New Orleans Lady Bird Johnson gets a lot of credit for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove filled with a variety of trees along the Potomac River in Washington, D. C. There’s the AIDS Grove, a memorial to more than 1000 in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. More than a thousand redwood forest groves have been established in 30 different state parks in California. My brother’s passing along with some nudges from friends and family members with great suggestions, got me thinking about what might be appropriate for those warriors and loved ones we can’t be allowed to forget and seek to remember and respect. Why not a small orchard of fruit trees on the ACORN Farm dedicated to exactly that purpose?
The ACORN Farm is now a half-acre in the Lower 9th Ward mostly facing Law and Delery Streets, only two blocks from the first two houses built after Katrina by ACORN. Another acre or so is likely available across the streets but not contiguous to our farm. The Lower 9th Ward is still only repopulated between 20 and 25% compared to the pre-Katrina numbers, so the long march to recovery is a long way to completion. Urban agricultural projects have been part of the plan, and we’ve been at the task of making it productive. The first six fig trees and two of our pecan trees that we planted as mere sprigs fell to city lawn mowing contractors confused about the lots they were handling and oblivious to our designs. One pecan still thrives and sometime in the next ten years will be productive. A recent donation of a large fig tree uprooted from a French Quarter patio has prospects for turning around a rough area at the junction of one of our lots. Like old pioneers in the West, we think where there’s land, there’s opportunity.
Suggestions of a memorial for Dale, my brother, quickly produced a promised large pecan tree and several contributions that have our volunteer farmers looking for citrus trees, orange, lemon, and Satsumas that could fill the holes dug by our recent volunteers. The nice thing about fruit trees is the pleasure that will come for years and years from a gift that just keeps on giving. The first trees will frame the ACORN Community Green Space, as we’re calling it where we envision neighbors being able to sit in the future in some calm and find shade and solace in the orchard.
But, why not more? After riding for the ACORN brand in one way or another for 45 years, natural laws have caught up with too many and more will inevitably come. Why not a tree for Maxine Nelson from Pine Bluff, the longtime Secretary and APAC chair who passed last year or Elena Hanggi Givens, former ACORN President and director of the training institute, also lost last year? Steve McDonald, long gone, but critical in ACORN’s history should have a tree shouldn’t he? Great organizers critical on the long road, but now too gone to early like Dewey Armstrong, Jon Kest, John Beam, and others like Terry Andrews, who I promised myself long ago I would find a way to remember, but failed to find a way to do so, should all have fruit bearing trees.
The collective enterprise of social movements and peoples’ organizations of low and moderate income families that has been part of the great tradition that ACORN shared exists at the footnotes, if that, of history by and large for elites, but we have to find ways to honor and remember our own and keep their memories evergreen just as our struggle must also be constant.
Somehow an orchard on the ACORN Farm seems small, but a start, and something that those of us who have made this our life’s work can share.