Community gardens have been a source of food stability and financial savings for Americans since the 1800’s. During the Great Depression, they provided food to the unemployed, and The Victory Garden campaign during WWII encouraged people to help a rationed economy by growing their own fruits and vegetables.
Although many of those national campaigns were abandoned after the war, America has seen a resurgence of community gardens since the 1970’s. One of the first Kansas City gardens to join that trend was The Troostwood Youth Garden at 52nd and Paseo started by Erika Wright.
Wright conceived the idea to create a community garden focused on educating youth when she was working at her mother’s daycare center.
With the help of a land-grant from Rockhurst University, Wright grew what was an empty plot of land on a street corner into a thriving garden, an accomplishment all the more impressive because she had been wheel chair bound since birth due to muscular dystrophy.
The disease eventually took her life in 2011. She was 45 years old.
Mary L. Wright, Erika’s mother, and Jill Anne Johnson, Erika’s godmother, have continued Erika’s legacy by tending to the garden.
“We really kind of bombed out the first year, and then we said no. She worked so hard to get it going get it started and all that that the least we can do is it get on out there and get with it,” says Mary Wright.
They say that Erika never used her disease as an excuse not to accomplish her goals.
“Erika always felt like it was in her hips and not in her head,” says Mary L. Wright, “she would get on her scooter and go. She was well known in the community.”
Mary and Johnson say that patrons appreciate having access to a garden in their community where they can get homemade produce at a reasonable price.
“Erika always wanted her price below the store,” says Mary Wright, “you don’t want it so high they can’t get it.”
KCUR 89.3, Kansas City’s NPR membership station, interviewed Erika in 2009. During that recoding, Erika said she wanted to teach kids that it’s possible to change your life.
“You have to put one foot in front of the other and not let no man or no woman keep you bound,” said Erika.