Interview with Don Lambert, May 30, 2022

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Interview with Don Lambert, May 30, 2022


Asian Americans
Community gardens







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Betsy Brody


Don Lambert

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5.4 Interview with Don Lambert, May 30, 2022 2021oh002_di_014 01:29:43 ohdi Digging In di001 How Food, Culture, and Class Shaped Asian Dallas Becoming Texans, Becoming Americans This project is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship. Asian Americans Texas--History Community gardens Don Lambert Betsy Brody m4a oh_dig_audio_lambert_Don20220530.m4a 1:|12(15)|25(6)|41(3)|54(5)|64(10)|81(2)|91(5)|103(13)|125(8)|136(13)|145(12)|161(8)|174(7)|190(9)|200(2)|208(9)|224(5)|235(10)|245(7)|258(9)|268(13)|279(3)|289(8)|308(6)|316(6)|324(4)|332(12)|341(3)|350(6)|360(2)|371(1)|380(13)|391(9)|401(5)|411(3)|418(12)|427(9)|436(8)|448(6)|459(12)|468(5)|478(11)|493(12)|504(6)|515(5)|524(8)|533(4)|544(1)|556(7)|565(2)|579(3)|591(6)|602(1)|612(1)|622(2)|634(3)|654(2)|664(16)|674(6)|686(15)|697(8)|708(10)|720(11)|736(4)|745(8)|755(10)|769(13)|780(11)|791(11)|807(1)|816(12)|830(12)|845(6)|858(3)|869(1)|884(3)|893(10)|902(8)|914(2)|929(3)|939(4)|951(10)|964(2)|973(10)|984(4)|998(4)|1007(13)|1022(1)|1036(10) 0 Aviary audio At various points in the interview, Dr. Lambert said 1962, though he meant 1982. This was clarified in subsequent review of the transcript. 4 Introduction Asian Americans ; Community gardens ; Texas--History 29 Lambert's background in California and experience in the Peace Corps agriculture ; California ; farm ; farming ; fruits ; gardeners ; gardens ; Malaysia ; Peace Corps ; vegetables 328 Life after the Peace Corps/ Studying Anthropology anthropology ; Berkeley ; college ; farm ; farming ; marriage ; Peace Corps ; rice ; University of Hawaii 542 Joining the faculty at University of Texas at Dallas anthropology ; University of Texas at Dallas 822 Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia/ Connecting with Southeast Asian refugees in Dallas Cambodia ; community garden ; East Dallas ; farming ; Fulbright Fellowship ; Laos ; Peace Corps ; refugees ; Thailand ; University of Texas at Dallas ; Vietnam ; Vietnamese 1049 Community gardens and Dallas commuity gardens ; community garden ; Dalla ; Dallas City Hall ; Dallas Civic Garden Center ; East Dallas Community Garden ; East Dallas Police Storefront ; English ; food ; food insecurity ; food pantries ; Gardeners in Development ; Joe Sewell ; language ; Paul Thai ; poverty ; refugees ; Save the Children ; South Dallas ; Texas Discovery Garden ; West Dallas 32.809939127161485, -96.77409666941585 17 2386 Primary crops grown by Dallas community gardeners bitter melon ; bunching onion ; business ; community garden ; crops ; food ; food insecurity ; gardeners ; gourds ; herb ; Malabar spinach ; refugee ; water spinach 2900 Public-private partnerships supporting community gardening in Dallas community ; community garden ; community gardens ; Dallas ; East Dallas Community Garden ; East Dallas Police Storefront ; politics ; refugees 3101 Maintaining relationships with community gardeners over time business ; Christmas ; community garden ; community gareners ; communiy gardens ; East Dallas ; Filipinos ; food ; Garland ; refugees 3372 East Dallas Community Garden market business ; city ; Dallas ; East Dallas Community Garden ; market ; refugees 3821 Advantages and benefits of community gardens community garden ; community gardens ; community hub ; community organizing ; East Dallas Community Garden ; neigborhoods ; neighborhood 3966 Food insecurity and community gardens community garden ; food insecurity ; food pantries ; fruits ; poverty ; produce ; tomatoes ; vegetables 4154 Food deserts and community gardens community garden ; community gardens ; Dallas ; farmers markets ; food desert ; food deserts ; poverty 4533 Food and culture celebrations ; Chinese New Year ; culture ; food 4705 Changes in the Malaysian community in Dallas celebrations ; Dallas ; immigrants ; Malaysian 4867 Impact of COVID on community gardens in Dallas community garden ; community gardens ; COVID ; Dallas ; pandemic 4961 Impact of weather on community gardens in Dallas commuity garden ; commuity gardens ; East Dallas Community Garden ; ice storm ; tomatoes ; tornado ; water ; weather |00:00:04| Brody This is Betsy Brody. Today is May 30th, 2022. I am interviewing for the first time Dr. Don Lambert. This interview is taking place in my home office in Richardson, Texas. This interview is possible thanks to the support of a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship and is part of the project entitled &quot ; Digging In: How Food, Culture and Class Shaped the Story of Asian Dallas.&quot ; Thank you so much for joining me for this interview. And let&#039 ; s start out with just where and when were you born? |00:00:36| Lambert Well, thank you for having me and I really appreciate this opportunity. I was born in Modesto, California in 1944 and...On a family farm, the same farm that my grandfather had started in 1904. And I went to the same high school my dad did and all his brothers did. I went to the same junior college he did, but then I joined the Peace Corps and went to Malaysia. I worked in agriculture for two and a half years there. |00:01:10| Brody Tell me where you were in Malaysia and what you were doing? |00:01:13| Lambert I was in the East Malaysia state of Sarawak and in the Sibu area of Sarawak. And I worked in agriculture with the Agriculture Department and I also worked with the medical services in health projects. But yeah, it was it was interesting. I worked mostly with people- upriver peoples- Iban in particular, but also had some urban projects. And mostly I was doing things kind of like what I grew up doing on the farm, working with people who were, who wanted to raise rabbits or chickens and people who had vegetable gardens and fruit orchards and things like that. And so it was, it was kind of using the skills that I&#039 ; d learned in my eighteen years of living on a farm, growing up. |00:02:09| Brody How how long were you there? |00:02:12| Lambert Two and a half years from, I guess, late 62 to 66. How many years is that? |00:02:22| Brody What do you think were some of the main lessons that you learned from being part of the Peace Corps and going to Malaysia? |00:02:32| Lambert I think the most important thing was it was my first opportunity to really get into another culture, to learn another language, to to see that there were really wonderful and different ways of living, you know, that, you know, you just in your imagination, you just can&#039 ; t tell. But being there and, you know, working with people, making friends and whatnot. And I learned a lot about the importance of people working together and communities, you know, collaborating on things because that&#039 ; s...That was part of the culture there. And it was a unique experience because I hadn&#039 ; t experienced that much, you know, sort of togetherness and, you know, people working just help each other solve their problems and whatnot in my experience growing up. You know, I mean, growing up in California was great, but it was so different and so unique. |00:03:31| Brody In the communities that you were working in, what were some concrete changes that the Peace Corps brought to those areas? |00:03:39| Lambert Well, the groups that I worked with were mostly extremely impoverished. They had, through a process of expanding agricultural projects and colonial projects and whatnot, lost, you know, access to the land that they had had farmed on traditionally. A lot of them had been relocated or pushed on to sort of marginal areas of land. And instead of having large areas of forest that they could exploit, they were they were hill rice farmers mostly, and they fished and hunted and things like that. They were forced to make do on a few acres. And so a lot of what we were doing was trying to introduce, you know, new technology, new techniques to like make- have productive, you know, commercial type gardens on small pieces of land. So there was a lot of interest in new crops, getting people to plant fruit trees. And I know it worked because I was able to visit ten years later and actually and twenty years later. And I could see these communities had been really transformed and they had become market gardeners. And the first time I visited, they weren&#039 ; t exactly thriving yet, but. By twenty years later, you know, people were going to college, they were going to school. You know, the whole society was transformed. And some small part of it was probably that, you know, I was able to be there and work with them for that couple of years. |00:05:19| Brody That&#039 ; s incredible that you were able to go back and see, in increments of time, the difference. |00:05:24| Lambert Yeah, that was that was really super to do that. |00:05:28| Brody So how did you end up in Texas? What happened after the Peace Corps? |00:05:33| Lambert Well, I got married in the Peace Corps to my wife, Tiah, and we, right after marriage, I managed to get a job for us both to work together in Hawaii at the Peace Corps Training Center in Hilo, which was part of the University of Hawaii program. And so she taught Malay language, which is her native tongue. And I taught, you know, the trainees things about, you know, how to work in other cultures and agricultural things and whatnot. And so after a couple of years of that, I wanted to go to school. I had no education, no higher education. I pretty much flunked out of my freshman year at Modesto, where I grew up, and that&#039 ; s one of the reasons I went in the Peace Corps. It was an escape, you know, and it changed my life to join the Peace Corps. So then I wanted to, I wanted to go to college, and I was so interested in other culture, I decided that if there&#039 ; s any field that I needed to go into, it was anthropology that had my name on it. And so I went to Maui Community College for two years. I went to University of Hawaii Manoa campus on Oahu for two years, and then went to Berkeley for almost ten to finish my doctorate degree, in which I went back to Malaysia and studied an agricultural village in West Malaysia in the state of Pahang. |00:07:13| Brody What was your dissertation called? |00:07:20| Lambert Well, the dissertation was called &quot ; Swamp Rice Farming.