A version of this column first appeared in ABOUT the River Valley Magazine.
We started our McElroy House pollinator garden during a workday back in the fall of last year. We put down cardboard across a square of the front yard bordering Second and Green Streets. It wasn’t much, but kept down the weeds and served as a marker throughout the winter, reminding us of the spring commitment we’d made.
In March of this year we started removing strips of the cardboard slowly, digging into the loamy soil and planting as we went. For a while it was just a small little row of yarrow and day lilies. But as time went on we pulled back more and more cardboard and dug new patches, being careful to work slowly enough for the plants to take root. Then in April we hosted our flower planting skill share. We pulled back the last layers of cardboard and dug up the entire square. We’d purchased native plants from Pine Ridge Gardens in London and New South Nursery in Roland. We’d brought more yarrow and Black-eyed Susan and Echinacea And we’d put out a call to the community to come bring seedling versions of their favorite flowers to add to the beds. Most importantly, we asked that people bring story plants and share their stories as we put them in the ground.
What exactly is a story plant, you might ask. Well, it can mean any number of things. For starters, plants have their own stories about how they replicate. Plants can live very long lives — especially in the multi-generational sense — and they replicate in a myriad of ways. Take for instance the yarrow, our plant mascot for lack of a better term. It produces by rhizomes, a kind of stem that actually grows underground. Basically, yarrow grows from it’s offshoots. And it’s tenacious and drought-hearty. Cornflower, the delicate blue flowers that covered our garden in the spring, are self seeding. They’ll return on their own next year without our having to do much of anything. Others, like Echinacea, are perennial. They die back in the winter to return in the spring. The day lilies grow by bulbs. They stay dormant in cold weather and shoot forth new growth when it warms up. So first there is the story of how a plant keeps going.
But beyond that, plant stories are about how plants become connected within our own lives. There is the ancient story of people and food—a story we too often take for granted—but there is also the very recent narrative wherein old plants weave their way into our short lives. You may think you don’t know any story plants. Or maybe it’s just you don’t know the plant names. But you still know the stories. Maybe you see an iris and think of a grandmother or grandfather. Maybe a patch of wild daisies reminds you of your mother. In many instances we can write new stories with plants. A sunflower can become a new beginning; a hyssop can mean building community; a yarrow is knitted into a story about persistence. Plants help us learn about solidarity, about who came before, and about what we can do now right where we are. Plants remind us that the world is so much bigger than we can ever imagine and that our interconnectedness is more vast than our language could ever convey.
Everything we planted at the McElroy House garden is there for the butterflies and bees. We worked with native plant and pollinator specialists to make sure that our garden is quite the buffet for them. And these days the garden is crowded. There are little yellow sulphur butterflies and buckeyes and monarchs. The bees are everywhere, too thick upon the bee balm to even begin to count. We’ve got some tall milkweed growing, the only plant where the Monarch will lay its eggs.
But the garden is also for us. It’s there for us to remember people we’ve lost—the ways we’ve lost ourselves, even—and to sit with our grief in a way that gives honor to these struggles and these memories. It’s there to remind us that no matter how many times someone uses the metaphor, it’s fundamentally true that everything in the garden starts as a small, fragile seedling. It’s there to help us have an ever-growing visual image of what happens when hard work meets solidarity. And it’s there to liven up the place, to fill the space with color and wings. Building an intentional place of beauty is never a frivolous undertaking.
Beyond that, the garden is there to help us build up collective stories that are both new and generations old. We are an organization that stands for justice and solidarity–across class, across race, across region. We believe in centering the diversity experiences of our community as the foundation for our work. This doesn’t always lend itself to tightly wound mission statements or bullet pointed lists so readily employed by the majority of the non-profit world. We are an action organization but we are also an idea organization. And we move at the speed of caregiving. We care for babies; aging relatives, and our own bodies with all their struggles and beauty. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck, and there are no paid positions at the McElroy House.
