Irma Ferba’s garden on North Menard Street is a wonder to behold. Maybe that’s why on Aug. 18, WGN TV (Channel 9) decided to feature the Austin Green Team members’ natural splendor. Their garden is called the “Vision on Menard” (all of the Green Team’s gardens have been given special names).
Irma Ferba told the TV crew how she began beautifying their vacant lot. “I would look out my window while washing dishes, so I told my husband [Willie], ‘Enough is enough-we’ve got to do something about this lot.’ Young men would steal cars and try to hide between the parked cars. Yes, we have crime in the neighborhood, but the people in the neighborhood care about their community, and they’re trying to do better. It’s because of my garden that they see what I do, and my garden is my vision.”
Green Team member Ellen Newcomer said, “It’s something that is essential for the soul of any community. This community in particular is very underserved.” The Green Team also includes young people. As Green Team president Mary Peery put it, “Give a child something to do when they are growing up, and they will not be standing on street corners. They are little sprouts-they sprout from us.”
Prior to the WGN interview, Austin Weekly spoke with the Ferbas:
AWN: When did you start this garden?
Irma: I started this garden in 1995 because it had begun to be a place where old cars were left. One night I was sitting on my porch and a guy came up and left a refrigerator and stove on the vacant lot. We ran him away. Before I moved over here in 1979, I was told that this lot use to be a White Dog Restaurant, and it burned down before I moved over here. So when I came, there was only the concrete slab. The man who owned the building used to come around. He was the person who said it burned down one New Year’s Eve night. Everything was OK from 1979 to 1985-then one car came and parked, and then two cars, etc. When the street parking ban came, they started parking cars [there]. If the cars were not running, they would just leave them. I got tired of looking at it and told my husband we must do something. He was getting ready to retire, so I signed him up to join NAC [North Austin Council] under the leadership of Mrs. Leola Spann. My husband went down to find out why they kept sending him letters because he didn’t know I had signed him up. Mrs. Spann talked him into it, and she started us off and let us know how we could get the lot cleaned up and all the cars removed. We got free railroad tires from the city to block it in, and we started from there.”
AWN: Who owns the lot where the garden is?
Irma: The property is still privately owned. There is a non-profit organization, “A Neighbor’s Space,” that is working with me. They are in the process of buying up vacant land for preservation. And I went to my alderman [Isaac Carothers, 29th Ward] to see how I could go about buying it, and he said I couldn’t. He wanted to know why I wanted to buy it, and I told him I started a garden, and I didn’t want a building there. I liked the site, I liked the view, and I liked the way it looked. Ald. Carothers told me, “As long as I’m alderman, it will stay that way.”
AWN: Who helps with the supplies and expenses?
Irma: An organization, called Green Core, where I went and took classes, came out and brought all the free products and started around four beds of flowers. I had already spent a lot of my own money, and then Green Core came, and I was introduced to the seed and flower giveaway. Four times a year, they give away seeds and flowers. We have a date on Sept. 20 to go pick up some flowers.
AWN: What is this garden’s name and how was the name chosen?
Irma: “Vision on Menard”-I named it that because that is my vision, standing in my kitchen looking out my window. That was my vision to do something for this lot and design the beds the way they are designed. The lot was solid concrete, so the garden is built on top of concrete. Wood chips are used, so that is what you walk on-wood chips. The flowers are in raised beds, and it was my dream to give it a design, so it would look like something. So either way you walk or look, it looks full.
AWN: Do you work on the garden every day?
Irma: Just about, especially when the season comes in to keep up with it. And we work with Austin Green Team President Mary Peery, and we are all about beautifying Austin, lot by lot and block by block. My husband and I have been members since 1997.
AWN: Where is your hometown?
Irma: I’m from a place called Sherrill, Ark. It’s about 14 miles northeast of Pine Bluff.
AWN: How long have you been married?
Irma: My husband Willie and I have been married since 1985. We’re newlyweds. I have four children, and my husband has four and between the eight, we have a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In summing up the Austin Green Team’s wonderful work, WGN anchor Allison Payne said, “The virtue of a community garden is bonding-the experience of creating and making something good happen.”