Sowing deeper seeds

Photo by Jonathan Welch

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 asezakblatt@mountainx.com.

Peace and gardening: “Plants have energy that promotes peace,” says Robert White, who started the Pisgah View Community Peace Garden with his wife, Lucia Daugherty, in 2007. photos by Jonathan Welch

Community-built hen house: Expanding their efforts with animal husbandry, White and Daugherty hope to raise goats, ducks, rabbits and pheasants in the garden as well as chickens.

Leveraging the community: It starts one seed at a time.

“Originally, the space [was] an abandoned baseball field,” co-founder Daugherty reports.

Farmer, caretaker and father figure:.White plays multiple roles at the Peace Garden.

The message: “So often nonprofits come into our community to ‘save’ us, but in this case we are creating our own destiny — saving our own neighborhood,” Daugherty (pictured) explains. “It is vital that poor people receive all the information they can regarding the growing and preservation of food.”

Giving back: “Sometimes [kids] mess with stuff, but mostly it’s a cry for help,” notes White. “We want to work with the kids, engage parents and stress the importance of reciprocity.”

Field of dreams: “Originally, the space [was] an abandoned baseball field,” co-founder Daugherty reports.
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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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8 thoughts on “Sowing deeper seeds

  1. The Peace Garden is a wonderful place, and Bob and Lucia are true visionaries. My West Asheville neighborhood is a better place to live since the garden’s birth — it’s inspired me to plant more, and I see other neighbors doing the same.

  2. Piffy!

    so nice to see this evolve into a fully functioning garden!

    i remember when it was just a small little plot!

  3. Faris

    Bob and Lucia talk the talk and walk the walk! What are you doing for your community? I agree with Laurie – MY West Asheville neighborhood is a better place to live since the garden’s birth. Keep holding it down my brethren and sistren – and keep letting that light shine! Love y’all!!

  4. Faris

    Bob and Lucia talk the talk and walk the walk! What are you doing for your community? I agree with Laurie – MY West Asheville neighborhood is a better place to live since the garden’s birth. Keep holding it down my brethren and sistren – and keep letting that light shine! Love y’all!!

  5. Evelyn

    It’s been my pleasure and great gift to have known this family as a result of hearing about the Peace Garden. They are truly someone who believes in doing good for others and being an example of positivity where for many, so little rays of hope shine. Please continue to write about updates, and support this positive force for change, healthy living, and community. Pisgah View Peace Garden – peace and blessings to you and yours!

  6. Earl Ray Clemson

    Good article. Great idea they’ve had for this garden. But “equality”, what’s that doing in the title? There’s no real inequality here in this country. Celebrate the fact the USA is a free country where everyone has the chance to make something of themselves. We have a black man as president. That’s proof enough for you!

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