Some people might call our work slow. We’d probably agree. But when we look at the garden we see time differently. And we can begin to see that what we do is root work. Not everything is visible above ground—at least not all the time.
We remember that our work is in everything we do in and outside of the McElroy House: Caregiving, working low paying jobs that seldom make the bills, struggling with mental illness, fighting the destructive world of poverty, teaching in our public schools, teaching in universities, getting PhDs in history, single parenting, struggling with family members who don’t understand us, studying the effects of racism on our population, building rain barrels, speaking up for ourselves or our trans friends in a community that fears us/them, breaking down ideas of race, class, and gender in our communities, sharing stories of how we learned to fight self-hate, forging paths for women in engineering, growing a little patch of food, letting our kids see us wrestle with injustice, writing music, standing up for justice even when we don’t know all the terms our urban friends so readily spout, wrestling with the role of white people in #blacklivesmatter, working to understand immigration and stand with our neighbors facing fear of deportation, fiercely loving our homes—pain and all, refusing to take part in fear of our neighbor, and a rejection of the so-often told stories, that it’s “normal” for all of us to be fearful and divided.
And when we forget this—as we so often do— we can look at the garden and remember.
The world is full of injustice. There is so much work to be done. Plants can help us forge new ways of fighting this—in our own communities with the tools and resources we have right in front and inside of us. It can remind us of the skills that live inside of us. It can remind us that the fight for racial justice, indigenous solidarity, eradicating poverty at the roots, is important no matter where we are. It can help us develop new models for ancient struggles. It can collapse time and connect us to something so very far beyond ourselves.
This fall we’ll put down more cardboard to prepare for the coming spring. Our goal is to slowly add onto the garden each year, filling the yard with flowers (and stories), leaving only a walking path large enough for wheel chairs and feet to pass thru. It’ll take years to get there, but there is no better place to learn patience—and perseverance— than a garden.
We’d love to have you come join us. Bring a plant in honor of a loved one or as a nod to a new story you’re writing. Or perhaps both. We believe in people coming together across differences; we believe in equality and equity, and we are certain that our plants — and our stories — are stronger together.
Keep up to date with all our work on facebook by clicking here.
Want to work with us? Learn more and fill out our volunteer form here:
When: Saturday May 21st 12:00-2:00
Where: McElroy House 420 S. 2nd Dardanelle, Arkansas
Contact: 479-957-0551 or McElroyhouse.wordpress.com
The McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources invites you to join us for a workshop on building basic rain barrel systems for your home or business!
Sergio Picado of Dover will lead this interactive skill share on building and installing simple rain barrel systems in your home or business! He will build and install our system at the McElroy House while explaining the process and walking participants through each step. You’ll leave with tools needed to implement similar systems at your home.
The McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources offers one skill share a month led by community members and visitors. All events are free and open to the public! Keep up to date with us on facebook by clicking here.
For more information call 479-957-0551
When: Saturday April 30th 12:00-2:00
Where: McElroy House 420 S. 2nd Dardanelle, Arkansas
Contact: 479-957-0551 or McElroyhouse.wordpress.com
The McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources invites you to join us for a workshop on creating butterfly and bee loving gardens.
During this event we will be planting heirloom flowers and native varieties known for attracting pollinators. We’ll learn more about what kind of varieties we need to support butterfly populations and keep our crops healthy, and we’ll also be putting in some drip hoses for watering. Gardens are places for both grief and healing. Let’s share stories and grow a garden together!
All of our workshops are interactive, and for this workshop we are asking community members to consider bringing “story” plants to the gathering—the kind passed down among generations and communities and/or any varieties that are especially meaningful to you. Together we will add these plants to our butterfly story garden. If you are willing to share, we would love to document the story behind your plant and keep it with our garden so we can share it with the wider community. Your plant could be something in honor of a lost loved one, a past home, or even a plant in honor of an idea.
Of course, no need to bring a plant to attend! Just bring yourself! You’ll leave with information and resources for creating a butterfly garden at your own home or business.
