By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The idea of a community garden associated with a church is not new. In fact it's modeled on an existing garden often touted by community gardeners as an example of best practices.
Becky Smith, director of Our Savior Community Garden at Our Savior Episcopal Church on Jim Miller Road in southeast Dallas near Mesquite, says one secret is that her garden isn't just for Episcopalians:
"Our gardeners are as diverse as the plants they grow," she says.
On a large open property next to the small one-story brick church, separate gardens are laid out together in a neatly landscaped grouping—one for families and individuals, another for groups of volunteers. A third garden, with more experimental plantings, includes a fledgling vineyard that is perhaps the garden's only nod toward its denominational origins.
"We can have wine," Smith says. "We are Episcopalians."
But the gardeners themselves are from all walks, all religious denominations or the lack thereof, she says. "Through gardening, through sharing the different food from different cultures, the respect and the understanding, all of us get excited about each other's differences instead of questioning our differences."
People come to garden at Our Savior for all kinds of reasons. "It's different for each individual," Smith says. "We have one lady who comes because she wants to be close to the soil. She grew up on a farm, and she misses that.
"We have a home-school group of 25 kids. Their interest is holistic. They learn good stewardship. They have lessons in art, science, history, all drawn from the garden. It's their outdoor classroom.
Some come to learn how to set up their own gardens, others to satisfy their private, spiritual and psychological needs, she adds. "Maybe it's stress, maybe it's—I hate to talk about those people—but [the gardening] helps them."
She talks about scout troops that come to the garden who see food growing for the first time. "They don't know where their food comes from. Most of them don't even eat vegetables unless it's on a McDonald's hamburger."
And good food isn't just for kids.
Howard Garrett is a Dallas-based national radio personality and author whose thinking on organic food production, once considered radical, is now being accepted by the mainstream ("The Dirt Doctor," Dallas Observer, July 17, 2008). Methods very similar to what Garrett has preached for decades were recently adopted by Harvard University for the management of its own grounds. Locally, Garrett has served as an unpaid consultant to several groups hoping to launch community gardens. He thinks affluent people need them just as much as people who can't afford good food.
"It's a convenient place for people to go and have a little plot of land where they can grow some food crops—space they don't necessarily have at home. An apartment person doesn't have space. A homeowner might not have enough sunshine."
Garrett believes people get more than food from community gardens. "They get the camaraderie of a community working together, beginning to learn from each other."
But like Becky Smith, Jan Worthington, Kim Hale and Don Lambert, Garrett thinks the food is the main thing. "Gardening gives you a way to know exactly where your food came from, and there is just kind of a sense of pride in planting something and growing it yourself."
Lambert says there is also adventure. "It's amazing how people start gardening, and they start eating things they never ate before."
If given the opportunity.
City attorney Tom Perkins suggested a bit vaguely that the city may attempt in the near future to amend its zoning laws to include community gardens.
For his own part, even Paul Dyer says City Hall may one day come around to it. In an e-mail to the Observer, Dyer said, "We have been gathering data from community garden programs around the country.
"We will be preparing a briefing for the Park and Recreation Board in the next six weeks to develop a policy and potential sites around the city. Hopefully, this will create, if needed, the justification for a budget request in the budget process for the coming year. If well thought out, the community gardens partnerships and educational benefits could cover parks, vacant city parcels, school sites, community colleges, county property, undeveloped private property, etc."
That's not a firm yes. Nor is it a firm no. So what is it? It's Dallas City Hall. The best advice the experienced community gardeners can offer for dealing with City Hall?
Get around it.