Kimberly McLean calls the Poly neighborhood a “food desert,” a place where people have to travel more than half a mile to find fresh fruits and vegetables.
On Saturday, members of the non-profit PolyWes Gardens organization, started by McLean, a Texas Wesleyan grad, sought to bring more of both to the area by starting to build a new community garden just off of Avenue C and Thrail.
“Coming in and out of the area, you get to compare this area to some of the nicer areas and you think wow what’s wrong with this area,” said McLean, who graduated Wesleyan with a bachelor’s in finance. “So I started doing research.”
That research, which she did while at Wesleyan, showed her that there are more than 300 vacant lots between Wesleyan and Highway 287. The distance is equal to a mile and a half, which is the equivalent of three food deserts.
“So I said, if there’s all these lots, if I could put a garden on every corner that will help with economic development,” McLean said. “Because houses around gardens tend to take care of their property better and we hope that is contagious.”
The first garden was at Polytechnic High School and opened over the summer, McLean said.
The organization’s logo explains its purpose, McLean said.
“The hands make a W-shape for Wesleyan, where it started, and show our helping hands,” McLean said. “The four blades of grass are our four goals: clean up, plant up, paint up, and fix up.”
Volunteer and Wesleyan marketing graduate Kathy Johnson said the organization spiraled from the original idea of opening community gardens. The gardens are a good way for students to interact more with the community.
PolyWes Gardens will be trying to get grants to take them further, Johnson said.
Though there has been no shortage of volunteers with the cooperation of Polytechnic High and other nearby schools, McLean would like to give more back.
“For people like Kathy, who are gave hundreds of hours over the summer, I need to pay them,” she said. “I need to pay my volunteers.”
Austin Harroway, an English graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington, is another devoted PolyWes volunteer.
Harroway helps with the planning and building of the gardens and said that McLean is already acquiring more land to work on.
PolyWes wants to work with food banks and other delivery systems to get vegetables to people that need them once the gardens are prospering, Harroway said.
“I used to be a high school teacher too,” Harroway said “Hopefully she (McLean) will have education courses for getting the community in to help garden. I’d love to help out with that, too.”
McLean also hopes to increase the relationship between Wesleyan and the surrounding community. She said there is still an “invisible wall” between the neighborhood and the school.
“This is about Wesleyan getting out in the community and healing the relationship,” McLean said “We challenge Texas Wesleyan to show up and show out!”