Sowing sustainability

In the heat of a financial crisis that has started eating away at our few remaining luxuries, like a few local beers or some new sporting gear, nobody wants to hear about other people's problems. Still, grave injustice can be seen through thousands of windshields during rush-hour traffic near the junction of interstates 240 and 26. It comes in the form of a human Frogger game as residents of the Hillcrest Apartments try to make their way to or from their homes.

Three Hillcrest residents have already died attempting to cross those highways [see “Walking the Talk,” June 23 Xpress]. And even if closing the pedestrian bridge was originally a community decision, at this point it’s a crime against humanity to continue to enclose an already-marginalized population behind gates with only one way in and out, allowing police to patrol in never-ending circles — peering at those residents as if they were exhibits in a zoo, and just waiting for someone to make a wrong move. These are supposed to be homes, not prison cells! [Editor’s note: On Aug. 24, Asheville City Council members voted 6-1 to recommend reopening the bridge.]

Meanwhile, several local groups are working to build a more satisfying community life for public-housing occupants. One project — spearheaded by Hillcrest residents, Grass to Greens (an edible-landscaping company), The Bountiful Cities Project and Green Opportunities — seeks to duplicate in Hillcrest what Bob White and Lucia Daugherty have done for the Pisgah View Apartments. In 2007, the couple started a community garden that now provides Pisgah View residents with fresh, affordable produce, an education in sustainable agriculture, and a chance to sell the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

Community gardens and shared food-production sites are getting a lot of attention for a good reason. Sustainability is the buzzword of the decade, and without a push to localize the natural resources we consume, our world is doomed to end in a fight for oil, food, water and other necessary raw materials.

Increasingly, newspapers and magazines threaten us with the specter of peak oil, peak water and peak American lifestyle. If any or all of those dreaded events actually happens, we’ll have only one another and the knowledge we carry in our heads and hearts to help us survive.

Community gardens help us build healthy relationships with our natural surroundings, including other humans. By not teaching our children how to produce food, the most basic of human needs, we are compromising their future, our heritage and the earth itself.

The Hillcrest Community Garden project began in early July on what was predicted to be the hottest day of the year. The barren, baked-clay soil between houses 17 and 18 was painstakingly tilled by residents Jerome, Robbie and Trey, who took turns on the borrowed rototiller. The approximately 300-square-foot area was then amended with mined lime, greensand and phosphorous. These slow-releasing minerals help break up clay, neutralize overly acidic soil and prep it to produce healthy foliage and fruiting plants. A truckload of buffalo manure from a farm in Leicester was scooped onto the soil, adding the organic material needed to revive the dusty dirt that lay dying under the grass.

“Even the rain forgot about Hillside,” joked Grass to Greens employee Miguel Newsome, a graduate of Green Opportunities’ job-training program.

Packets of local heirloom seeds from Sow True Seed are now being planted, and Hillcrest residents anticipate harvesting lots of greens and fall vegetables before the plot is cover-cropped in preparation for a vibrant spring garden. Several cold frames now in the works will trap heat from the sun's rays, enabling residents to grow several types of food through the coldest winter months.

A small fence is in place to keep out pesky critters, and the garden will also need educational signs explaining its plants and their benefits while acknowledging the companies and groups that have provided materials or monetary support.

An Aug. 21 fundraiser in West Asheville featuring live music, local food and brew, a silent auction and guest speakers raised about $600 to help pay for needed materials and labor. Workdays are being held once or twice a week, and Grass to Greens is gratefully accepting donations of tools, building materials, certificates from local garden-supply businesses and cash to pay residents for their labor.

Come join us!

For more info on the Hillcrest Garden Project, become a fan of Grass to Greens on Facebook or check out

— Emily Zielke lives in West Asheville.


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