In Press: NRM’s Roesler spurs growth of Heart of Lubbock Community Garden
By: Jennie Treadway-Miller
Recently Beth Roesler, a doctoral student with Texas Tech University's Department of Natural Resources Management, sat down with Jennie Treadway-Miller, a contributing writer with Lubbock Magazine, to discuss creation of The Heart of Lubbock Community Garden. The project provides fresh produce and fosters a sense of community for east Lubbock residents.
When Beth Roesler was a little girl growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, she'd watch her dad piddle around in the garden. He nurtured a bed on every side of the house and took to weeding and watering at night when the days were too hot and sticky. Gardening wasn't a hobby of hers then, but it grew on her, particularly when she wound up in Lubbock in an apartment that faced an empty lot.
The local community garden in the heart of Lubbock neighborhood provides free food to the neighborhood to encourage healthier eating in the community, green space, and environmental education.
"I didn't know much about Lubbock, didn't know where to live or how the city worked," says Roesler. "I found an apartment reminiscent of what I was used to growing up, and apparently it was cheaper to look toward the parking lot versus downtown. I loved the sunshine and the outdoors, but looking at the parking lot really bothered me. It was run down with gravel and grass. I tried tossing out wildflower seeds, but that didn't work. I realized I wanted green spaces. Back in Chicago there were community gardens everywhere, little patches and strips. I missed that connection."
For Roesler, she'd always felt a kinship with nature. She earned a biology degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago and joined AmeriCorps. She landed an assignment studying an endangered semi-aquatic snail at a wildlife refuge in Roswell, New Mexico, which she parlayed into a graduate research project at Texas Tech University.
Roesler landed in Lubbock in 2013, specifically in the Department of Natural Resources Management at Texas Tech. In 2016 she graduated with a master's degree and forged ahead on a path toward a doctorate, this time looking at fishery conservation along the gulf coast. Roesler focuses on computer modeling with existing data to better understand what continued development does to marine life along the coast and predict how habitats might be affected.
However, in the past five years Roesler's focus hasn't been exclusively on the spring snail or marine life along the gulf coast. That empty parking lot sparked another passion that had been planted long ago.
"I was on a mission to find a lot where I could start a community garden. I kept a diary from that time and on April 29, 2013, I started making calls about community gardens and asking for advice. The Garden & Arts Center didn't know what to tell me, so I went to the Second Saturday Program at the Arboretum and made an announcement about needing a lot for a community garden," says Roesler. "A sweet, older lady stood up and said I could use her land. I thought, 'Wow! This is so easy.' That was Rita Pettigrew, and her land used to be a community garden."
There was one caveat. When Roesler accepted her offer to use the land at the intersection of 21st Street and Avenue X for a community garden, it came with a warning from the 90-year-old. "If you ever meet her, you'll see she's a very straightforward person. She said, 'I don't care what you do, but if you cut down my Texas sage bush, I'll kick you out,'" Roesler laughs. "I said, 'Yes, ma'am!'"
The donated plot of land is approximately a fifth of an acre, adjacent to Pettigrew's home. With designated land in hand, Roesler wasted no time taking the next steps.
Roesler got busy contacting people who might want to be involved, like graduate students in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech. One student in particular was a permaculturist, one who studies renewable resources and self-sustaining ecosystems, who helped create a design for the space that was suitable, flexible, and manageable. The group broke ground on the Heart of Lubbock Community Garden in October 2013 and started putting their plan into practice.
Amending the soil, working with the climate, and going to battle with the incessant weeds of the South Plains – it's a learning experience that does not cease. Nearly five years into the Heart of Lubbock Garden and Roesler is still trying to figure out why one year yields potatoes yet the next one doesn't. The challenge is part of the journey, as any gardener knows.
Roesler continued to recruit graduate students and anyone else who might be interested, particularly since a primary goal of the space was to keep it community owned and run. This idea – to come and take what you need – was part of the original plan. After all, what's the bounty for if not to pick and enjoy? It's positioned in an ideal location, where the nearest grocery store is three miles away, so while there's fast food within walking distance, fresh produce is not. There was no better place to grow produce and offer it to the neighborhood and all of Lubbock free of charge.
To achieve the garden's original goals requires a constant level of care and maintenance, which requires a regular rotation of volunteers. The Heart of Lubbock Community Garden is open to everyone – especially nearby residents – who wants to pull weeds, prune or pick, or just learn about nutrition, gardening and sustainability. Groups and businesses are welcome, too.
"We are always looking for more volunteers," says Roesler. "Just come out when it's convenient for you and you can take food home with you. We love having families come out. We want more of Lubbock to know about us and get involved."
CONTACT: Mark Wallace, Chairman, Department of Natural Resources Management, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2841 or firstname.lastname@example.org
0925NM18 / PHOTOS: N Martin / Editor's Note: For the full-text version of Jennie Treadway-Miller's Lubbock Magazine article, please click here
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