By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Buck Oletski is digging carrots in the garden he's tilled for almost 57 years. When he straightens up, he has a clear view of the house he was brought to as a baby in 1917. And whether he looks left, right or directly ahead, all he sees is Oletskis.
His daughter Georgine is chasing his grandson Nicholas around her yard, which is one house north of her father's house. In the next house to the north, another one of Buck's six daughters, Diane, is sitting at her kitchen table remembering 1969, when she was young, newly married and had just moved two houses away from her parents. "Good, that's how it was," she says, as her grandson Tyler goes by on unsteady toddler legs. "I never had to jump in my car and go anywhere. I just went over to my father's. We'd sit out on the patio and watch the airplanes go by."
But at Buck Oletski's, sitting was an evening pastime. During the day, everyone gardened. There isn't an Oletski for blocks around who hasn't had to weed or haul manure for Buck's hundred-square-foot plot. "And the pickles and beets we girls had to pack," Georgine sighs. "Oh, we hated it." Today, neither Georgine nor Diane has her own garden. Buck's is enough.
At the moment, even that looks dormant--most of the plants have died back. But below the surface, there is action. Earlier this morning, when Buck stuck a pitchfork to its hilt in the ground, he came up with a half-bushel of sweet, perfectly formed carrots. He filled a box with those, then added a layer of beets. And next summer's garlic and asparagus are already into their formative months down in the dirt.
The dirt itself is a piece of work, famous among neighborhood gardeners: fifty years of composting and cultivating come to dark, crumbly fruition.
"Go across the street and check the expensive dirt," Buck suggests. "They couldn't even grow a crop of weeds there. You can't buy dirt like my dirt."
In fact, Globeville's most infamous resident, the Asarco Globe Plant, tried to--and failed.
A man with a video camera has appeared on the sidewalk to document the Oletski dirt. "I just want to make sure everything's taken care of," he says, panning back and forth from the lawn to the vegetable beds.
Farther down the block, the video man's colleagues patrol the neighborhood in pickup trucks. Representatives of the Asarco plant, whose lead-smelting operations spewed pollution into the Globeville air and soil as far back as the turn of the century, they are two and a half years into a court-mandated cleanup job that will probably last into the next millennium. In 1993, Asarco settled two lawsuits--one filed by a group of Globeville citizens, one by the State of Colorado--and began working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to identify the extent of the damage to Globeville's dirt. No one disputed that the soil was tainted with lead, cadmium and arsenic--the question was by how much, and how to remedy it.
Since it was ordered to clean up its act, Asarco has become an almost benevolent presence in Globeville: throwing parties with mariachi music, distributing newsletters, operating a community information center. And so far, tensions are nowhere near as high as people expected them to be during this $28.1 million cleanup--especially considering how down-and-dirty the litigation became.
"Growing up, we didn't have any knowledge of all this being polluted," says Michael Sanchez, one of Buck Oletski's grandsons. "It was just our home. We knew about the Asarco plant and we ate the fruit and vegetables out of my grandfather's garden and we didn't know any better. So now all that bad stuff is in the soil, and it's something that you didn't put there purposely, some big company did, and you can be frustrated or you cannot be frustrated. Either way, you have to live with it."
This past spring, subcontractors began hauling away the top twelve inches of topsoil from blocks of affected properties, 550 houses in all, replacing the dirt with something they hoped was comparable. But Globeville soil, cultivated and improved by generations of gardeners who grew their own food for their own large Catholic families, was a tough act to follow.
"They gave us good soil," says Globeville gardener Mary Dudymott, who has fed her family of seven from her quarter-acre plot for 25 years. "It was good to make bricks with, anyway. It would get real hard, like cement, and turn a kind of sandy color. But I figured, give it a chance, because I had never gardened in anything like it. I planted the usual things--corn, pumpkins, watermelons--but they barely grew. I thought of taking a jackhammer to the whole thing."
Instead, she complained to an Asarco community liaison and was assured she would receive better soil by next spring. Officials at the plant, owned by New York-based Asarco Inc., do not want to make an enemy out of Mary Dudymott. They sent the man with the video camera over to her place, too. Pacifying Globeville's gardeners is an ongoing job.