&quot ; It was about utilizing natural swamp land where you had minimal amount of irrigation control to grow traditional types of rice. And it was also then how they needed to integrate other ways to make money like rubber tapping. They had rubber tapping farms. They fished and sold fish from the river. You know, they exploited rattan from the forest and things like that. So they had a lot of other, you know, activities that are necessary to, you know, just to survive. |00:08:01| Brody So you went back and did field work? |00:08:03| Lambert Yes, I went back and did field work. |00:08:05| Brody How long were you there? |00:08:07| Lambert That was about 14 months. Yeah. |00:08:12| Brody So you were at Berkeley and after that? Well, before that, I want to go back and ask you, how did you meet your wife? |00:08:21| Lambert I was lucky and was housed in some in a government housing project. Well, they had a, at that time, the government had quarters, they call them, and they set up for all the different departments in government so that, you know, they had housing for the people who worked in Lands and Survey and for people who work in Forestry and whatnot. And so, you know, that little bungalow or whatever you call it was close to a part within the village, where she, where my wife was. And somehow I just kept running into her and she kept catching my eye. And it, you know, that&#039 ; s what happened? |00:08:59| Brody Well, that&#039 ; s wonderful. That&#039 ; s a great story. So you were together then at, in Berkeley and then what happened? |00:09:13| Lambert Towards the end of finishing my degree at Berkeley, we&#039 ; re talking now in the late seventies, it became really obvious that maybe career-wise, anthropology was not the best place to be because there were so many anthropology students at that time, especially at Berkeley. I mean, I think we were turning out twenty degrees a year. And when I&#039 ; d go to annual conferences of the American Anthropology Association, where most, you know, students and most jobs and whatnot, you know, came available to people through that conference. There were just long lines of people trying to be interviewed. And, you know, it&#039 ; s just a real scramble. And right before I was ready to apply, this was the first year that nobody seemed to get a job in our department that year. And so, yeah, it was it was almost impossible to get a job. So fortunately, I think it was in Chicago in about 1981 1961, there was a professor from University of Texas at Dallas that had come to Chicago looking for somebody to hire because they had an opening to teach anthropology. They&#039 ; d had a professor who had died, I believe, and they needed somebody. They had people were already signed up for spring classes. They needed somebody to come out right away. And I guess I was it. I was ripe for the plucking, you might say. So, you know, I, you know, so we moved out December and I was teaching in January. |00:11:00| Brody And this is 1981 1961. |00:11:03| Lambert Probably 1982 1962. |00:11:07| Brody What was UTD like at that time? |00:11:09| Lambert There was no undergraduates. It was only graduate level. And it was pretty small and undeveloped. Lots of construction, you know, lots of you know, it was not the most pleasant place to be because, you know, when you&#039 ; re in the middle of a construction site and there&#039 ; s erosion and dirt blowing everywhere and things like that and equipment and, you know, they- the trees hadn&#039 ; t grown up yet. They planted a lot of trees here and there. But, you know, it was... So it was pretty uncomfortable just to be on campus much. And people didn&#039 ; t hang out on campus. The students, you know, were mostly older, a lot of professionals, a lot of people who had, because they needed to upgrade their education in order to advance in their careers, you know, were getting, picking up a few courses at UTD. And it wasn&#039 ; t the kind of students I really was prepared to teach. And it wasn&#039 ; t the kind of students who really seemed to be interested in other cultures and, you know, what&#039 ; s going on in the rest of the world. They were interested in engineering and business and things like that. And so it was it was interesting, you know, but I had fairly small classes. I had a lot of people in class that were...Well, they they were overworked as it was. And to find out that they could only way they could get a grade in the class is to go to the library and study and write papers and things like that,... You know, they weren&#039 ; t really up for that. So I, I wish I had taught when I had undergraduates. That would have been great. |00:12:59| Brody Yeah, it&#039 ; s a different feel, I&#039 ; m sure. Why were they taking anthropology? |00:13:07| Lambert Because the way...what do you call it? Course curriculums were planned at that time, there was the idea that people should get some liberal arts, some, some balance. And it seemed to me that was disappearing in the four years that I taught there. It was just more and more, you know, geared towards, you know, not getting, not having a broad education, but being more specialized. |00:13:38| Brody I see. So you were there for four years? |00:13:40| Lambert Yeah. |00:13:41| Brody And then. Then what was your next step? |00:13:45| Lambert Well, I was there on a five year contract. And so I begin to realize that I needed to do something to up my game a little bit. And I wasn&#039 ; t sure that they were going to extend the contract. In fact, it began to look like there wasn&#039 ; t going to be any anthropology at all, you know, because they had been canceling other areas in the university, other disciplines. And so I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship and went to Malaysia, to Penang in Malaysia to teach at the University of Science in Penang for a year, thinking, you know, that that would say, well, because everybody who gets a grant and does important research or goes overseas and does some teaching or something like that is an important, you know, plum you might say to the university. It wasn&#039 ; t so for a discipline that they were thinking about, you know, not supporting, you know, so. So that didn&#039 ; t do me any good. I came back and taught off and on, you know, part time and that frustration of sort of not being able to continue in my chosen, you know, discipline and the fact that I had this background of working in Southeast Asia and Asian agriculture and whatnot, when refugees started showing up, you know, from Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos, Thailand and whatnot, I was fascinated by this opportunity to sort of, you know, maybe apply some of what I had been doing in the Peace Corps and some of my background from farming that just and and I was just, I just was so interested, you might say, in how they were going to adjust and adapt and become part of American...the fabric of American life. And so I did everything I could to, you know, get involved with them. While I was still teaching, I sent my students down to East Dallas, where the main community was located, to do the little research projects. Students got involved in things like, you know, helping people find apartments and, you know, helping resettle people and things like that, volunteering at various agencies that work with the refugees. And then they wrote reports back to me. And so I got a really good feel of what was going on. So when I stopped teaching altogether and decided that maybe I should try to work in community gardens, you know, I had a lot of background, you know, already. And so it was a fairly easy transition. |00:16:45| Brody That&#039 ; s great. And you had a lot of information. |00:16:47| Lambert Yeah. |00:16:47| Brody What was Dallas like when you got here? |00:16:59| Lambert I don&#039 ; t know. It was certainly different from where I came from. Right? And I mean, I was struck of how big it was and and how it seemed to be divided in a lot of different areas that didn&#039 ; t interact a lot together with each other. |00:17:27| Brody That makes sense. And so back to the community gardens. So you had all this information and you were...You had all the right background pieces with your farming and agriculture background, your Peace Corps background, and your interest in Southeast Asia, and familiarity with Southeast Asia. So what made you think community gardens would be a good addition to the Dallas landscape? |00:17:59| Lambert One of the things that I got involved with while I was still teaching. Well, I was interested in the fact that there was poverty here, and I didn&#039 ; t experience much poverty growing up in California, just lucky from where I lived, I guess. But to see that there was poverty here and things like food pantries were struggling, you know, with huge numbers of people who needed food. I mean, my immediate thought was, &quot ; My gosh, food is so easy to grow. Why aren&#039 ; t people growing food here? You know, there&#039 ; s people who have large backyards, you know, why aren&#039 ; t they using them? There&#039 ; s vacant lots all over the place. If we could just put those, you know, into production, you know, if people some meaningful and you know, way to support themselves but it would also feed people.