WORDS AND IMAGES BY George Etheredge
“The garden changed my life. It shows you don’t need a lot of money to be happy and healthy.”
The red brick of Pisgah View Housing Projects mimics the hue of North Carolinian soil. But in public-housing communities like this one, in Asheville, relationships with nature are at most an afterthought. Yet behind a weathered chain-link fence, on the confines of a forgotten baseball field, “Sir” Charles Gardner and Carl Elijah Johnson are attempting to grow a passion for fresh organic food.
This acre of soil is the Pisgah View Peace Garden, one of the first examples of urban farming to emerge in Western North Carolina’s low-income neighborhoods. The operation sprouted in 2004. Johnson and Gardner are the only full-time employees of the Garden, but the hope is that their labor will lead to more employment opportunities for those within the community they feed. Produce from the garden, which runs the gamut from corn and kale to plump tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers, is donated to people in the community, and sold at tailgate markets and local restaurants. The space also functions as an educational venue where nutrition workshops and garden tours are held.
The idea is very literally life-changing—for Johnson, a life working the dirt replaced one built around corner drug sales. And neighborhood youth, through active participation, are championing fresh homegrown produce over fried foods served from a drive-through window. Many community members are still fighting day-to-day struggles on all of life’s front lines, but this acre of green space could cultivate a better future.