weekly shares of fresh produce. Senior and disabled Pisgah View residents share the bounty free of charge, and families and individuals are welcome to trade work in the garden for food. Meanwhile, White and Daugherty organize and lead classes on such diverse subjects as beekeeping, raising backyard chickens, container gardening and flower planting, with the help of guest instructors. (“We try to find local people with a certain level of expertise,” White explains.) Eventually, the couple hopes to establish a food bank where the summer harvest can be canned for distribution in winter.
In the summer months, regular events aim to bridge the gap between neighbors of different ethnic backgrounds while building an overall sense of community. A July 17 fiesta organized in partnership with Nuestro Centro, a local Latino support group, was a “mind-boggling success,” White reports, “with over 150 people out here [from] several different cultural [backgrounds], [speaking] various different languages.”
The Peace Garden, he believes, has “absolutely” helped bring residents together: “When you come here, leave your bullsh*t outside the fence, and come grow food in harmony. “
Daugherty, meanwhile, emphasizes yet another aspect of the garden. “Personally, the project has been rewarding because it is resident-driven,” she notes. “So often, nonprofits come into our community to ‘save’ us, but in this case we are creating our own destiny — saving our own neighborhood.
“Communally,” she continues, “the most rewarding aspect of this experience has been bringing [this] information to the people. In WNC, the organic, sustainable-agriculture movement is big; however, workshops and classes offered are not affordable for low-income people. It is vital that poor people receive all the information they can regarding the growing and preservation of food.”
From weeding to watering and building, there are always projects in motion at the Pisgah View Community Peace Garden (1 Granada St. in West Asheville). The public is invited to volunteer on Sundays, starting at 11 a.m. To learn more, go to: http://bit.ly/ajI6LQ.
Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 110, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.