This past Monday residents planted at Freedom House created a ceremony and planted the beginnings of the grief and healing garden. (If you’d like to know more about this project, go here or here). Please note that due to confidentiality agreements we can not show identities of the people in these photos.
The Seeds of Change garden at Freedom House will serve as both a literal and metraphorical space for growth and healing through food and flowers. All of the plants came from regional gardeners and were chosen for their health benefits, ease of care, and ability to draw butterflies to the garden space.
We began the workshop by filling the second garden bed and mixing in compost and talking about soil health. We also talked about how compost is made of dead matter. Yet when the leaves begin to break down and decay the soil itself is in a process of growth and actually provides life to plants.
We talked a little bit about each of the plants in the garden and where they came from and passed out a garden manual that details the care needed for all the plants. Residents chose words they wanted to write on piece of paper (some were stories, others a few phrases), and then they set fire to them, letting the ashes fall into the soil. On top of the ashes each resident planted a herb or flower that they picked out from either the seedlings they’d started or from one of the many donations we’ve received from area gardeners.
Some residents chose to share what they had written and others decided kept the words private. They spoke of difficult pasts–abuses suffered and mistakes made–and the desire for a new future. Three women decided to work together and burned their papers in the same place, letting the ashes fall together before putting a large yarrow plant on top. Yarrow is known for its resilience and ability to thrive in all kinds of situations. It also draws butterflies. Other residents chose lavender, a calming plant; oregano, a herb loaded with health benefits, and zinnia, a flower that butterflies love. One of the outpatient residents chose a bright red yarrow, which will add so much color and health to the garden bed.
We gathered around the garden beds as each person burned their pieces of paper. Residents cheered, hugged, and celebrated the new beginnings. It was a really beautiful and powerful day.
If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, call Freedom House at 479- 968-7086. Freedom House is a partner of ARVAC. McElroy House is a community partner helping to create and implement this program.
Contact Meredith Martin-Moats at 479-957-0551; firstname.lastname@example.org
Or Audra Butler Hankins at ARVAC (479) 229-4861
Click here to download the press release: Fill the Garden Beds PR 3
We have all the veggies donated!! THANK YOU!
We still need a few herbs and several bags of soil or donated dirt! Can you help us fill the beds?
We’re entering the last stage of our partnership with ARVAC’s Freedom House and getting ready to get all the plants in the ground! On Tuesday May 12th from 9:00-11:00 we’ll work with residents of Freedom House to host a two hour workshop where the residents will put everything in the garden and we’ll pass on the project to the staff and residents. The garden includes an herb and vegetable area as well as a grief and healing garden featuring butterfly attracting flowers. Freedom House is a CARF accredited center offering comprehensive substance abuse and dependency treatment with a focuses on holistic healing. Learn more about this partnership here.
Mike, the talented maintenance man at Freedom House, crafted two cedar beds from locally hewn wood for the garden project. He’s also been working on designing beds from donated pallets from the food bank! And Arlene Tucker George of Dardanelle made a generous donation of soil in honor of her late grandson, Alexander, which will help fill the beds. The residents started flower seeds for the beds and McElroy House has also started seeds for the butterfly garden.
As part of this May 12th event, we’ll be working with Freedom House residents and staff to engage in some interactive ceremonies that will speak to new beginnings and the importance of growth. Residents will have the chance to share their stories and speak of their futures as they put the plants in the ground. The garden will serve as both a literal space of healing and growth as well as a metaphorical space for larger conversations and commitments to new beginnings.
This is a wonderful project that will serve not only the needs of the Freedom House residents, but also their families and the community at large. While at Freedom House, residents will have the opportunity to gain or increase their gardening skills, supply healthy and freshly grown food to the on site cafeteria, and help create spaces of beauty and meditation. The gardens sit in between the dorms and the counseling offices, providing spaces for healing for both the residents and their families who come to visit. Freedom House serves the needs of people in our communities who need support. Supporting Freedom House residents means supporting strong communities.