&quot ; I couldn&#039 ; t see any reason why the food pantries had to beg stores and farms and whatnot to donate produce when people could grow it themselves. And so I, I joined a couple of groups that were working on the food crisis here, and I can&#039 ; t remember their names right off. But what I found was that they did not think community gardens was a solution at all. |00:19:30| Brody Why not? |00:19:32| Lambert They thought that they were so...that the resources were so scarce. There was so little funding for for running food pantries and for...They had to buy a lot of foods that they would distribute and whatnot. They they just could not. You know, the lines were getting longer and longer at the pantries. And the idea of putting in any kind of resource or energy into something else just was beyond them. So I would talk about community gardens and they would look at...roll their eyes, you know, and it was like so it was. But one of the ladies on one of those groups, a man from the Agriculture Extension Service, who at that time was trying to start community gardens here and there and some school gardens and whatnot. He retired years and years ago, but he had come out and started a sort of a garden, you know, close West Dallas with the Hispanic community there. And the garden wasn&#039 ; t going very well, you know, it just was not thriving. And so she called me up and said, &quot ; I&#039 ; ve got a garden project over here. Would you like to see it?&quot ; And I said, &quot ; Sure.&quot ; So I came out and, you know, it&#039 ; s almost immediately that I knew some things that they could do, which would help from my background. And so I sort of jumped in and took over the garden, you know, managing it for them and, you know, got them loads of compost and you know, helped them lay out beds and things like that. They basically just had a fenced in area that was on an old dump site where they didn&#039 ; t have good soil and you know, they tried to dig a hole here or there and plant things, but they just didn&#039 ; t have the the tools and the knowledge and whatnot they needed and so on. So that was my first big garden project here, you might say. And so that, that went on for at least six, seven years until they had a change of director and didn&#039 ; t think the garden fit their program anymore, you know? And that&#039 ; s... Several projects we started sort of ended that way, just a change in the staffing at the local level. But that garden sort of led to work at a number of church gardens, a couple school gardens and other things that just because I was out there doing that, people through the network, you know, learned there&#039 ; s some guy out there that&#039 ; s interested in helping with gardens. So yeah, that was sort of the early period. I think we had six or seven projects that I worked with and so there... for was like a two year period starting about then in which it was sort of I just created my own community garden program. My vision was that community gardens were not going to make it if they were just disconnected from each other. They needed to have some kind of connectivity, some way to share information, some way to work together. And so I spent a couple of years driving around to communities trying to find community gardens, calling up everybody I thought might know something about community gardens. I was just sure that I was going to discover community gardens out there that wanted to be part of something bigger. |00:23:09| Brody Did you? |00:23:11| Lambert No. |00:23:12| Brody Really. |00:23:14| Lambert What I discovered was that community, the community gardens were all projects that were just for us, our little group of people. There wasn&#039 ; t a notion that, you know, do some citywide program or whatnot. It was usually like, well, maybe a couple of gardens in West Dallas or maybe a couple of gardens over in East Dallas or somewhere like South Dallas. But I couldn&#039 ; t find people who were interested in a regional kind of thing. Just specific little areas. And usually it was a group of friends got together and for a few months the garden was a thing for them and then they sort of failed. So I started collecting data on all the projects I could come up with, and I ended up with a file drawer full of, you know, projects that lasted four or five years and became, you know, for that. That&#039 ; s obviously not the way to go. A big break came in around 91 when my work with community gardens, because of a newspaper article had been published about my work, attracted the interest of the Dallas Civic Garden Center, which is now called the Texas Discovery Garden. And they found out that there was a way they could get a grant to have a community garden program attached to that center. And they reached out and hired me. And that lasted for two, two plus years until their board and whatnot thought that it was not really compatible with the mission of there org, you know. I guess I took it in directions that not what they imagined it should be taken in there. During that time we had maybe seven or eight gardens that were doing pretty well, but they let me go. So we turned around and started, in 1994, Gardeners in Community Development and all the early members were the people from those gardens. And so we had no resources. We found it was almost impossible to raise funds as a, as a new nonprofit who didn&#039 ; t have a history. And so... And what we found was we had this group of gardens and every year or two another one of them would have to close down. We just didn&#039 ; t have the way to keep them going. And having volunteers come out, but we still didn&#039 ; t have the funds, you know, to put in working water systems and to build, you know, productive beds and buy compost and things like that. And from about 1991, so the East Dallas Community Garden was started...Let&#039 ; s go back up a little bit. East Dallas Community Garden was started in about 87, 88 by a civic group that came together called the East Dallas Community Garden Alliance. And it had two or three people who worked in City Hall that were part of that committee, a bunch of business leaders like from- I&#039 ; m trying to think of this... I can&#039 ; t. I can&#039 ; t remember his name. Maybe come up later. Sewell. Joe Sewell of Sewell automobile. Right. He was kind of the chair of this committee. We had some people from the from the police department, like Ron Cowart, from correction agencies, and it just- and then churches. The group was at least fifteen or twenty, you know, sort of community leaders who had been looking at this flood of Southeast Asian refugees coming into East Dallas, where, you know, there were so many needs and that the people had so much interest in getting access to food that was important to them. And, you know, there was no...There there was just nothing there to fulfill that need. And fairly quickly, mostly Vietnamese started the little grocery stores. So there were, gosh, six or eight little mom and pop grocery stores popped up in East Dallas. In fact, when when we came here in 82 62, my wife and I came in 82 62, there was no way to, where the only place you could buy Asian groceries was down off of Fitzhugh and Ross and, you know, in that neighborhood. And it got to be where almost every weekend, you know, we&#039 ; d make a trek down there to get, you know, rice and the various all the things we needed, you know. And, and it wasn&#039 ; t easy, it seemed like we always were looking for things we couldn&#039 ; t find. You know, the stores were so small. And anyway, the, the population of refugees were mostly rural, farming folk and they really could not understand why food was not being grown in Dallas. It didn&#039 ; t make sense. They came from communities where people did not plant shade trees. They planted fruit trees. The shade was nice, you know. But, you know, it was it was maybe mangoes and lychee and langsat and things like that. Trees were yard, the yard trees, you know, coconut trees, whatever. So you had food, you know, from the trees and they gardened intensively and every little piece of land they can get their hands on because there were food near to where they grew up and they had a culture that had learned how to survive, you know? And so apartment managers started complaining that they couldn&#039 ; t keep the refugees from digging up the flower beds and planting vegetables. Vacant lots would have little, you know, vegetable plots spring up. Then people would be carrying buckets of water down the stairs and across the street to water a few plants here and there. And as I would drive around in East Dallas, I would see just little, little patches of vegetables like everywhere. And this became a major conflict. And, you know that these people, their culture was different. They&#039 ; re doing things that we don&#039 ; t do in Dallas. In my community garden work, I began running into, if I go out and talk to groups, church groups and things like that, people would complain that it&#039 ; s it&#039 ; s unsightly for people to grow vegetables, you know, out in the front yard where they can be seen, things like that. And when we talked about community gardens, right, they they couldn&#039 ; t imagine a vacant lot that was now growing vegetables as not being something that was ugly or inappropriate for Dallas. And these people were breaking the rule right and left. So this East Dallas