Tucked into a rough section of West Asheville is a respite for neighborhood children. A safe zone to explore. A place to learn how to grow food, how to cook it, and how to break bread with neighbors. It's a space where a community comes together to discuss problems, create solutions, and work to implement those ideas.
It's a place for Peace.
From the road, the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens look more like a junk yard than a safe haven of horticultural and environmental learning. It's not exactly the poster child for a Garden Bloggers' Tour. In fact, for the visiting garden writers, many wondered--where are the blooms? And--how can this garden serve as a refuge for kids, with its rampant piles of debris, rusty statues, and evocative images?
And yet, the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens epitomize how gardening profoundly impacts lives.
The brainchild of husband and wife Dewayne Barton and Safi Mahaba, the Peace Gardens provide a comfort zone, a sense of familiarity for children where they are encouraged to pick the flowers, play with the art, and simply be a kid in a neighborhood where youth is often lost.
For a community plagued with drug trafficking and crime, as well as a sense of lost identity, Barton and Mahaba provide a place that attracts and engages neighborhood youth with activities that benefit the community--and themselves.
A pizza oven, often used for neighborhood gatherings.
Founded in 2003, the couple cleared vacant lots on Bryant Street and began growing food for the community.
Today, repurposed materials adorn every inch of the Peace Gardens.
Barton is the artist, Mahaba the gardener. He collects trash from the community, turning the debris into art installations that address issues facing not only the community--but society. Social injustice. Corporate greed. Military might. Shouting fierce, political messages, Barton's work also teaches about the hazards of waste and consumerism.
Hear No Evil...with a gun dangling and a bloodied ear.
See No Evil...
Speak No Evil.
But within the garden, art also amuses.
Mahaba tucks tomatoes and lettuce among rusty signs displaying the evils of war.
Poppies soften the edges of harsh reality.
A river of refuse meanders through the garden, its message clear without explanation.
For many of the neighborhood children, the activities at the Burton Street Peace Gardens save them from a "Dead End." The couple hires area kids to work in the garden.
Throughout the garden, editorials, poems, and signs speak to the issues facing the community...
...while art installations shock--and engage.
Central to the garden is an interactive teaching and learning space built from discarded objects. As co-creator of Green Opportunities, an organization that helps at-risk youth develop employable skills for green-collar jobs, Barton envisioned a space where people in the community could repurpose junk into art or create function from trash. You can read more about "Mystic Dreams" here.
The Burton Street Community Peace Garden isn't an easy garden. Instead, it's thought-provoking. It inspires action. It shakes up gardeners, used to lovely landscapes and delicate blooms, forcing us to realize that gardening is more than just an entertaining hobby.
Gardening empowers a community.