By Joe Earle
In September 2001, after terrorists turned jetliners into weapons and killed thousands of Americans, Pattie Baker’s thoughts turned to gardening.
“After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, I felt the need to take some kind of positive action,” she said. “No one knew what was going to happen. We still don’t know what’s going to happen. I like to feel I can take a positive step. No matter how small, take a positive step.”
Baker didn’t grow up a gardener. In fact, she didn’t really think much about agriculture, large or small, until she was living in Manhattan and started shopping at farmer’s markets to find fresh food. “I saw my first Brussels sprouts on the stalk,” she recalled.
That was decades ago. Baker settled in Dunwoody 15 years ago. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she started growing her own vegetables and became more and more interested in the idea of “sustainable” living. She’s a writer and maintains a blog under the name Sustainable Pattie. She still gardens at home – she has 15 beds producing vegetables in her yard, she says — but she’s made her mark in Dunwoody in another way – by creating gardens for use by others.
She’s one of the organizers of the 14-month-old, highly successful Dunwoody Community Garden at Brook Run and has moved from that project to planting other community gardens around the young city.
“She is truly the heart and soul of the community garden, of the sustainability of community gardens – not just in Dunwoody, but everywhere,” said Bob Lundsten, chief of staff for DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer, who worked with Baker to create the Dunwoody community garden.
He calls her “that calming force and the driving force” of the group that created the Dunwoody garden, carving it from an overgrown hillside at the park. “She was the lynchpin to the garden itself …,” he said. “Pattie started the ball rolling.”
Garden chair Rebecca Barria said Baker’s work was “critical” to establishing the garden. Barris said she saw Baker’s website and contacted her and the first steps toward creating the garden took place when she, Baker and Lundsten met in a kudzu-covered field and the trio decided to get to work creating a community garden.
“She’s big-hearted and she’s a hard worker and she’s a dreamer – in a good way,” Barria said. “She has a lot of ideas and she has a lot of passion.”
The garden project quickly caught on in the community. Available plots were claimed within 48 hours, Baker said, “and we’ve had a waiting list ever since.” Roughly 60,000 volunteer hours were invested in the first year of the garden, Baker said. After its first year, the garden has 60 producing beds and 16 “growing spaces” – dedicated plots and additional spaces tucked into odd nooks and crannies — that are dedicated to producing for a community food bank.
Recently, Baker returned to the garden to talk about its first year. She wore a black T-shirt that said “I dig Dunwoody.” She settled onto a bench set against a side fence so she could survey the garden that had grown on what she remembers was not so long ago just “a grassy, open, unloved trail.” She watched for a while as a couple of other gardeners tended their last growth of summer and prepared their plots for fall.
“It’s just so pretty here,” Baker said.
The garden started, she said, after a group of like-minded people gathered as the new city of Dunwoody was created. She served as chair of the city’s sustainability committee. “We just all got to talking about what a good idea it would be to do something like this,” Baker said. “It just started from talks, meeting each other, because of their involvement in a new city, imagining something and making it happen.
“We’re proud of it. We’re really proud of it. This is the first time I’ve sat on this bench [instead of working in the garden]. We are just now starting to sit … and it’s kind of nice.”
But she won’t sit long. She’s already moved on to helping people start or rev up other community gardens in other spots around Dunwoody. And as she sat and admired her original community garden, volunteers and professionals were installing and planting another set of raised beds at a nearby church to raise food for Malachi’s Storehouse, a food bank at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church.
Baker raised $3,000 in contributions to the new garden in just four days, Lundsten said. She posted the idea on her blog and on Facebook and other websites and within hours, contributions started rolling in. Soon, she had enough in contributions to build the garden and operate it for a year. “That’s pretty incredible,” Lundsten said.
But for Baker, a community garden is a way of bringing people together.
“That’s what it’s about: community,” she said, “a way to build community.”
Do you know someone making a difference in our community? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org