SEEDS digs deeper to cultivate being green

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — One morning in April, 10 middle-school students from Triangle Day School spent three hours learning about the environment and working in the garden at SEEDS, an educational community garden in downtown Durham.

Also in April, an educator from SEEDS spent a full day at Central Elementary School in Hillsborough, rotating through the classrooms to teach students about insects, reptiles and other animals that live in gardens and are critical for their ecosystems and for growing food.

And twice a week, roughly half-a-dozen women from Good Samaritan Inn, the shelter for women and children at the Durham Rescue Mission, work as volunteers in SEEDS’ nearly two-acre garden, and in return take the harvest to the shelter’s kitchen to feed their families and peers.

Launched in 1994 by co-founders Brenda Brodie and Annice Kenan, SEEDS initially aimed to create community gardens on unused vacant and blighted properties to address a lack of access to good, healthy, fresh food for low-income residents.

That effort helped spur the creation of 15 community gardens, some of which still are operating.

But SEEDS has shifted its focus to using its own garden and its expertise to “teach people how to garden, grow organically, and learn about principles of sustainable agriculture, organic gardening and environmental stewardship,” says Emily Egge, executive director at SEEDS.

Operating with an annual budget of $414,000 and a full-time staff of six people, SEEDS serves over 1,000 people a year, mainly through partnerships with schools and nonprofits.

It works with at least a dozen schools a year that take field trips to the SEEDS garden or get visits from SEEDS educators.

Its DIG program, or Durham Inner-city Gardeners, for example, provides year-round part-time jobs for five high school students, plus summer jobs for another 10 to 15 students.

And it recently broke ground on a renovation project to expand its building at the corner of Gilbert and Elizabeth streets to 5,000 square feet from 3,200 square feet.

The project will include more classroom space, expanding what had been a small residential kitchen to a teaching kitchen with four to six student stations, and adding a “mud room” to store garden tools and supplies, and to handle activities such as potting, transplanting and painting.

SEEDS temporarily has relocated its offices to rented space across the street in the John O’Daniel Exchange, and expects to move back to its renovated quarters by the end of the year.

To help pay for its expanded services, SEEDS aims over the next three years to increase its annual budget $500,000 by securing more foundation grants and more gifts from individual donors, and through the redesigned website it launched six months ago that has helped generate $8,000 in online giving in the fiscal  year that ends June 30, or roughly four times the total two years ago.

And on May 19, SEEDS will hold its 5th annual Pie Social from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Pavilion at Durham Central Park on Foster Street to raise money for its DIG summer program.

“We want everyone who comes through out gates, whatever their age, background or knowledge,” Egge says, “to leave with something that will impact their life, their views of sustainability, and their capacity to grow and make decisions for themselves about what they’re  eating, where they’re buying it from, and how they’re feeding their families.”

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