SEEDS – Southeastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces, Durham, NC

SEEDS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help neighborhoods create sustainable green spaces. This WorldLegacy NC55 Leadership project planted 100 rose bushes and other plants, installed compost bins, a 75-foot privacy fence, a clay oven, bluebird houses, and painted murals. Budget: $15,000. June 2003.

SEEDS helps plant changes for unused land in Durham

June 1, 2003

When Sarah Gibbs talks about “Food Alley,” she is not referring to a food court in one of Durham’s shopping malls.

Her idea is a narrow strip of mixed-use land in the middle of a large demonstration garden in East Durham.

“This is really starting to be permaculture,” said the executive director of SEEDS, located at 706 Gilbert St., a block north of intersection of Holloway and Elizabeth streets.

As Gibbs showed off her plants, a group of small children from a local daycare center trooped into the compound, “the Edgemont kids,” she said. “These are the most adorable children. They are painfully cute. They come here about once a week.”

While the children weeded their plot, Gibbs continued the guided tour of the garden, which includes many edible plants and flowers mixed in for pollination.

Peach trees, Filberts (nuts), pears, lemon balm, potatoes, strawberries, elderberries, blueberries, cranberries, paw-paws and thyme are growing in the alley.

Elsewhere tomatoes, sweet peas, squash and other vegetables flourish. One small plot is dedicated to herbs — thyme, oregano, pineapple sage, chives, cilantro, tarragon, dill and fennel.

South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces Inc., or SEEDS, was started in 1994 as a program to help turn vacant, abandoned lots into productive green spaces.

“What we’re working towards right now, is to continue to enhance it so that it is a Triangle-wide demonstration garden that will be known statewide,” Gibbs said of the project that also has educational purposes.

The organization, which owns some of its land and uses other tracts on loan to it, is supported mainly by individual donations and grants, with a small and dwindling portion of its funds coming from the city as budget times continue to be lean.

That’s why volunteers have become even more important to the organization that has been around nearly nine years. And Gibbs’ job is to get more people involved in volunteering with SEEDS. While donations of money are welcomed, there are other ways to help out.

“The best thing is for people to come and find out what we’re doing and if it’s something that matches their excitement, then we can help them figure out a way to get involved,” Gibbs said.

That could include donations of time, working with the board or working hands-on in the gardens, with the children. That is what happened recently for Betsy Barton and some of her friends.

“They just took us by storm,” Gibbs said of the Legacy volunteers. “They are a very motivated, really wonderful group of folks. They pull all the resources together and really focus on what they are doing.”

“The WorldLegacy is an organization in Morrisville that does leadership training, and we’re a group of people who all went through the training,” said Barton. “Part of what we do is pick a volunteer project and make amazing things happen in very short periods of time.”

The amazing things this group accomplished in five weeks were to raise $5,000, get Dickerson Fencing to erect a fence along Elizabeth Street, build a privacy wall on the south side of the garden and plant 100 roses donated by Home Depot.

“What we’re doing now is walking around the neighborhood and seeing if people around here would like a rose in their yard,” Barton said.

“We picked SEEDS because our group decided that we wanted to make to make a difference somewhere in the realm of children,” Barton said.

Jason Balius of The Mad Hatter Bakery has been a staunch supporter of SEEDS, buying fresh produce from the gardens for his restaurant. Volunteers also sell produce, herbs, plants and flowers at the Durham Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings.

The SEEDS campus is made up of several different plots, with a demonstration garden where people from the neighborhood come in and grow things. Across Gilbert Street is “the big garden” where they raise organic vegetables to sell — leaf lettuce, onions and other fresh produce.

“It’s real organic produce that teens from the community take to the market and sell and they also learn business skills,” said Will Ammons, a landscaper who is also with the WorldLegacy group.

Ammons has been “reaching out to the community,” as well as helping plant the roses and putting up the privacy fence, which protects the garden from pit bulls on the other side.

“We’re just outsiders, from all walks of life, who came in and raised a lot of money,” said Barton. “We came in and asked them, ‘What do you want?’ They created a wish list, and we negotiated and we said okay. They said it would be nice if we had a better fence, because people jump it at night and leave hypodermic needles in the garden.”

Dana Messick, a UNC student from Columbus, Ohio, began volunteering as part of a project through a class in the environmental studies department. She and a friend were weeding a bed of spring onions recently when they were asked about their volunteer work.

“I started coming out here in August once a week for a couple of hours and working with the DIG program, which is the Durham Inner-City Gardeners program,” she said. “Then the class ended in December, but I really liked it, so I’ve kept coming out and this semester Amanda has come with me.”

Amanda Harlow, a high school classmate of Messick’s, decided to join her friend in the work.

“It sounded like an interesting program and something good to do on Saturday mornings, get out of bed and get moving before noon and spend some time outside,” he said. “It’s good to be outside and be in the dirt and get away from Chapel Hill for a while.”

Precious Clemmons, a 10-year-old neighbor, was helping with the garden.

“I’ve been working,” she said. “I’ve been planting roses, three roses.”

Precious said she heard about the project when her brother came to an open house at the garden. Her favorite thing was planting the roses and she planted her rosebush Nicole.

“They all named their rose buses,” Barton said. “We taught them how to dig the hole and plant the bush and they felt like, ‘This is mine,'” she explained with a laugh. “So they named them.”

Gibbs sometimes hangs out with Precious and her friends from the neighborhood, working with them.

“For me, that is the real opportunity, when there are kids that have an interest and a desire to learn to grow things,” she said. “It’s their neighborhood and its great to help them get involved.”

While some of the workers are volunteers, some get paid, as does Chris Lyons, 17, a junior at Hillside in his third year with DIG.

“I heard about the job in class one day and I applied for the job.”

“It was originally started as a youth program, but we have some older folks, in the 18 to 21 age range,” Gibbs said. “We work with up to 10 right now, but we eventually want to expand that and have more educational opportunities.”

Those numbers are just with the DIG program. School groups often come in for an afternoon learning and working.

Over the years Lyons has grown more than plants. He has grown pride.

“We’ve done a lot with this land,” said Lyons, who is interested in studying computer programming and landscaping when he gets out of high school. “You can look at it and say, “It ain’t nobody else’s. That is ours.”

The SEEDS garden is open for viewing daily. There will be a SEEDS Community Garden Outdoor Arts Festival: Art Grows in Durham, from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, which includes a silent auction, music, a puppet show and more.

Reprinted from The Herald-Sun, (Durham, NC)