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Durham community garden grows hope

Posted March 14, 2015
Updated March 15, 2015

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— As construction looms and downtown Durham rapidly develops, one garden oasis provides a peaceful place to escape it all.

The urban sanctuary is called SEEDS, for South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Services, and it promotes sustainable agriculture, organic gardening and uses the earth to teach people how to be responsible citizens.

“What we want is to be a space for people to have access to healthy green spaces and food and get to know the earth and get to know the ground,” said Leslie Simonds, a coordinator at SEEDS.

Founded in 1994, SEEDS offers summer camps, after-school programs, and the opportunity for volunteers to garden, cook or present workshops.

SEEDS has evolved over the years into a nonprofit educational community garden, but the original mission is still the same – to teach, offer access to fresh food and improve sustainability.

“Durham, Durhamites, if you’re from here, you have a history in agriculture," Simonds said. "It’s just the reality of this area, and the younger generation is probably not getting that experience.”

To remedy this, SEEDS started a program called Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG) in early 2000. It allows teenagers to grow produce, herbs and flowers, which they then sell at the Durham Farmers’ Market.

The teens learn life and business skills, and have fun while doing it.

“The Durham Inner City gardeners are amazing young people,” Simonds said. “They are enthusiastic and invested and passionate and goofy, and sometimes we break into dance parties in the middle of the garden. They care a lot about the work that they’re doing here.”

Drywaller Whitney Brown, who works at SEEDS, has the job of building walls in a garden dedicated to breaking down barriers.

“I think it’s so important,” Brown said of DIGS. “Pretty essential life skill if you ask me.”

In addition to DIGS, the nonprofit hosts SEEDlings, an after-school program that caters to first- through fifth-graders and allows parents to pay on a sliding scale based on income.

“My heart explodes with hope," Simonds said. "I’m like, 'Yes, young people care.'”

The students will harvest that hope this summer, along with bushels of vegetables.


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