Laurel of Asheville — Jun 1, 2009
Bob White extended a hand the size of a baseball glove toward me, fingers cupped around a leafy vegetable he had just snatched from the ground.
“What do you think this is, man?” he said.
I inspected the green leaves and took my best shot. “Collard greens?”
“Wrong, man.” Bob’s lips stretched into a broad smile. “Green Power.”
I asked Bob what he meant. He was happy to oblige.
In 2007, White was a broke, unemployed, 55-year-old black man with a history of drug abuse. He lived in a community riddled with crime and violence. He faced a bleak future. Unless something changed, his children faced a bleak future, too.
Two years ago, as Bob strode around the abandoned baseball field at Pisgah View Apartments, Bob had an epiphany. He thought about John F. Kennedy’s words: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Bob knew to the bottom of his soul the road to hope was to help his community.
Just how came to him seemingly out of nowhere. He would turn the abandoned baseball field into a garden.
Bob knew nothing about gardening. Nevertheless, the next morning, he started clearing the field. At first, no one supported his dream. Many muttered “crazy” as they watched Bob toil under the summer sun. A penniless black man with dreadlocks and a history of drug abuse didn’t inspire confidence.
Eventually, six neighborhood children showed up to watch him. One of the curious little boys yelled, “Whatcha doin’, man?”
Bob explained that he was making a garden for the community.
“Can we help you?” the boy said.
Soon fifteen children were helping tend the urban garden. Word spread about the miracle that was blossoming at the Pisgah View community. Greenlife and two sisters from Swannanoa contributed seeds.
As the garden took shape, a wonderful thing happened. The same people who had muttered “crazy” now said “no other project in town has a garden like ours” and “our community is the best.” Parents came to Bob and said, “Can we help you, man?”
Now bus loads of visitors come from as far as Tennessee to view Bob’s garden as a model for their low-income communities. Bob’s neighbors congregate at the garden to work to socialize, attend cooking lessons and take home free, organic fruits and vegetables.
The impact of the garden can be seen everywhere. Lawns are well-kept, streets and public areas are clean, basketball nets stay in their rims, people smile at each other. Children can play outside safely, and families can walk without fear.
Bob acknowledges that crime, violence, and drugs still exist at Pisgah View Apartments. “But nothing like it was in 2007,” he said.
Bob doesn’t hesitate when asked what caused the big change.
“Pride and possibility,” he said. “The belief that everything is possible if you follow your dream.”
Bob’s vision is growing. Why not a garden in every public housing complex, he wonders. Why not a model farm where people could train? Why not expand his urban garden model to other states?
“You have to feed your dream, make it strong and healthy,” Bob said, as he plucked a leafy vegetable from the rich soil.
He opened his hand to show me the collard greens. “You know what this is?”
“Green power,” I said smugly.
“Wrong again, man.” He broke out in loud laughter. “This is my lunch. Want to join me?”