Community Garden Alliance, I don&#039 ; t know, I wasn&#039 ; t part part of when they got started. I don&#039 ; t know how they hit on the idea of community gardens because there wasn&#039 ; t a lot of information around about community gardens at that time. But they started a couple of garden projects and sort of settled on what&#039 ; s now become the East Dallas Community Garden on Fitzhugh Avenue as their main project. It was a dump site. It was a huge lot that was covered with trees where homeless people had lived forever, you might say, and where people abandoned cars and couches and, you know, all kinds of rubbish was everywhere. And so they, they fenced it off, cleaned it up, and it took them two or three years. And the biggest problem was getting all the junk, the broken concrete and things like that off the lot, which they actually never did. So once they were actually gardening, it took another almost ten years to get most of that stuff out because it would just keep coming to the surface. As people would dig in the garden, it would be more and more of it show up. And we when I was in charge of the garden later, it was like every year we did a major cleanup project to remove more of that stuff and improve the soil. But the East Dallas Community Garden Alliance really didn&#039 ; t have the vision, you might say the mission to have some ongoing project, because I don&#039 ; t think...they they didn&#039 ; t understand the necessity. They, their vision seemed to be that these were people who had farming experience and they would know what to do. And all they needed was somebody to have their back and give them a site where they could do it. And that turned out to be a really bad assumption because people who come here, who don&#039 ; t speak English, have no Western training or don&#039 ; t know how to how to operate within a Western society within Dallas, they didn&#039 ; t know how to get things. They didn&#039 ; t know how to ask for things. They didn&#039 ; t- they had no network to work from. And so, you know, they had opening day. They assigned plots to people and they pretty much- the gardens sort of tried to run on its own and it went to weed. The water system broke down and there was nobody to fix it. Half of the garden was flooded. They had a drainage problem. It wasn&#039 ; t, it didn&#039 ; t have the right slopes to start with and things. And sort of one by one, all these community people that had been on this organization decided that they&#039 ; d had enough of this project that was, you know, they were going to go on to other things. And it fell to two, possibly three organizations that sort of tried to keep the garden going because they realized how important it was to people. One of them was the police department through their East Dallas Police Storefront, and another one was the Save the Children East Dallas Project. They had a storefront that sold handicrafts made by refugee populations all over the world as a fundraising project. And they also worked with women and children in need in the community and maybe in East Dallas Counseling Center. There was the multicultural center was around for a while, too, so there was enough of them, but more and more, their ability or interest in the garden just seemed to wane. They just couldn&#039 ; t do anything. So I got a call from, at that time, I was working with the the community with the Texas Discovery Garden Project, and I got a call from I think it was from Margaret Koons, director of Save the Children there. And she said that they, they were having problems with the garden and they were worried that it might have to be closed, that, you know, half of the garden wasn&#039 ; t very productive anymore and it wasn&#039 ; t organized in any way. And they couldn&#039 ; t figure out a way to pay the bills, the water bills and things like that. So they had started at the beginning of all of these agencies that were somehow part of it, you know, sending in a small amount of money, you know, on a regular basis to cover the bills. And that got to be where that wasn&#039 ; t happening. And so I said, &quot ; Margaret, what we need to do is we need to make that garden so productive that paying the bills won&#039 ; t be a problem, that the people who garden there, you know, it&#039 ; ll be so worthwhile to them that they won&#039 ; t need, you know, money coming in from that site just to pay the water bill.&quot ; And so I was working at the Civic Garden Center and they had had a grant. So I was able to tap into some of that grant money. And I went I worked through Paul Thai, who was our main contact at the East Dallas storefront, and also really the main guy that was able to work with the gardeners out there. You know, there were several other people, but he was he was really, I would say, top. And so we drew up a plan to put in raised beds and mulch pathways and fix the water system and things like that. And we were able to go out and buy the lumber and the stuff and whatnot and get it done with volunteers, the gardeners themselves. So basically me and a fellow went out there and we built like five or six garden beds and we basically just had to shut down part of the garden, which upset the gardeners a lot. So we started building these garden beds and they would stand and watch us and shake their heads and they were really upset I think. That, you know, their garden was maybe being taken away from them. And then one day we came to the garden and overnight they had built three or four more beds themselves. And then they said, &quot ; You don&#039 ; t need to build any more beds, we&#039 ; ll do it.&quot ; You know? And they were so happy with, you know, beds that were sort of laid out, you know, in a regular pattern where the the walkways were well-defined because before people didn&#039 ; t quite knew where their boundaries were. And more a stronger garden would, and first thing you know, you start encroaching on somebody else and that would lead to kind of conflicts and all of that. So we really started there a system of gardening that was, you know, demonstrated dramatically, you know, that, you know, you could have pathways of a- of the proper size and beds of a proper size and everything laid out in a way so that it was efficient to move through and work in the garden. And we started bringing in huge loads of woodchips and mulching all the pathways deep. So we got the weeds under control. And anyway, so from 1994, the garden became the Gardeners in Development Project. |00:39:46| Brody What were people growing? |00:39:49| Lambert Oh, boy. I, it took me actually a couple of years to figure that out because even though I&#039 ; ve had an extensive, you know, experience in Southeast Asia, Cambodians and Laotians in particular, we didn&#039 ; t have any Vietnamese in the garden at that point. I think there might have been some earlier, but they went on to other things. So they weren&#039 ; t really, you know, gardening people at that point. But so they were growing bitter melon, wax gourd, winter melon, luffa, which are all gourd crops. Their main green crops were mustard greens and they grew long beans. They grew a bunching onion and I&#039 ; m trying to think, what else? Lots of different kinds of herbs. At one time I had a list of something like fifty different things that they were growing in the garden that I had identified, and another five or six that some of them I never did. But over, over time, that list narrowed down a lot. There was a huge change because there was really a food crisis and I don&#039 ; t know what year it was, but in which the amount of subsidy and support that people could get. Maybe this was just the funding they got that, you know, after they were here as refugees of a certain amount of time, money ran out, something like that. And suddenly it became more instead of being like a kitchen garden set up where everybody&#039 ; s growing all the things they can think of, the food plants, medicinal plants, herbs, whatever, you know that as much as possible that was like what they grew back home, suddenly became, we&#039 ; ve got to make more money. So they started focusing more on cash crops, the number one one being water spinach. And it actually- that almost created a crisis because there was such a demand for water spinach. It was so lucrative that it pretty much took over the garden for a while and it got to be where it was kind of a mono crop kind of system. And they started having disease and insect problems and whatnot that come along with not being diversified. |00:42:24| Brody Where was the demand coming from? |00:42:29| Lambert Other refugees, mostly of which, you know, the populations kept growing and growing. I mean, there were four thousand families there when I started, but it just, you know, every year there were more and more. And then we had large numbers coming in from Thailand and other places. And then all the other ethnic groups from that region of the world, you know, discovered that the garden was a source. And so people were selling vegetables from the very beginning in the garden pretty much, which was counted as an illegal activity, I guess by the city. We did have code enforcement people come out and issue warnings a few times and I would have to call up a few people and remind them that, you know, this is an agricultural state and that farmers are allowed to sell the stuff that they grow, look it up, you know? And so those never went anywhere. But we felt, I think they felt harassed off and on by the fact that they were growing stuff and selling it. And when we talked about community gardens in general, there was a lot of resistance out there to the idea that any community garden would be