Within earshot of Interstate 20 and Loop 820 in south Fort Worth, a 30-plot community garden is producing more than 25 varieties of food in a very unlikely location; an apartment complex. While bees buzz from bloom to bloom and producing plants and vines grapple for available space, gardeners move about their plots gathering ingredients for organic meals that feed their families.
With help from local organizations like the Tarrant County Area Food Bank, World Relief and several area churches, the unlikely community garden provides a food source and builds community for Bhutanese and Burmese refugees. The emerald green oasis is located by the laundry facilities in an apartment complex where immigration officials have been placing new refugee arrivals for years.
“When the complex’s owner received our proposal for a community garden, he was thrilled with the idea,” commented Katy Rudd, Community Garden Coordinator for the Tarrant county area division of the Texas Food Bank. In no time, a little-used park area in the center of the complex was transformed into a lush, well-tended garden that provides fresh vegetables and flowers for residents. Local organizations helped with donations of labor, cinder block edging, soil and compost. The apartment’s owner footed the bill for a sturdy wooden fence to frame the garden.
“This garden brings us together,” commented Krishna, a Bhutanese refugee who has lived in the complex the last two years. Behind him, another gardener nodded a greeting as he gathered greens for his lunch. The traffic of men, women and children visiting the well-tended plots seemed pleased with what they have going on.
Looking up at red okra plants towering above her head, Rudd was visibly happy about what she saw in the garden. “Most Americans tend to lose interest in their community gardens when they become work, but gardens kept by refugee communities look much like this one,” she added.
Initially, Rudd and others hosted an evening showcasing live examples and pictures of vegetables that grow successfully in the local climate. “We also demonstrated how to prepare them and offered tasting samples,” she explained. Local organizations supplied the first seeds and plants and the apartment community took it from there. Now, leaders in the apartment community arrange for manure to be brought in from an area farm to keep the soil fertile.
Ibro, a refugee from central Bosnia, already in the area since 1998, commented on the long waiting list to get a plot in the garden, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he grinned.