Here’s How You Can Help:
We’ve already had many plants donated, but we could use more! We’ve started marigolds, zinnias, amaranth, and yarrow. We also have day lilies, full-grown yarrow, and hyssop. Can you add to our list?
If you’re a gardener, we’d love any plant donations you might have, especially some you’d started yourself! Below you can find a list of plants we’re looking for (as chosen for their ease of care and longevity). Of course, we’d happily take other options! As part of your donation, we’d love to share your name and the story behind the plants you’re donating so that we can share this with the residents and fill the beds with plants grown and loved by regional people. Knowing where these plants and soil came from help connect the garden to the region and the community and help build resources for the residents!
We could also use some more soil to finish the beds and some tomato cages. Ever little bit helps and all donations made to Freedom House (plants or money) are tax deductible.
Tomatoes of all varieties
Peppers of all varieties
Flowers for Butterfly Garden :
Milkweed (butterfly weed, red milkweed, etc)
This past Saturday the McElroy House worked in partnership with ARVAC, Inc. to hold a Garden Work and Learning Day at Freedom House in Russellville. (Click here to read our previous post about this event.) Freedom House is a CARF accredited facility offering comprehensive substance abuse and dependency treatment. McElroy House has been working in partnership with ARVAC to help create gardening programing at the center and help revitalize their free seed program. Click here for more information.
Audra Butler of ARVAC, Inc. organized Arkansas Tech Students to work with Freedom House residents to help fill the garden beds and clear out the front garden spaces. After the beds were filled Stephanie Ellis broke ground on the beds (as seen at left). The beds were created by residents of freedom house and are part of ARVAC’s plan to utilize pallets from the food bank. These beds and their design are still a work in progress, so we’ll have updates on that soon! Because Freedom House is an addiction recovery center we are unable to share photos of residents. So that’s why there are only photos of the workshop leaders and community members. Thanks for understanding!
One of the roles McElroy House has been asked to play in this partnership is to help revitalize regionally based gardening information for ARVAC’s free seed program (go here to learn more about this program). Saturday’s workshops were created with Freedom House residents, staff and residents in mind and brought together growers and people working on sustainability from around the region. Freedom House counselor Caitlin Conner also gave a talk to ATU students about addiction, educating community members about the resources Freedom House offers to the region.
Below are some highlights from the workshops. Be sure and follow ARVAC, Inc. to stay up to date on the other programing they will be offering via Freedom House. They welcome community volunteers. You can learn more about this by calling Audra Butler at (479) 229-4861.
Stu Bradford and his son started off the morning with a workshop on using rain barrels for home gardens or farms. The Bradfords build large rain barrels which have allowed them to reclaim 1,000 gallons per year. They plan to expand to 1,500 this spring. They walked everyone through the process of finding and selecting a 55 gallon bucket and creating a design. They also answered questions about how to connect multiple rain barrels around the house and how to utilize gray water in the home. We had a lively discussion about the growing concerns around water access and drought and how we can each work to make changes in our own lives. If you’re hoping to build or buy rain barrels for your home, community, center or farm, Stu can help you get started. You can reach him at (479) 229-4861.
Josh Hardin of Laughing Stock Farms led the second workshop backyard pecan trees (read the Arkansas Times Food and Farm profile story about the farm here) The Hardin Family has been in the pecan tree business for decades and knows a great deal about how to keep pecan trees healthy and producing. Freedom House is home to a large pecan tree grove that sits near the lake, and Freedom House residents regularly gather the pecans. They would like to start incorporating them into the kitchen and possibly selling some to raise money for Freedom House. So to help increase the yields on the pecans, we asked Josh Hardin to come check out the trees and provide an interactive learning opportunity for residents, staff, and community members who may have their own pecan tree groves. Hardin talked to us about the production cycles of pecans, how pecans pollinate, and what is needed to keep them producing well. He also donated some organic fertilizer to Freedom House! Hardin is fifth generation vegetable farmer from Grady, AR, to come in and take a look at the trees and tell everyone more about how to take care of them. Ha certified organic fruit and vegetable farm near Sheridan. He holds a certificate in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is also completing a degree in Agricultural Education from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Throughout the season, Laughing Stock grows over 40 varieties of vegetables utilizing sustainable growing methods and organic amendments to produce high quality organic produce for local restaurants and farmers markets. Follow Laughing Stock farm here.