allowed to sell stuff. Right. So anyway, but they did it. And in some ways it was their insistence that they had this way of life, this thing they were going to do, because in their minds it was the right things to do that they kept on doing things even when other people didn&#039 ; t think it was the right thing to do, I might say. And there was really no way to stop them, you know, from doing what they they were doing in some ways, I guess. And so, yeah, they set up stalls at first. People just go from plot to plot and buy from folks. And since most of the community at that time lived close to the garden, so it was years before people had resettled to other places. So East Dallas was full of of Southeast Asians. And so, you know, there&#039 ; d be all these...the Vietnamese were some of the main buyers. They seemed to have more money than other people. And they also had a lot of influence. They would tell the gardeners what to grow. If, you know, if you grow a water spinach we&#039 ; ll buy it. If you grow Malabar spinach we&#039 ; ll buy it, you know, whatever. Grow more of this, grow more of that. And I, I was seeing crops changed to meet this demand and focusing on a few productive crops. So like a lot of the, the bitter melons, the gourd crops and whatnot kind of were forced out, become a minimal thing because they grew on trellises and they shaded the garden and they needed full sunshine to grow water spinach and things. They...I did some things to try to bring in some crops that were, perhaps would be lucrative and fit better at times because for many years they didn&#039 ; t have- they didn&#039 ; t know what to do with winter. It was too cold here for most of the things that they grow. I mean, tropical crops really don&#039 ; t do well below 60 degrees and a lot of them die at 50, you know. And so they had discovered the bunching onions on their own. And so I got interested in finding some other crops. They had some types of mustard. The early mustard seeds we could get our hands on, the Asian mustards were mostly from South China, warmer areas. I mean, they were mostly from the northern China. Yeah. And so. I got that mixed up anyway. It took them several years to find greens that would grow in the wintertime here. And lettuce, to me, was was really one of the best crops they could grow in terms of marketability. And you see, it does so well here. They had tried to grow lettuce. And failed on several occasions, and we&#039 ; re not interested anymore. And so I got a plot of my own for a while, and I just tried out things. So you plant lettuce in November, you know, or even October, and it comes up and grows and you can start harvesting it, you know? Well, we used to say what we with our lettuce should be harvestable by Thanksgiving if we do it right. But you can harvest lettuce all winter and all spring. It only stops when it gets too hot in the summertime. So you have several months of production, lettuce production. But if you start it in the summertime, like I think is what they did it, it just goes to seed. It took about three years. Suddenly, lettuce was the most, one of their most important winter crops. The lettuce and onions and mustard grow in the winter and then all those tropical crops in the summer. You know, once they figured things out a little bit, you know, our summertime was just about like South East Asia. They never thought it was too hot. Everybody else in Dallas is running for air conditioning, and they were just fine. You know, maybe it wasn&#039 ; t even as oppressive and humid and hot as it would have been where they grew up. I&#039 ; m not sure. But anyway, next? |00:48:18| Brody That&#039 ; s really interesting. I just am interested in going back a little bit to some of those groups that existed around community gardening, like the the alliance that you were talking about. It&#039 ; s interesting to me that there was a partnership between corporate people, the city, the police department, nonprofits. When-was that sort of started in the seventies and extended into sort of the nineties. Or what do you remember about the timing on that? |00:48:57| Lambert Yeah, it started. Let&#039 ; s see. It really had its heyday, I would say, in probably the late eighties and up to the mid-nineties. And then it kind of came to a close, it seemed like, fairly quickly. And there seemed to be a feeling by a lot of people that. When government entities and businesses and whatnot targeted certain groups to help that it was unfair to other groups maybe. I remember the police officers used to be a part of every community meeting and they knew everybody personally. And it was, that was really a close relationship between, you know, the East Dallas Police Storefront. You know, they had afterschool programs for the local kids. They had health and immunization things went on there. People came there to get all kinds of help. And police officers were seen in the evenings at the apartment buildings, visiting with families and stuff. It was a really close...And there were other groups that weren&#039 ; t getting that help that also needed help maybe. And I think there were complaints and it eventually came down to a notion that even like, oh, I won&#039 ; t go there. |00:50:34| Brody It was really interesting that there even was that, the impetus to to cooperate and collaborate between the public and private and especially the police department. I know in East Dallas during that time period was, you know, very much into community, you know, involvement in community policing. And you mentioned that the police officer was really the main person at the garden, you know, sort of on the scene. So that&#039 ; s... |00:51:01| Lambert Yeah. I remember we had a shed to move at the garden one point. It&#039 ; s back in the corner where the water was standing and we decided we had to move it to higher ground. And it&#039 ; s like a big old heavy thing, you know. And two of the officers brought their pickup trucks with the winches on the front, you know, on their time, you know, and and moved it, you know. But they&#039 ; d show up in uniform and, you know, help in the garden at times and stuff. So, you know, it was really different. But those people pretty much all got reassigned at some point because policy somewhere changed. And it&#039 ; s kind of, you know... |00:51:41| Brody I knew a lot of the people who lived in that area, you know, as refugees in the apartments that people were resettled to in a year, two years, five years, made enough money to be able to move to other parts of town, to Garland or, you know, further north. Did you maintain relationships with people who had been gardeners in the community garden? |00:52:07| Lambert Yeah, basically that relationship never ended. The people moved to other places. East Dallas became a place that wasn&#039 ; t- wasn&#039 ; t the best place to live. Right? And so when people were able to move, they moved. But they came back to East Dallas and continued to garden. And it, for a while it was a real problem because, you know, they&#039 ; d moved in with their children&#039 ; s families in Garland mostly. And that&#039 ; s a distance to travel, and there&#039 ; s no easy public transportation or whatnot. So they had to get rides from their kids to come to the garden. And what I noticed is when people had jobs and the household was doing well, it was hard for the seniors to come to the garden and grow vegetables. But when they were having difficulty, the kids were out there with them, helping them grow food because the family needed it. And the, even some of the...and the other thing that happened was that once they moved to a house in in Garland or somewhere, they had...Every house had enough land around it that you could grow stuff. And quite often they had stuff growing from the sidewalk all the way around the back side of the house. So every piece of thing, they put in a little greenhouses so they could start their seedlings and conserve stuff over winter from the cold. And so all of the gardeners that I visited and I visit almost everybody, you know, usually on a regular basis. We used to do a Christmas thing every year where we baked cookies and took a batch of cookies to everybody at the garden if if we could find them. And one of the highlights of every one of those tours was to go in their backyard and see their garden. And they had from fence to fence, they hadn&#039 ; t wasted a single spot on grass or ornamentals. It was all food plants and herbs and stuff. And, you know, they so...I begin to think, I have never had a way to find out, but I figured there must be a lot of people from other places who weren&#039 ; t grown up in this sort of culture that seem to restrict gardens or make gardens not a thing to do who were growing stuff. And I think it&#039 ; s probably true. You know, it could be Filipinos. They could be from India. They can be, you know, whatever Indonesians. Everybody I ran into seemed to have, you know, if they had an older person in their household, usually they also had a big at least, a kitchen garden for the family. But those gardens were growing a lot of food, more food than the household needed. And so a lot of them were selling food. They were, they were giving food to other members of their own families and whatnot. At one time, we sort of figured out that probably every community gardener in the East Dallas Garden was probably growing food for twenty other people, you know. And so yeah, so the community gardens&#039 ; you know, impact, you know, was multiplied dramatically by the fact that people took that technology, those ideas, whatever, and, and mixed it with their own, you know, and grew stuff all over the place. |00:55:59| Brody