Bringing Forth Hidden Beauty

2018 Safe & Peaceful grantee highlight

It was all about growth during the Austin Green Team garden bus tour.

The nearly 30-year-old volunteer organization builds, maintains and supports community gardens in the neighborhood, with the aim to enhance the quality of life. The annual bus tour showcases the gardens, many of which were the sites of dilapidated homes or overgrown lots, said president Daniel Gibbs.

Austin Green team past president George Lawson served as the garden bus tour guide, providing background on local structures in the neighborhood. The bus tour was followed by a festival with food and family activities, including a bounce house, crafts and prize drawings.

“These are really beautiful gardens, they are just so inspirational,” said Austin resident Judy Beisser while visiting the Peace in the Valley flower garden in the 100 block of North Laramie. “I brought a pencil because I knew I’d want to take some notes.” Several of the gardens also offered produce such as summer squash, kale, beets and basil to tour participants.

During a stop at the garden in the 4900 block of West Ferdinand, Derrick Luckett, 19, one of the program teens who worked in gardens, got a blackberry seedling for his grandmother. “I learned [about] team building and teamwork,” he said about his experience in the gardens over the past two summers. Another summer worker, Terrance Walker, 16, recounted that while some neighbors discard beer cans, cigar packets and other trash at some gardens, others lend a hand in the upkeep.

“It’s up to us to show them what we can do as young people, and try to be a better example,” Walker said.

For more than 30 years, Irma Ferba, 77, has been that example, turning the corner next to her home at Division and Menard into a flower garden. She’d noticed that a jitney cab company had taken over the lot, parking and working on cars, but for her, the last straw was a truck pulling up with the intent to dump an old stove and refrigerator, she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m not going to stand and look at all that junk piling up.'”

She and another neighbor got the city involved in clearing the lot. Since then, Ferba says that she’s noticed her neighbors taking more pride in the upkeep of their lawns. “No one over here was seeing after their front yard. There’s been a lot of difference once I started it,” she said.

“It betters the whole community,” she added.

That’s the hope for the Build Garden in the 5100 block of West Congress, also on the tour.

Volunteer Pete Todd says the organization is seeking to publicize that its produce is there for the taking; they want to overcome the perception that the two-year-old garden’s fencing means the community isn’t welcome to its watermelons, banana peppers, beets, collards, dinosaur kale, raspberries and goji berries.

“You can come in and pick whatever you want. You see a ripe tomato, pick it. If you get a hankering for beets, come on by,” he said. “We’ve got some berry plants, and I’m hoping when they grow they grow through the fence, so that when the kids come by here going to school they can pick them.”

“We’re not here to make money,” Todd said. “We’re here to build community and provide education.”

Last year, BUILD (Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development) worked with neighborhood youth, ages four to 18, to build a greenhouse, and it’s looking to recruit seniors to work at the structure. Additionally, many of the gardens reflect broader environmental best practices such as organic farming and repurposing — Terry J. Barnes, who started the Ferdinand garden about two years ago, boasted that the furniture and statues in the “learning garden” (it has mantras and quotes throughout) were recycled, and its plants, which include, fruit trees and bushes, corn, onions, garlic, greens, string beans, and flowers, are grown without pesticides.

Linda Johnson brought her five-year-old granddaughter, Jamia Washington, on the tour. “We wanted to see all of the beautiful things in the area: It’s amazing what’s in our area that we don’t know about,” she said.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.