Debe Hudson o f A B C (Awesome! Botanicals of a Celestial) Nature Greenhouse/Nursery has been a key advisor for this garden project. As part of the work and learning day she offered an interactive sit down discussion about butterfly and bee attracting flowers and answered questions from workshop goers about various plants and their care. She talked about organic growing, dealing with various forms of invasive plants that can kill other plants, and how to deal with garden pests without poison. Debe grows hundreds of varieties of heirloom flowers and herbs at her mom and pop operation in the foothill of the Ozark Mountains outside of London. She specializes in medicinal, culinary and ornamental herbs along with citrus trees, spice plants, and tropical edible plants. They don’t use any toxic sprays and use all organic fertilizer and an Integrated pest management system wherein the good bugs kill the bad bugs. The nursery isn’t open to the public, though you can make appointments to to visit. You can find Debe’s plants at the market in Russellville and via the Local Food Network in Little Rock. She donated 20 berry plants to the project, many of which are shown in the photographs from the groundbreaking. Though Freedom House has decided they are unable to currently house and care for the blueberries Debe donated, we are all very grateful for her generous support and expert guidance on this project.
Logan Felder and Vanessa of ROOST (Revitilizing Ozark and Ouachita Seed Traditions) came to give a presentation on home and community garden seed saving. Sadly, the batteries went down on our camera and we didn’t get any photos of their talk! They brought heirloom tomato from central Arkansas that are currently housed in their regional seed bank and walked workshop goers through the process of saving their own seeds. They discussed the importance of using heirloom seeds as opposed to hybrids, which will not reproduce in the same way. The goal of ROOST is to protect and improve the diversity of heirloom seed varieties, knowledge, & practices throughout the Ozark-Ouachita bioregions. They provide a central food bank, work with local growers, and help organize seed exchanges in local communities to facilitate this process. Dr. Josh Lockeyor, an Anthropology professor at Arkansas Tech University, heads up the program. You can follow their work here.
McElroy House is a community-based organization which has partnered with ARVAC. You can learn more about us by clicking here.
Want to learn a little bit more about the history of this garden project? Click here. Please note this is an evolving project and some plans have/are changing to reflect the needs of all participants.
Here’s a bit more background about Freedom House as listed on their webpage.
Freedom House staff offer a holistic approach to recovery, healing mind, body and spirit. Freedom House utilizes the 12 core functions, with a unique phase system which ensures holistic healing.
ARVAC Freedom House offers:
- Observational Detoxification
- Residential Treatment
- Outpatient Treatment
- Transitional Living
For more information on ARVAC Freedom House or if someone you know struggles with addiction please call 479-968-7086.
Free Workshops on Growing Pecan Trees, Constructing Rain Barrels, Growing Heirloom Flowers, and Seed Saving!Posted: March 13, 2015
Join is THIS Saturday April 4th beginning at 9:00 a.m. Freedom House staff and residents, organizers from the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources, and community volunteers will host a work and learning day at the Freedom House Garden.
Schedule of Events:
9:00-12:00 Volunteer in the Garden.
Join residents, volunteers, and Arkansas Tech Students in helping to clean out the flower beds where the butterfly and bee attracting gardens will be placed.
9:00-10:00 Rainwater Catchment Workshop with Stu Bradford
Are you interested in harvesting rainwater in your home or business? Stu Bradford and his son build their own rain water reclamation system at home to irrigate the garden and lawn using 55 gallon plastic barrels with pump and sprinklers. They reclaim 1,000 gallons per year, and plan to expand to 1,500 this spring. They currently build single and multiple unit reclamation systems for home and farm for folks around Arkansas. During this workshop you’ll learn how you can start reclaiming rainwater in your home.