That&#039 ; s great. |00:56:01| Lambert And I had a Vietnamese neighbor and a lot of the crops I ended up growing, you know, I grew because he did so well and a lot of them escaped into my yard and I still have them. |00:56:12| Brody That&#039 ; s great. Did those families that were growing so much food beyond what their immediate family&#039 ; s need was, do they sell in some of their food? |00:56:21| Lambert Yeah. Yeah, they did. Some of them are trying to I mean, the market was so good at the East Dallas Garden while the apartments still had a lot of people close by, that they were basically selling pretty much all day long, every day of the week. There was just a constant little trickle of people. And on Saturdays it was like crowded in there. And some of the what they were selling there, they were bringing from their home gardens. |00:56:52| Brody Were there stalls set up there, or did people just sort of stand near their garden plot? |00:56:57| Lambert Yeah. Well, at one point it was a lot of standing near the garden plots kind of thing. People would garden and somebody came over and asked to buy this or that, point at something they wanted, but they eventually put up little table things and tried to put covers up and it was kind of disorganized. And we, at one point, I had to really take over the selling thing and arrange it, organize it, because people were controlling access. You know, somebody that had a garden close to the main gate felt like it wasn&#039 ; t right that anybody walked by their stall to get to somebody else&#039 ; s, right? It was kind of weird. So and so we actually took out two of the garden plots and set up an area and built a bunch of tables and whatnot. And they, after a while, sort of figured out that was maybe better. And, you know, the good thing about working with refugees was that, you know, it might be a little struggle to do something for a while, but they would very often take over and make the system work. We didn&#039 ; t know how to make it work either a lot of the time. But, you know, they were able to make it work satisfactorily, you know, after a while. So, you know, they. Yeah. The selling of things to restaurants and grocery stores and whatnot is something I really don&#039 ; t know a lot about because I was never able to get access to the information itself. I know that&#039 ; s where it was going. I recognized some of these people were regular. The big buyers, they would come to the garden and buy a whole truckload of stuff, sometimes on a regular basis. But they weren&#039 ; t open to talk to, you know, and the gardeners themselves were very secretive it seemed about, you know, their business thing. So I was never able to figure out how much money they were making, you know, or not. But I think it was significant. Still is. Yeah. And so we did some calculations a few times and come up with some numbers that nobody would believe. Right. But three quarters of an acre, you know, managed intensively, producing food every month of the year, you know, probably grows a lot more per acre than most farms. Right. |00:59:34| Brody About pricing, how did that you know, when this all kind of sounds like it evolved organically, how did people decide? Was there competition to under, you know, underprice things to get more sales or? |00:59:50| Lambert Their pricing was always ridiculously low, it seemed like. And I mean, that&#039 ; s one reason they did a lot of business. But they would sell maybe...Well, if you went to the Asian grocery store just a few years ago, I remember looking at the Asian grocery store and I&#039 ; d look at a bundle of, say, water spinach. And I would think, boy, you know, that&#039 ; s a third of the size of a bundle that they would sell for the same amount of money at the East Dallas Garden. And so people who were poor, shopped there a lot. I think it got, reached a point where, one, they lived too far to come to the garden, people are poor and also they couldn&#039 ; t compete with the fact that large buyers were buying up stuff. So it&#039 ; s gotten to be where now, almost all the sales are on Friday, late Friday and Saturday morning. And that&#039 ; s it. They sell out. They can sell, they can sell more than they can grow always, you know, because there&#039 ; s such a demand for these types of foods that they grow. |01:01:02| Brody Today, who are the gardeners? Is it still primarily refugees? |01:01:06| Lambert Yes, we, we&#039 ; ve had a few other people that had plots off and on and it never really lasted. They just didn&#039 ; t have this stick-to-it-iveness, is that what you call it? And, but the original families, we still have a small number of people who had plots way back in the late eighties, you know, who are really old, could hardly come in. Every year, we&#039 ; re losing people now because they&#039 ; re aging out on us and other family members are taking over. One thing that happened was the original garden plan was to have like 48 or something plots, which meant, you know, we&#039 ; re going have 48 maybe families. And the way the plots got assigned originally, I think that the people doing it, they didn&#039 ; t they didn&#039 ; t have any way to tell who was who, right? So somebody, everybody, I guess, was clever. They managed to get a plot for their daughter and for their you know, for their sister and things like that. So that it ended up that each family actually had control over three or four plots. And as time has gone on, that&#039 ; s expanded. So as various groups have had to drop out, now that their plots often got turned over to others. So we haven&#039 ; t brought in hardly any new gardeners. And we found that we weren&#039 ; t successful at actually incorporating somebody new into the garden that they could, but we couldn&#039 ; t. You know, maybe it&#039 ; s like, you know, we bring in somebody, it didn&#039 ; t work. But the next thing you know, there&#039 ; s a, there&#039 ; s a relative who&#039 ; s doing it, who&#039 ; s taking care of a plot. Then it&#039 ; s like &quot ; What happened to so-and-so?&quot ; &quot ; Oh, he&#039 ; s gone.&quot ; You know, so. So now, several of them control maybe six, seven, eight plots. Right. And we&#039 ; re down to sort of maybe ten. You know, I mean. |01:03:15| Brody There&#039 ; s still city involvement or? |01:03:18| Lambert No city involvement ever, really. I mean, other than that first committee time. Yeah. And yeah, I don&#039 ; t think the city, anybody in the city is aware that they ever had any relationship with the garden anymore. It wouldn&#039 ; t fit their idea of what the city is supposed to be doing, apparently. Yeah. |01:03:41| Brody Just zooming out a little bit. Can you talk a little bit about the advantages, the benefits of community gardens in general? |01:03:55| Lambert I was on the board of the American Community Gardening Association for six years and, of course, that&#039 ; s what we talked about a lot. You know, what&#039 ; s our purpose? Why do we have gardens? What can they do for people? And in that time, I visited community garden programs in at least a dozen cities across the country. And it really seems that the main thing that community gardens do is it, it brings people together, neighborhoods together. It becomes a place where people come together and who&#039 ; ve never worked together before. And they learn how to get things done as a group and they organize people. In fact, here our East Dallas Garden where we worked with Hispanics for the six or seven years. That group became such a strong group within a neighborhood that was not organized at all, that they virtually took over a literacy program in a local nonprofit there and managed that. And then they became the main board and staff members on a group that started building houses, building new homes for people. And so they went from being community gardeners to homeowners, you know, because they were able to, they were the only people organized in the neighborhood. But, you know, there&#039 ; s of course, the nutrition, the exercise aspects of gardening. It&#039 ; s greatly therapeutic in so many ways. As you pass, as we well know, when we get as old as my wife and I are, if it wasn&#039 ; t for the garden to get us out there, we would not be able to move. I don&#039 ; t know. You know, but, you know, a garden gets you excited to go out and be out there with nature, to meet other fellow gardeners and, and share with them and whatnot. I don&#039 ; t know. I used to have a good list. |01:06:06| Brody In terms of that, earlier you were talking about, you know, that you noticed when you came to Dallas that there was poverty that you hadn&#039 ; t really encountered in California and food insecurity and sort of the attitudes of the food pantries about gardens. Has any of that changed as people have gotten more involved and interested in dealing with food insecurity? |01:06:28| Lambert Yeah, well, as far as the food pantries go, most of them, I think, are pretty excited to get fresh, local produce now. And I mean, there&#039 ; s been a couple of things happen. One is over time they got better organized and better funded and most of them realized that there was food that they were totally missing that needed refrigeration. So almost every pantry that I know of now has some way to keep fresh vegetables, you know, and they&#039 ; re being donated fresh vegetables from stores and things like that. Stuff that sort of, you know, doesn&#039 ; t have any shelf life left, you know, and but they can keep it, you know, overnight or for a couple of days and hand it out when they&#039 ; re open. But at first, that was the main impediment that we were given this. If you give us fresh vegetables, where do