Oak Cliff garden provides resources for community

Bethany Salva helps at one of the Oak Cliff Veggie Project gardens on May 8. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera
By HARRIET RAMOS, LIZET VELASQUEZ and HANNAH CHITTY
Editor in Chief and Contributors
@TheEtCetera

Mike Luster didn’t know when he started the Sankofa Community Garden in Oak Cliff three years ago that his passion for gardening would inspire others.

Luster, who is finishing up his entrepreneur certificate at El Centro, is the executive of operations for The Oak Cliff Veggie Project, a nonprofit organization that distributes food and educates the community in nutrition, food preparation and gardening. Sankofa Garden is one of five community gardens, all in North Texas, operated by the organization.

“In my opinion, the role of a [community garden] is to, one, bring people together,” Luster said. “[And] two, to help people get back to their roots. Before life became fast paced, we all, in some way or another, had our hand in the dirt growing our food.”

A community garden is grown and taken care of by local volunteers. The gardens are located in a public space, such as a school or a church, where neighbors are encouraged to work together and take care of the garden as their own.

The Sankofa Garden is located at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff on West Kiest Boulevard.

Anyone who wants to be involved in a community garden can be, as there are plenty of jobs to go around, Luster said.

“You find out what they would like to do,” Luster said. “Where someone [might] like to prune the leaves, they might not like to dig in the dirt.”

Photo taken by Roy Moore/The Et Cetera

For those who want to be involved but can’t do strenuous work, Ples Montgomery, Luster’s brother-in-law and the executive director of the Oak Cliff Veggie Project, suggests projects that don’t require a lot of physical effort.

“You can start the seeds for us,” Montgomery said. “Help them germinate and grow to the right level and strength that they need to be at in order to transplant them in.”

Montgomery said the collaboration that goes into caring for a community garden creates unity.

“The community garden benefit is empowering,” Montgomery said. “It brings us together in a more neighborly space.”

Photo taken by Roy Moore/The Et Cetera

Luster said some other benefits are being out in the fresh air and talking to and learning from those who have similar interests.

Another benefit is being able to eat what you have grown, and Luster said people are surprised when they find out how good home-grown veggies are. One of his jobs is educating people about how to cook with fresh vegetables.

“One of the things I also get a lot of is ‘What is this?’” Luster said. “And when we tell them it’s a beet or squash or whatever the case is, they look thoroughly shocked, like they’ve never seen it before in the raw form.”

For those who want to start their own garden, Luster recommends to start off slowly and not “bite off more than you can chew.”

He said starting a community garden requires a dedicated team and a good location with the right amount of shade and sunlight. Finding out the zone you are in and learning what plants grow best there is a good place to start.

Luster said his community garden has inspired people to start their own gardens at home, and he regularly shares photos and videos on social media.

“I have some [Instagram followers] that message me and give me updates on how their kids are doing with their gardens and ask me for tips,” he said. “I get a lot of great reviews.”

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