Vel Scott's Purple Oasis
When her husband, Don Scott, was diagnosed with hypertension a few years ago, Vel knew they had to make some changes. She wanted to cook good, healthy foods without sacrificing the bold, soulful flavors they loved. At Don's suggestion, they took a trip to Africa, the Motherland, to see how they cooked. "What we found was peace, tranquility, family, foods, beautiful people, beautiful colors, people who actually enjoyed their food," remembers Vel. They weren't in a great big hurry. It was all about family and connecting with the earth." This intentionality and slower pace was familiar to Vel. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Vel's earliest memories are of her grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, all of whom had large gardens. "I thought people all around the world gardened... that you could go out back and pick what you want, and that's where your food came from."
Vel's family settled on 33rd Street when she was still a child. She remembers being completely surprised in her first urban grocery store visit. "You have to pay for them!?" she asked her father about the tomatoes he'd just grabbed. "It's not like back home."
After returning from their African adventure, the Scott's returned back to Cleveland and began a garden with their neighbors in 2008. None of them had any adult experience with planting or growing food, "but it's interesting, everything we needed was right there in the community," says Vel. Since then, the small project has become a large thriving community with vegetables, fruit trees, sweet potato pie contests, canning parties, and even singing and dancing. "It's like a southern tradition," says Vel. Neighbors who lived next door for 15-20 years are meeting in the garden and becoming friends. Members of the nearby Mosque and the Baptist Church are now referring to each other primarily as friends, not by their each other's religion. The Oasis is a welcoming place, where you can be known by name, just like the front porch of Vel's grandmother back in Mississippi. "It really takes me back home," says Vel. "I've really come full circle." All are invited to stop by and relax, play music, cook up some healthy foods, do yoga, or dream.