we put them? You know, we don&#039 ; t have any place to store them. And that&#039 ; s true. You know, in this in this weather, you know, lettuce that was picked 3 hours ago and is not properly washed and stored or whatnot will just wilt and be unedible. So they upped their technology enough that they could handle it and they, the populations they serve, that every time I go to the pantry and talk to somebody there, they say, you know, you should see the people- eyes light up when they see that there&#039 ; s fresh produce here. That&#039 ; s the first thing they go for, and the stuff they get from the community gardens or somebody&#039 ; s backyard garden that&#039 ; s donated and whatnot is usually fresher, probably better quality and things like that. And like, I&#039 ; m interested in tomatoes, right? As most gardeners are, and I&#039 ; m not so interested in hybrid tomatoes. I&#039 ; m interested in heirloom tomatoes. And over twenty-five years or so of going through dozens of varieties and we&#039 ; ve come down with a small group of heirloom tomatoes which are so superior to any other tomato you can get your hands on. Right. Those are the ones we donate to the pantry. It&#039 ; s like, why shouldn&#039 ; t they have as good a food as anybody else? And we get the fun of growing it. We get the fun of sharing it. And it&#039 ; s educational to us because we learn, you know, what&#039 ; s adapted to here and what does well. So it helps our overall learning, you know, how to garden well to grow these things and have a surplus so we can give them away. |01:09:10| Brody So it sounds like a win win. |01:09:12| Lambert Yeah. Yeah. |01:09:14| Brody There&#039 ; s been a lot of talk in lots of cities, but in Dallas in particular about the concept of food deserts in some neighborhoods as a result of zoning or history, really not having access to fresh fruit and vegetables or, you know, or of healthy food in general. What role do you think community gardens can play in dealing with the problem of food deserts? |01:09:43| Lambert I&#039 ; m not sure for Dallas because we don&#039 ; t have sort of a well-organized, a well-organized program to support the needs that the garden has to thrive. And so if we, if we start gardens in impoverished neighborhoods say, we&#039 ; re dealing with people who have all kinds of other problems and they don&#039 ; t have the experience, the time, the resources, the money, whatever necessary to garden well. And if we don&#039 ; t have organizations that have their back, that that are interested in the gardens enough that they&#039 ; re going to be there to mentor them and to work with them no matter what. And so, I mean, our program has tried to do that, but it&#039 ; s just like it&#039 ; s just more than we can do. And so it takes a lot. Something bigger, but just a lot more organization and whatnot than we can muster here to make it so that I think community gardens could solve the food desert problem. And for example, with farmers markets now we sell produce at a market which goes for funds to support our program. But, you know, when we first started talking about starting neighborhood farmer&#039 ; s markets, you know, people were talking about &quot ; This is a great idea. We could put a market in a food desert. And that way people who are poor would have access to fresh produce.&quot ; Well, nobody can afford to buy, to buy the vegetables at the cost it takes to produce them in those neighborhoods. And we have programs like WIC and other buying programs where people are getting maybe $2 worth because it&#039 ; s subsidized and whatnot at our markets. But the market is still not in the neighborhood, in the location and whatnot where it&#039 ; s accessible. So, I don&#039 ; t know. |01:11:55| Brody Some structural problems. |01:11:56| Lambert There&#039 ; s some kind of more commercial type. I don&#039 ; t know if they&#039 ; re community gardens or not. They&#039 ; re like farm, they call themselves farms that are trying to work in those areas. It remains to be seen whether they&#039 ; ll have, you know, they&#039 ; re all new. And, you know, I&#039 ; m...I&#039 ; ve seen a lot of new things not last very long. So I don&#039 ; t know, you know, cross my fingers, it&#039 ; d be great if they work out. But having the impact, you know, being, having a broad enough reach, it&#039 ; s kind of hard to see. |01:12:33| Brody Yeah, that reminds me of earlier you were talking about when you first, early, when you were on the scene, were driving around and sort of visiting the different community gardens that existed already and kind of had in your mind that surely they&#039 ; d all want to kind of join together. It sounds like that&#039 ; s the same kind of thing that you&#039 ; re saying is still kind of missing. |01:12:55| Lambert Yeah. If anything, that sense of &quot ; let&#039 ; s do something with our group of people and you know, and not them, those others,&quot ; it seems to be as strong as ever. And I mean, like a let&#039 ; s say a church has a space and so they decide to start a garden for their youth group. Right. They usually limit themselves already to where they can&#039 ; t succeed because that youth, those people grow up pretty quick. Right? And new people don&#039 ; t like to take on projects that other people started before it seems like. You see that in schools all the time. You know that the PTA or somebody starts some project and as soon as you get another batch of parents, another batch of kids, you know, they want to do another. They want to do their new, their own project. So I don&#039 ; t know. |01:13:48| Brody Well, if you could wave a magic wand around this issue in this city, what are the main things that you would, that you would change? |01:14:01| Lambert I don&#039 ; t know. It&#039 ; s a systemic cultural thing. You know, there&#039 ; s there&#039 ; s not an orientation towards self-sufficiency and, you know, growing your own kind of things and whatnot, that is, seems to be a part of the culture in other cities that I&#039 ; ve visited. But the stories that I&#039 ; ve heard, you know, about somebody that had the idea to start a garden in some small town somewhere with some of the neighbors and whatnot, and within a matter of weeks they were planting and growing stuff because the land became available somehow or other and people showed up with stuff and whatnot. And next thing you knew, there were four gardens in their little town. And now I don&#039 ; t know whether those lasted because I haven&#039 ; t been able to keep touch with them. But that kind of eagerness, spontaneity of people coming together to do these kind of community projects, you know, just hasn&#039 ; t happened here. And, and I also think that there&#039 ; s a kind of a fear by people in positions of power that those folks that are maybe impoverished and whatnot, we don&#039 ; t want them too organized. You know, they might feel that it&#039 ; s a threat. You know, they might make demands that we don&#039 ; t want to carry out. You know? |01:15:24| Brody It does sound like it&#039 ; s a bunch of systemic problems. |01:15:27| Lambert Yeah, I think it is. I think it&#039 ; s a systemic thing. |01:15:34| Brody The story, especially of the garden in East Dallas that some people call the Asian Garden, you know, it seems like it is born out of the role that food plays in people&#039 ; s cultures. What are your thoughts around the role of food in communicating and transmitting culture? |01:16:02| Lambert It&#039 ; s really central. You know, it was central in the America of my youth with the community I grew up in. You know, it&#039 ; s like community picnics, you know, 4th of July celebrations, Thanksgiving and things like that, you know, it was all about food and bringing people together. And we had, I mean, my family had as many as seventy-five people come together for things to celebrate Thanksgiving with a huge, you know, all the spread, you know, fixins to, you know, that&#039 ; s kind of died out. But as I&#039 ; ve looked at other cultures, you know, that have come in, that moved here and set up communities, it seemed like every single one of them has these big food fests going on. And my wife and I are members of the Malaysian Family Club. And we find out that there&#039 ; s actually organizations just like that, there&#039 ; s, you know, and with many other groups. And but they come up with excuses to have a big, you know, feast, shared community feast with each other several times a year routinely. We&#039 ; ve been having a big Chinese New Year festival at a restaurant somewhere, which has been going on now for, oh, at least twenty years. And it kind of got shut down in COVID, you know? But, you know, it&#039 ; s coming back. But I mean, food is far more important than anything else it seems like. You know, it&#039 ; s our food, our dishes, our special national things that we celebrate, you know, who we are as people are just, you know. Sometimes it&#039 ; s the only thing we&#039 ; ve got. You know, we can sit down and eat food with the people we don&#039 ; t really sometimes know that well or agree with on a lot of things. And we can talk about the food and about back home and growing up and all those things. Sure. Just celebrating life as a people together around food is just that&#039 ; s what it&#039 ; s all about. |01:18:23| Brody It&#039 ; s really nice. So you&#039 ; ve seen the Asian communities in Dallas grow significantly in the time that you&#039 ; ve been here since 1982 1962. How would you characterize those communities and sort of the growth and the change that you&#039 ; ve seen over time? |01:18:52| Lambert Well, the biggest change for for our group, for the Malaysian