Ever since we announced on our blog that the Promise of Peace garden is moving from their current location on E. Grand to a new location in the parking lot across the street from the White Rock United Methodist Church in Little Forest Hills, there’s been a lot of online chatter, as well as a lot of email exchanges. 
When we asked people to share their opinions, more emails flooded in. For those loyal readers who have kept up with the story on our website, we thought we’d offer a special treat.

We’re rolling out the article, which is set to run in the June issue of the print Advocate magazine, a couple weeks early for our online audiences. The story will comprise three parts: Part 1 covers the history of the Promise of Peace garden and information about the move. Part 2 covers the controversy with snippets of emails, interviews or comments from either side of the fence. Because it’s impossible to fit everything in the print magazine, we’re also running a Part 3, which will be a compilation of emails and comments we’ve received over the past couple of months. If you have opinions about the garden, please feel free to continue to email us your opinions, and we will do our best to cover both sides.

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POPgarden“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell famously sang in the ’70s. It happens all the time: Trees go down and buildings go up, all in the name of progress. This summer, Elizabeth Dry plans to reverse that trend on a property in East Dallas by covering what’s currently a parking lot and putting up a paradise in its place. She’s asking neighbors to “come aboard the peace train” with her and get their hands dirty building a community garden, but some nearby neighbors aren’t so sure the “peace train” is going to be as peaceful as Dry claims.

Putting down roots

Dry, a teacher at Alex Sanger Elementary with a knack for making things grow, is the founder of Promise for Peace community garden off East Grand. She founded the nonprofit in 2009 as a hopeful solution to some big problems she recognized in students. “I kept seeing the same problems keeping children from being successful, or families from being successful,” she explains. Disconnect, from the planet as well as from the community around them or even other students they didn’t understand, seemed to be keeping kids from reaching their potential. “They’re in their own little living room, and they bring the world into their house, but they’re not connected to the world right around them,” she says. “I was just frustrated with how children were increasingly becoming lost within our education system.”

That summer, she found the empty lot on Grand and she started dreaming. “I just thought, if there was a place that was beautiful, like a sanctuary, where people could gather and see each other for who they really are, while learning to live their best, healthy life, and that includes everyone because we all are going too fast, we’re all not being the best we should be and feeling the most joy we could be.” At the same time, the City of Dallas had a Loving My Community stimulus grant, which Dry applied for and won. In one month, she received funding, signed a lease and developed a nonprofit. “It all just fell into place,” she explains. In November, she hosted the groundbreaking, and several city officials showed up in support. “It was just confirmation that there really is something happening here. Everyone seemed to want it to happen.”

Dry’s intention was to gather some students together from surrounding schools, to teach them about nature and let them test out their green thumbs, but over the years, it’s turned into even more than she first dared to hope. In three and a half years, 48 schools and 21 countries have visited the garden. Many local organizations and business have reached out to Dry and provided countless resources and volunteers to the grassroots organization. “It has gone so far beyond my vision that I’m pretty convinced something like this could help any community thrive,” she says. “It just draws people together.”

Promise of Peace offers classes for students every Saturday for five weeks in spring, summer and fall during Kids Camp, where they’re taught through trial and error how to plant and care for flowers, food-producing plants and other greenery. People from around the Metroplex find their way to East Dallas for tours or field trips. Promise of Peace partners with local chefs to offer cooking classes where students learn to prepare healthy “from garden to table” meals or snacks.

 Room to grow

POPmoveDry has a lot on her plate, but she isn’t slowing down anytime soon. In March, Dry said the nonprofit was ready for the “next step” and mentioned she thought a big move was on the horizon. With major developments like Lincoln’s Arboretum Village shopping center across the street, The Lot restaurant next door and other restaurants popping up around the property, Dry figured her little plot was about to become a hot commodity — one she wouldn’t be able to afford for long. But she was already a step ahead, searching for a new location where she could put down roots.

Dry pays $800 in rent every month for the property on Grand, so she was hoping to land somewhere cheap or free. That way, any money donated to the organization could go directly toward the program. She started partnering with businesses on smaller projects, such as the children’s garden at The Lot. In April, Promise of Peace partnered with Hotel Palomar and planted a garden at C. C. Young, but, all the while, she had something bigger up her sleeve.

In February, Dry met with Mitchell Boone, the associate pastor of White Rock United Methodist Church. He was interested in starting a community garden in the parking lot across the street from his church in Little Forest Hills. “I didn’t know how to go about starting a community garden,” he says.  So he sought Dry’s expert advice.

POPmove2When he met with Dry, it sparked something unexpected yet welcomed on both ends — the possibility of a partnership. White Rock United Methodist had a large space to be creative with, and POP was looking for a new home base. It seemed like a natural fit, so both left to seek advice from their respective board members.

The idea was a “go” by both parties. So, for a whopping $1 a year, White Rock United Methodist Church plans to lease out the parking lot across the street for POP to do with as it will. The WRUMC staff also plans to make other conveniences available to the garden, like its large industrial kitchen, office space and bathrooms.

“There’s a lot of passion behind [Promise of Peace], and I think we can learn from them, in how they interact with the community,” Boone says. “I hope to see the garden be a place that makes a difference for people who are hungry in the city, while also teaching children how to take care of the earth.”

Originally, Dry had big plans for the space, which she affectionately calls the Imagine Project. She’s hoping to make the move this summer and be fully up and running by fall. The first step is to ready the lot with mulch and dirt, irrigation and electricity. After that, Dry dreamed of picnics, movie screenings, cooking classes, chicken coops and butterfly gardens, plus she even hoped to make it handicapped accessible. “It’s going to be a paradise,” she predicted. But now, things aren’t looking quite so sunny.

 

Check back next Tuesday for Part 2 of the story.


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