Caroline DeBuyser is one of the east Wheeling
residents who lives close to this garden. She walks five of her cats in and
around the garden most days.
A couple of years ago DeBuyser planted some hollyhock
flowers in front of a bench in the corner of what was one a vacant lot. Now the
multi-colored flowers have grown a towering seven feet tall. From where we sit
all you can see is hollyhock.
“I wasn’t really thinking—even though I knew they grew
tall—I didn’t think I would be hiding behind them,” DeBuyser says.
She says she used to pick trash out of the lot, and before
that she would watch people climb in and about of the boarded-up building that
was here. She says she’s relieved that the garden exists there now.
“A lot of times I can sit out here for maybe two
hours and there’s nobody fighting, nobody throwing bottles and you can kind of
pretend you’re out in the country. It’s really nice. I didn’t know you could eat peas out of the garden without
cooking them a little bit. You can. Danny said so. There very good. And they’re
sweet. I love it out here.”
“So we’re standing in 15th and Wood
Street, in east Wheeling,
just east of downtown Wheeling,” says Danny Swan, the mastermind behind this
community garden in a rough Wheeling
“What we’re standing on is a vacant lot that has been
converted into a community garden. It’s a house that actually burned down about
ten years ago and it was just sitting here as a vacant lot until three years
ago—just growing weeds and collecting trash.”
This is just one of about 15 gardens that now exist
throughout the city of Wheeling.
There are several of them nestled between old Victorian row-homes. The idea is
for residents to have their own fertile soil to grow plants of their choice.
Residents are growing tomatoes and Swiss chard, flowers and herbs,
Swan isn’t from Wheeling,
but he takes pride in his new hometown.
He says he and his friends chose this place because it’s in
the heart of the community, in the middle of people’s lives. With permission
from the landowners, he and some of his friends started to build raised beds
with two-by-twelves and donated soils. Once built, they started going
door-to-door with fliers through the neighborhood.
“People started doing it,” Swan says.
“They were having a
really good time. Their friends started coming. Peoples started having
barbeques at the garden, More people showed up and now it’s kind of one of the
places to be. They might be working on the garden or pretending to while they
are drinking margaritas.”
“And every time someone comes and they want to garden and
there’s not enough space,” Swan adds, “we just build another one in the back of
While the streets often host drunken, foul-mouthed people
that sometimes makes for a less-than-ideal scene——Swan says it’s still having
positive impacts on the community.
“There’s all kind of people here, young men and women,
grandmas, grandpas, people who have lived in east Wheeling their whole lives
and transplants that are new to the area.”
“The grandmas are really cool because they are brave enough
to go up to the guys selling dope on the corner and kind of grab them by their
ears and drag them over and make them help wheel-barrow some compost into their
garden—which is always a lot of fun to see.
"And then you get these guys over
here and they are eating a sugar pea and say, ‘Oh my God! This is so much better
than the bad of Doritos I just bought from the Convenient!’”
“People are getting a lot of good food which has a very real
practical benefit even if you aren’t into the cultural change side of it. Just
the fact that people can come here and grow a little bit of fresh food for
their kitchens, budgets, and health. You can’t argue with that.”
Swan says in addition, he and a group of Wheeling
residents are currently working on a project to create a year-round community
market in historic Center Wheeling. They hope to have that going sometime in