group, which were some, a mixture of ethnic groups, but is, has been the family and children and things like that. It&#039 ; s been going on long enough that we&#039 ; ve matured a lot and there aren&#039 ; t as many young families joining. So we used to have- it was all about the kids and we would, you know, we&#039 ; d teach the kids, you know, traditional dances and things like that and all of that. And now they&#039 ; re teenagers or they&#039 ; ve gone off to college, you know, and younger people aren&#039 ; t joining in the same way. |01:19:36| Brody Why do you think? |01:19:38| Lambert I don&#039 ; t know. It&#039 ; s more, they&#039 ; re more professional. It&#039 ; s more about maybe just globalization. I don&#039 ; t know. They&#039 ; re you know, they&#039 ; re just connected to other things. And, you know, family, in that sense, is not as important. But they&#039 ; re also startign their own families, their own groups. I mean, just like I mean, just like in our culture, you know, it was aunts and uncles, the grandparents of my generation, you know, and they would, that brought this big group of people together. But every single one of those families now, you know, is doing their own celebrations. So once you get to be a senior, you know, most of the people you interacted with around food, you know, as when you were younger, you know, are off doing their own thing. I mean, it&#039 ; s that, I guess, is the way it has to be, but I don&#039 ; t know. The...So we went to, we would meet at households early on and it got to be where nobody&#039 ; s house was big enough. And then we went through a phase of renting a hall somewhere or a restaurant, you know. We got too big for that, you know. So once you get past three or four hundred people, you know, it gets really hard to get together an event around food. And so now it&#039 ; s splintering off into several of those littler groups. |01:21:06| Brody Interesting. In terms of the gardens and the organizations that you&#039 ; re involved in, what impact, if any, did COVID have on your operations? |01:21:20| Lambert You know, it didn&#039 ; t have that much of an impact because gardens are a safe place. Everybody saw them as a relatively safe place. And so there was very little fear about catching COVID when you&#039 ; re out in the open air, in the sunshine, and whatnot in the garden. And, you know, people in a garden can choose to work close together or they can find something, you know, far apart. And so people were more sensitive, masked up and avoided other people, but were still there. You know, you could still have conversations with friends. In some way, in some areas there was more intensity because the fact that, you know, being able to get out, you know, is really important and people couldn&#039 ; t find safe places to go, so now they maybe went to the garden much more often and they were much more conscientious about the importance of growing food for other people that needed it. So yeah, we, we felt we were really lucky in a way that we never felt I mean, if you have a yard, you can escape to your backyard. We have a big backyard garden. But we have three other gardens we can escape to with other groups of people, you know. So, yeah. |01:22:41| Brody How about the tornadoes or the ice storm? Were you impacted at all? |01:22:46| Lambert Yeah, well, the the weather itself has been really crummy, you might say, for gardening in the last couple of years. The episodes of colder than normal and warmer than normal, you know, droughts and then too much rain and things like that, as has done a lot to change, you know, kind of the ecology of the gardens, the populations of pests and things like that have been altered in ways sometimes very hard to control. Like this spring, we had what we call the aphid apocalypse in which, you know, everybody had aphids so bad in their garden because we probably lost a lot of the predators. And just the timing, the sequencing of hot and cold, it made it so that they flourished when other things didn&#039 ; t and there was nothing to control them. And I mean, at times it gets so hot. You can&#039 ; t I mean, we&#039 ; re limited here because it&#039 ; s too hot in the summer for a lot of the stuff that people want to grow. You can&#039 ; t grow tomatoes. Well, basically right now, the temperatures at night are close to 80, right? Once you get past 80 at night, there&#039 ; s no more tomatoes setting. Right. So you&#039 ; re liable to get maybe only six weeks when the weather&#039 ; s cool enough, you know, to set tomatoes. Well, that seems to be getting shorter. So it was too cold for too long and now it&#039 ; s getting too hot at night. It&#039 ; s like so yeah our weather, and but it changes so we never know how to what strategy to use. So usually what people do is they, they over plant, you know they, instead of planting once they&#039 ; ll plant something and they&#039 ; ll plant a little more of it a week later, you know, just in case things don&#039 ; t work out. So we&#039 ; ve had to adjust our strategy a lot. It takes more time, more energy, is more costly, takes more seed, everything you know, to keep up. But since we&#039 ; re really into food production and food is something that&#039 ; s needed every day of the year, basically, you know, we&#039 ; re not, we&#039 ; re not inclined to do that. But there&#039 ; s some people who garden as a hobby, you might say, and they go out and they plant and if that doesn&#039 ; t make it, that&#039 ; s sort of it. They don&#039 ; t have much garden this year. |01:25:23| Brody Right. The stakes are higher for you. |01:25:25| Lambert Yes. Yeah, the stakes are very high. And if our if our if like our East Dallas Community Garden and Live Oak Community Garden cannot grow enough food for those that population, then then being able to afford to help pay the water bill can&#039 ; t happen. We can&#039 ; t charge them enough to pay the water bill anyway. We cover that from our market takes. But the we&#039 ; ve had we had to raise the fee a couple of times, you know, because the water got so expensive because of the prolonged drought and the price of water has increased dramatically too. And, and I don&#039 ; t know, maybe the biggest impact that&#039 ; s coming about right now is things like the materials you need to build the gardens have gotten so expensive. Like we cannot afford lumber, right? We can&#039 ; t repair gardens. We certainly can&#039 ; t build a garden now. You know, it would be...You know, back in the nineties, I could build a garden for twenty people or twenty families for $4000. If we had a fence already, that might cost another couple. Right. But the idea of spending as much as $10,000, you know, to get fifteen or twenty people into a garden, you know, was ridiculous. Some people did that because they wasted money on things that, you know, they over overdid it, built things that were not efficient. |01:27:03| Brody It&#039 ; s gotten a lot more challenging. |01:27:08| Lambert When you garden a lot, you get cramps in your legs. |01:27:13| Brody Well, I want to say thank you. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you want to add to this interview? |01:27:24| Lambert Only that I think my wife and I have considered ourselves so fortunate to sort of just fall into this, you know, thing that we&#039 ; ve been doing for the last thrity-five years. It&#039 ; s just been a wonderful life. Well, that&#039 ; s a name of a...But it&#039 ; s just been so filling. And I mean, all the people that we&#039 ; ve met and all the people we&#039 ; ve been able to bring together and all of those people that have just found some happiness and whatnot and health through, you know, what they could grow and being able to stuff and, and the fact that we have so many people that we have something to talk to about, you know, that we know something about that other people are interested in. So, you know, you know, my wife is the garden lady and I&#039 ; m the garden guy, you know. |01:28:27| Brody And it sounds like a wonderful life and very fulfilling and that, you know, you&#039 ; ve definitely made and left a great legacy here in Dallas. |01:28:37| Lambert And I guess the other thing is, speaking of the COVID period, I mean, there&#039 ; s a lot of talk about this that people have started gardens and things, but it&#039 ; s like all of our friends who used to come to our backyard garden and ooh and ahh over it and get vegetables from us and stuff once in a while, almost all of them started gardens in the last couple of three years and it&#039 ; s gotten really fun. Now when we go to over, you know the thing go out in the backyard and see their gardens. People who didn&#039 ; t garden before, you know, maybe because they know us, but at least we were a source of plants and information and things like that. That&#039 ; s been useful to our closest friends. You know? |01:29:17| Brody That&#039 ; s great. And you can see that. |01:29:19| Lambert They thought we were just weird people at one point, I think. And now they&#039 ; re doing it, too. |01:29:24| Brody That&#039 ; s wonderful. Well, you get the last laugh as well. Thank you very much for sitting for this interview and for sharing all of your memories and experiences. I appreciate it a lot and I know that future scholars will as well. |01:29:39| Lambert It&#039 ; s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me. |01:29:42| Brody You&#039 ; re welcome. All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. audio Interviews may be reproduced with permission from the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. 0



“Interview with Don Lambert, May 30, 2022,” Digging In Dallas, accessed July 12, 2024,