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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Plowshares in the City An Invitation to Streetcorner Abundance BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE a place to grow: voices and images of urban gardeners. Edited by David Hassler & Lynn Gregor. Photography by Don Snyder. The Pilgrim Press/United Church Press. This is the book I would choose to drop from planes. Not over the rural countryside, which doesn’t need it as much, but over every congested cityscape in the U.S.A., attaching small parachutes made of sturdy cabbage leaves so it might drift peaceably into unsuspecting hands. The very elegant a place to grow packs a wallop of power and wisdom in its inviting pages, offering a remedy every city we know and love might benefit from. The book opens with an inspiring introduction by Cathrine Sneed, a leader in the urban gardening field. Sneed has gardened with prisoners since 1984 in San Francisco, founding The Garden Project \(ex-prisoners growing and selling organic proa treeplanting cooperative between exThe School Corps \(students planting gardens and beautifying school grounds in low-income neighbortle,” a refreshing suggestion, in order to increase the number of national gardening projects, currently numbering somewhere between 250 and 500. She reminds us that by the year 2000, more than half the world’s population will live in cities. And she pierces the highbudget glossy attitudes of many current gardening catalogues replete with shiny accessories: “We didn’t start our garden with much no fancy tools or sheds, boots or compost bins.” Immediately there’s a sense that gardening isn’t just about plants and produce. It’s about neighborhoods, pleasure, and attitude. It’s about turning blighted vacant fields and lots into productive havens. Keyword: cooperation. Some of the gardens evolve into “oases of peace” and “prayer gardens.” Some are tilled by powerpacked combinations of elders and teens. A scan through the pages rich with beautiful, mostly black and white photographs by Cleveland photographer Don Snyder convinces us, even before reading this book, that we would like to be part of the garden. We would like to listen to what these faces know. Editors David Hassler and Lynn Gregor, A Photos by Don Snyder residents of Kent, Ohio, have presented stories through the moving voices of the gardeners themselves. Gregor is program assistant for the urban gardening program Cultivating Our Community. The welledited interviews read cleanly and musically, perhaps thanks to Hassler’s background as a poet. Nothing sounds cluttered or redundant. The passion in these voices rings true. A taste: “If I can’t get my hands in dirt, then I’ll get sick. And it’s true! Cause I’m out there digging in the dirt all the time.” Or “Every morning I get up and open the door, get the air in the back door and front. Let nature in. I wake up with joy.” Or “I used to let people know that bein’ a farmer was nothin’ dumb. You had to have some education on how to plan, how much fertilizer to use, how 38 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JULY 23, 1999