A more learned friend than I posted on Facebook today that he wanted the name calling and " ad hominem" attacks to stop. I had to look that phrase up! An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it. Hmmm…It is true that we have no need for additional housing; it is true that there are hundreds of empty units adjacent to the garden and thousands more in the neighborhood. It is true that for 30 years this seven acres has been green space. It is true that community gardens and healthy eating are important. It is true that we have formed a community. It is true that the school and the food pantry that serve the community think we are important. It is true that building 250 units on this site will HURT this community. And so because these facts are unrefutable, we are now under attack.
Yesterday I was told by two different sources that because we oppose the building of a federal low income housing project on the HHA’s land where the Westbury Community Garden sits as well as on the commercial strip of land that fronts on Hillcroft we have been accused of racism. I cannot decide whether to be offended or to laugh at their ignorance. If they believe that is true then it only proves how little they know or understand about Westbury and the Westbury Community Garden.
To accuse me, the Westbury Civic Club, the Westbury SuperNeighborhood, or the Westbury Community Garden of racism is patently absurd. You will not find a more diverse nor welcoming community anywhere in the city.
Westbury, the SuperNeighborhood, is unique in that it mirrors the city’s demographics almost exactly. The garden is equally diverse…our gardeners are as diverse as the produce we grow. We are Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Indian, and Asian. We are seniors, middle aged, young and children. We speak English and we speak Spanish and some of the children speak other languages as well. We are working, unemployed, and retired. We are straight, gay and lesbian. We are economically diverse; from high, middle to low SES. We are Christian, Jewish, Agnostic and more. We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents…and probably some Green party too. But none of that matters, because in the garden….we are just gardeners. We are a community. I challenge anyone to find a more giving, more caring community than the one we have formed at the Westbury Community Garden. If someone sees racism, then it is in their own heart and a reflection of their own prejudices.
Someone asked me if we wanted to hold onto this seven acres as a buffer zone between the houses of Westbury and the apartments. They couldn’t have misunderstood the point any more fully. The garden is a bridge. And what that bridge has done has taught all of us that regardless of the differences of our sex, age, race, sexual orientation, creed or economic status, in the garden we are the same…we are gardeners and members of the same community.
We do not want to see this bridge destroyed. We don’t want to see this community destroyed. The people that live in the Plaza are the ones that would be the most impacted by taking away their seven acres of green space and having the one thing of beauty in the neighborhood destroyed.
As to me personally, when I first became civically engaged in 2002 I just saw my neighborhood as the single family homes, but then I realized we were part of a greater whole which included the commercial areas, the schools, the churches, and the multifamily housing. It's one of the things I like about the SuperNeighborhood structure of the city and why I pushed to become a recognized SuperNeighborhood in 2004. It allows us look at the bigger picture. Until we started the garden I had no idea that over 25% of my neighborhood lived below the poverty level; and that 46% of the families in the census tract where the garden sits live below the poverty line. I had no idea there was a food pantry 2 miles from my house that fed over 6,000 hungry people a month. It's easy to turn a blind eye to those in need and just not see them. The garden has made me more aware and made my neighborhood a more inclusive neighborhood. We fought to keep our community center open; and over 75 kids (mostly from the nearby multifamily housing by Westbury High School) were served there this summer and many of our senior gardeners provided craft activities; METRO wanted to cut the Chimney Rock bus service that serves apartments in that area and we successfully lobbied against that and the Foerster elementary students have benefitted from us being in the garden. We do try to speak for those without a voice.
I think Westbury is a unique neighborhood...we may be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Houston. The people living in the homes didn't flee to the far flung suburbs when their neighbors started changing. At one point on my street, my next door neighbor was a former Baptist missionary; next to him a family from India; on the corner an African American family; across the street a family from Mexico whose dad was doing his residency; and interspersed were the original white owners from the late 1950 and early 60s; we bought our house from a gay couple. This diversity is one of the things I love not only about my neighborhood, but the city as well. But the 942 unit apartment complex adjacent to the garden and Foerster Elementary do not share that diversity. Foerster is 1% white and only 8% of the teachers are white and that means a large number of the kids just don’t have a chance to experience diversity. And that is too bad. You can't break down racial barriers and stereotypes if you don't know one another as individuals. I'm a product of the 60s; I wanted to join the Peace Corps; I wanted to change the world. But life happened and I focused on my own life. With my children grown, I had time to become civically engaged...and I became old enough to realize that while I cannot change the world, I can make a difference in my own small corner of the world.
And that is why for me...the garden is worth fighting for...it is a good thing...and it is worth protecting. We are changing lives and attitudes. We are feeding people. We are teaching people to feed themselves. People are earning income from their gardening; and maybe more importantly we are building friendships. I was asked, could we really use all seven acres...and the answer is yes. As the economy worsens access to fresh local food is going to be more important than ever. Our recent expansion plans that were cancelled due to this uncertainty were adding 35 more beds to satisfy the waiting list; adding an acre of fruit trees to answer a request from the food pantry; and adding a dedicated children’s garden area so that neighborhood children wouldn’t be the “last child in the woods”. Future plans included adding a walking trail around and through the seven acres preserving a pocket prairie and prairie pothole in the center of the property. We already planted live oaks around the street perimeter for needed shade.
Could the garden be relocated and survive? I just don't know. My best guess is no. The boards of the Westbury Civic Club, the Westbury Area Improvement Corporation, the Westbury Community Garden and the Westbury SuperNeighborhood have voted to oppose the building of these units, have voted to support the acquisition of this property to keep it greenspace and the membership of the garden itself has voted unanimously not to move to Haviland Park. It has thrived in its current location. The garden is like that volunteer plant that grows so well outside your garden bed and when you dig it out and put it back where it belongs it just doesn't do as well. Maybe it’s the sweat equity, maybe it’s the pride of building something from nothing and being part of something so remarkable. Our garden is not fenced, our benches and chairs and tables are not chained or bolted; we have had NO graffiti; no vandalism; and no more missing vegetables than would be expected in any garden. The garden is loved and respected. Ask the people that live in the Plaza ; ask the people you meet under the pavilion; ask the gardeners; ask the teachers and kids from Foerster; ask Westbury; ask any of us what a difference the garden has made in their lives. And we will tell you our story.