Photography by Yuvie Styles

During the pandemic, Margaret Barrett often walked around her neighborhood in Peak’s Suburban Addition. Along her route was the East Dallas Christian Church and the community garden across Worth Street. 

“I emailed the church and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the garden? I’d love to help,’” she says, “And they said ‘nothing, do you want to run it?’”

Barrett was introduced to gardening by her husband a while ago. But she didn’t really pick it up until she started spending more time at home with her three young children and wanted to invest in her property. 

When she took over managing the community garden, only one of the 10 raised beds was being used. But it was pretty easy to find community members — many of whom live within walking distance of the garden — to rent out the rest. Each bed is available for about $50 per year, and gardeners are allowed to use the beds however they want, as long as they keep it organic. 

The church started the garden in 2015 in one of its parking lots that usually sat unused. Members had been looking for a way to beautify the area and were approached by a group now called the Lemon Tree Trust. The organization wanted to create an urban farm on the property, says says the Rev. Deborah Morgan-Stokes, the pastor at East Dallas Christian Church. A farm wasn’t possible, but a community garden was. They developed a plan for one that would bring together neighbors and groups wanting to produce food and be a space for beauty, where art could be displayed.

“We are committed to doing what we can to help bring life to our earth,” Morgan-Stokes says. “And in the midst of the city, the garden is the place where we can see life, health and beauty in a time and in a place where maybe it’s hard to find.”

The original partners, including Grace United Methodist Church, Literacy Achieves and The Agape Clinic, helped set up irrigation, secure permits for watering and purchase the lumber needed to make the beds.

The outdoor area has served more purposes than just a place to garden. Over the pandemic, it was a safe space to hold memorial services. And now, with Barrett at the helm, the garden is growing again.

Volunteers met in early October to begin planting a food forest, which involves packing a small space with food-producing plants. It is also related to permaculture, which mostly disregards aesthetics and focuses on food sustainability. 

“It’s an emphasis on being as nature-like as possible,” Barrett says. 

They planned to plant 17 fruit- and nut-bearing trees, which will shed leaves that will decompose and add nutrients to the soil. They also plan to add shrubs, leafy and herbaceous plants, root plants and vines. 

“Ideally this will serve as a beacon to the community of what food can be and what it can do,” she says. 

The food forest has been supported through a fundraiser and donations from Jimmy’s Food Store, Walton’s Garden Center and other local businesses. Barrett and the church are hoping to raise enough funds to double the number of beds and build a covered stage that can be used for outdoor worship services and educational opportunities for local students. 

For Barrett, the food forest is not just a way to help feed the community. It reflects her own ideas about climate justice and has made her feel empowered. She even has a shirt that says, “grow food, not lawns.” 

“And that’s just how I feel,” she says. “So as much food as I can grow, that’s what I want to do. And it really lit my fire to see that that can be the way that I resist climate change personally.”

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