The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Is it Safe?

July 17th, 2010 · 5 Comments · Posted in garden

The safety of an urban garden questioned

The safety of an urban garden questioned

I was out cutting the grass with our push mower early this morning when a middle-aged woman on a bicycle stopped on the sidewalk to tell me she and her husband were considering buying a house in the neighborhood.

“Is it safe?” she asked.

Naturally, I assumed she had murder, rape, robbery or some other form of mayhem in mind with this question. I’ve lived on this same block in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of the District of Columbia–about a mile north of the White House–since 1987, when it was part of the most murderous census tract in the nation. A thriving drug market operated in the open across the street. One apartment building up the block was known as headquarters of a notorious Jamaican drug gang. Shootings were routine. We were witness to more than one, including a homicide in the middle of 13th Street just a few steps from our house, and another involving two men who chased each other down Euclid Street, guns blazing, blowing out car windows.

Through it all, we just kept gardening and sometimes diving for cover when bullets started to fly. Many people during that time approached us, saying they were interested in moving in and could we tell them, “Is it safe?” I always thought that if you needed to ask that question, you probably didn’t belong here. But enough people did move in that gentrification took over. We knew we had reached a tipping point when we could sit at the kitchen window and watch people of a younger generation line up to sign contracts on $500,000 condos in buildings that had once been halfway houses. Heck, many of the condos sold for a lot more than that.

So I tried to think of a polite response to this woman on the bicycle who was admiring my garden. She had a garden of her own, she said. Not nearly as big, not nearly as tall. I explained how long we had been here and said, It all comes down to your definition of “safe.”

The woman paused for a second, looked at the garden intently, then looked back at me and replied: “Does anybody ever steal your basil?”

We’ve come a long way.

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  • Jessica

    Thank you for this post! This made my morning. As someone who lives in an evolving neighborhood, I appreciate the long view.

  • GreenFoodGal

    I had a good chuckle over that one. It reminded me of the time my mowers snatched strawberries from my front yard patch and how incensed I was. I felt doubly violated because I had paid them to do a job and they were stealing from me! Yes, that was their last day.

  • Susan

    Interesting story – as one who came along shortly after you moved there and then married my daughter, there has been an enormous change in 23 years. Nice garden Ed.

  • Viki

    Beautiful Garden!
    Great story too!

  • Andrew