I recently had the privilege to tour Cliff Manor’s library, recreation room and vegetable gardens.

Two years ago, the Dallas Housing Authority opened 100 apartments at Cliff Manor to house the longtime homeless. A few months later, the community pitched in to plant the first gardens there.

“Countless seeds and plants were donated from all sorts of people” says Mildred Lane, a Cliff Manor resident and the former garden manager.

In the building’s main hall is a photo archive documenting the garden’s creation. Even though they were working on a rainy day, the pictures show smiles on everyone’s faces as they work.

L.P.,  a Cliff Manor resident and the current garden manager, coordinates work days, harvest days and food-distribution days. And he actively recruits Cliff Manor residents to work in the garden. L.P. and two other residents work in the gardens daily. Of 180 residents, about 40 receive produce from the garden.

“It gives me something to do besides sitting around all day,” L.P. says of his gardening duties. “It also cuts down on meal costs.”

He places the week’s harvest on the picnic bench and gives me an okra lesson: “Okra has to be cut before it gets big.” I quizzed him on what he does about bugs, and he detailed an organic program for pests.

Cliff Manor garden manager L.P. sorts the weekly harvest.

“Residents are more self-sufficient,” because of the garden, says property manager Cathy Goree. “It gives them a sense of pride and helps make the place a home.”

Cliff Manor residents also distribute produce from the garden to their neighbors.

“At first homeowners had issues with Cliff Manor, but the garden has brought them together,” Lane says. “They discovered it wasn’t that bad after all.” Lane wanted to say a public “thank you” to Mary Russ of the Dallas Housing Authority, The Bridge, Cliff Temple Baptist Church, Mayor Mike Rawlings, community activist and gardener Marianna Griggs and LifeNet for the garden.

What’s next for the Cliff Manor gardens? If Lane has her way, a vegetable stand selling fresh organic produce. She is passionate about the garden and helping residents achieve more in their lives. “We Love Our Residents” displays in the main hall, and that is truly what I witnessed on my visit to Cliff Manor.

Inspired by the beauty and bounty of the garden, Cliff Manor resident Lowell Smith wrote the following poem.

I’m Gonna Be Somebody Someday
Why not now?
I don’t know, I’ll try.
Oh don’t do this and don’t do that.
Alright! I’ll do this alright!
I’ll grow onions that will make you cry!
I’ll grow peppers so hot that they’ll make the Mexican run and cry.
I’ll grow okra so tender it will melt in your mouth.
I’ll grow so many different kinds of tomatoes your head will spin.
I’m talking beefsteak tomatoes as big as your head.
Oh I’m kidding, but I’ll try!

I’ll grow peas that will run around you and your best friend.
I’ll grow squash as big as your belly
And bell peppers as big as your butt
And strawberries that will run a mile down the road.
Hey, I’m just a plain man, but it could happen.

And maybe one day I’ll sell my writings and get published.
I’ll sit and watch you read them ’cause that’s my reward.
The look on your face as you read them
That’ll mean more than a thousand dollars
Cause it’s my passion.