10:00–11:00 Pecan Tree Workshop with Josh Hardin
Do you have backyard pecan trees or want to start growing pecan trees? Join Josh Hardin to learn more about how to ensure your pecans are healthy and capable of high yields. Josh Hardin is a fifth generation vegetable farmer from Grady, AR who operates Laughing Stock Farms, a certified organic fruit and vegetable farm near Sheridan. He holds a certificate in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems from the University of California at Santa Cruz and is also completing a degree in Agricultural Education from University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Throughout the season, Laughing Stock grows over 40 varieties of vegetables utilizing sustainable growing methods and organic amendments to produce high quality organic produce for local restaurants and farmers markets.
11:00-12:00 Heirloom Flower Gardening/Attracting Butterflies and Bees with Debe Hudson
Learn how to attract butterflies and bees to your garden with heirloom flowers and herbs! Debe Hudson of ABC Greenhouse and Herb Farm will talk about the numerous varieties and give tips for growing these options in your home garden.
12:00-1:00 Seed Saving with ROOST (Revitalizing Ozark-Ouchita Seed Traditions)
ROOST is a project dedicated to protecting and implementing the diversity of heirloom seed varieties, agricultural folkways, knowledge, and practices throughout the Ozark-Ouchita bioregion. Join members from ROOST as they show you how to save tomato seeds each year! They’ll also discuss local seed traditions, the importance of seed saving, and how to get involved saving seed at home.
More on the Freedom House Gardens:
The gardens will include custom-built raised beds for berries and a network of container gardens for heirloom vegetables. The gardens will make use of preexisting flower beds in front of the dorms and counseling offices where colorful heirloom, butterfly and bee-attracting flowers will be planted. These will include both native plant perennials and annuals grown from seed by Freedom House residents. The gardens will be tended to by Freedom House residents and volunteers and will be incorporated in the daily activities of the center.
The gardens will serve as ongoing teaching tools for Freedom House residents, incorporating the preexisting gardening skills of many residents while also offering hands on experience with gardening for Freedom House residents, staff, and in the larger community. The flower beds will be filled with plants known to support our depleting butterfly and bee populations, encouraging not only beauty but also supporting the pollinators we need for global plant health. The flower gardens will also offer place of beauty to explore ideas surrounding grief and healing in all its forms.
Residents and community members alike have specifically asked for container gardens, which work well for people who may not have access to tillers, own their land, or live in apartments. Residents will experiment with a variety of donated containers, all of which will serves as working examples of how food can be grown in even the smallest of spaces.
Blueberries are known for their health benefits, are easy to maintain and benefit from pine needles, which are abundant at Freedom House’s space. ABC Greenhouse and Herb Farm has donated regionally grown blueberry plants as well as heirloom flowers. McElroy House will work with experienced gardeners to install easy to use drip irrigation systems for the berries to decrease water usage and experiment with other water harvesting options, ensuring the garden space is a place to think holistically about resource usage. The pre-existing pecan trees on site will also be incorporated into the larger garden plans.
Counselors will integrate the gardens into their sessions and residents will be encouraged to use the space in creative ways, focusing on how such resources can be of use after they leave Freedom House.
The McElroy House will offer community wide workshops and interactive media resources focusing on the gardens for residents of Freedom House and the larger community alike. The gardens will serve as both literal and metaphorical spaces to come together to build locally-based and community-led solutions around larger issues of poverty, access to resources, wellness, and cross-cultural understanding and unity.
Community members are encouraged to attend the groundbreaking and/or donate heirloom seeds and plants passed down in their families, helping populate the garden with plants that are deeply connected to the land and people of this region. The Seeds of Change Garden Project is a partnership of The McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and ARVAC and Freedom House and will work to invigorate and re-envision ARVAC’s Garden Project, a program distributing free garden seeds within their nine county service region.
Want to know more about the Freedom House Garden? Click here.