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Gail Graham

Gail Graham’s first urban garden—apart from the one in his own backyard on Jersey Street—was a project of the Fargo State Association, the community organization of which he is a member. The garden is at the corner of Jersey and West, across the street from Graham’s house. It took the Fargo State Association six years to get the city to tear down the abandoned crackhouse that languished there, but when the city finally did, in 2000, the association’s members planted a garden in the vacant lot, using cuttings from backyard gardens throughout the neighborhood. Today the community garden supplies cuttings to the houses in the neighborhood.

Graham is part of a network of mutually supportive urban gardeners throughout the city—another famous gardener is East Side activist Rosa Gibbs—who see flowers and fresh vegetables where others see neglect and blight. A Vietnam veteran who came back and joined the antiwar movement, Graham currently works for the the US Postal Service; he gave AV a tour of the city’’s gardens recently, and told us about what urban gardeners do.

What have you planted this summer? I had three major projects this summer: one at Oracle School on Delaware Avenue, one at Northland and Jefferson and one at Humber and East Delavan, which we’ve done in conjunction with community organizations and block clubs. With Oracle School it was seventh and eighth graders. And then I have four gardens that I work with closely here on the West Side. My major one is at West and Jersey.

What drew you to gardening? For me it’s very therapeutic. I have a lot of rage in my system about my participation in the war in Vietnam. I like to work outside; I like to work, period. I’m a worker.

Tell us about your neighborhood. We have a very good block club in this neighborhood, the Fargo State Association, we’ve done a lot of housing work. The garden has been a real jump-off point for organizing the community, to develop property. You can’t sit there and file suits against your neighbor for not getting his roof repaired when he doesn’t have any money. We love this neighborhood; it’s multiracial, multi-ethnic, multicultural, it’s a mixture of well-to-do and poor people.

That dynamic is important to you? It’s the kind of neighborhood that we want to live in and it’s the kind of neighborhood the City of Buffalo is going to have to sustain to exist, because you can’t have this racial separation in this city, with numerous groups contending with one another. This is the West Side we love.

How is it working with the kids in the neighborhood? When we first started out we had little rough periods. A lot of kids didn’t know how to act; they just picked the flowers or they threw their trash around...Now the only problems we have are with kids from other neighborhoods coming through, and our kids straighten them out…People hang there, people get married there, people take pictures of their children there. It’s nice because you see the kids grow up.