Four-year-old Ellah Clemons dashes through the Deep Ellum Urban Gardens to her planter, green goulashes crunching over pecan mulch, and then returns to her mother, Kelly, with a frown.
“No sugar snap peas,” she says, shrugging (she likes to eat them from the vine). An unexpected frost has withered the crop.
No matter. Ellah is easily entertained with her plastic horse collection, her football, and the purple watering can she keeps stashed in two metal lockers in the garden’s shed. She’s as at home here as in her own backyard.
And she should be. Kelly (hailed by Deep Ellum community leaders as a hero) is largely responsible for the nearly half-acre triangular median at Canton Street and Good Latimer Expressway, now a 124-plot community garden.
Kelly and her photographer husband, Justin (who took the photos for this story), married in 2003 and moved to Deep Ellum three years later. Kelly, a former high school teacher, soon became active in the Deep Ellum Community Association. What started as an effort to install mural-painted planters throughout the neighborhood morphed into a full-scale community garden project that began in 2011.
For the past two years, Ellah was at Kelly’s side during countless meetings and City Hall visits. Once Kelly secured the lot, Ellah watched with her mother as nearly 50 volunteers suffered the Texas summer heat to build cedar-wood beds and the fence surrounding the garden. She was there when three 18-wheelers unloaded $4,500 worth of organic soil. She watched as the garden shed, which houses her lockers, was built from donated scraps of a former Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe. “She’s been my companion through it all,” Kelly says.
For that reason, Ellah is known as the garden mascot. She’s practically grown up in this swath of green. And that is exactly what Kelly, now a private tutor, wanted. “My drive was to have a space to teach her the beauty of growing your own food and that you can have a say-so in what you eat,” Kelly says.
Ellah has been elbow-deep in soil helping Kelly lay mulch and plant spinach, broccoli, arugula, cabbage, mustard greens, and sage in the family’s 4-by-8-foot plot. She has watched Kelly prune and cover plants for protection from the cold. She has helped pull carrots and pluck tomatoes. She has learned the benefits of worm composting and how bees pollenate. She’s done her fair share of watering and waiting and watching.
But even more important, Kelly says, is a bigger lesson—the meaning of community. Deep Ellum and downtown residents and businesses (like Murray Street Coffee) share the garden, and Ellah has met many local leaders (who often toss the football with her in exchange for help with watering their planters). “I love that Ellah is able to be around, and appreciate, so many different kinds of people,” Justin says. “It’s such a good base to grow on.”
The gardeners have gathered for a potluck party, volunteer workdays, and social events. A dinner in the garden (with dishes made from the harvest) is planned for late spring. But preplanned get-togethers aren’t necessary for interaction; gardeners can be found tending to their plots during most daylight hours. As can Ellah. “I’ve busted her eating a few things,” Kelly says, laughing. “But the most important thing for me is for Ellah to continue getting a true understanding of community.”
Grow Your Own
Nuture your child’s green thumb by building an agrarian society in your own backyard
1. copper spade, $200, williams-sonoma.com
2. garden shears, $29, West Elm
3. cedar raised bed-on-legs kit, $300, williams-sonoma.com
North Haven Gardens