Manhattan’s Central Park shares little with Durham’s SEEDS garden in size or appearance. But Tom Kenan encouraged attendees at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony to embrace the comparison – at least when it comes to impact on their respective communities.
“When we first came out here 20 years ago, the neighborhood looked sort of tired,” said Kenan, the brother of garden co-founder Annice Kenan. “And then it didn’t take long – a few months, a couple of years – when the houses started (getting) repainting, people began to work in their yards, because they really had something to be proud of. And this is their Central Park.”
SEEDS, a community and teaching garden in central Durham, celebrated Wednesday (April 10) the upcoming renovation of the building it has occupied since 2000. The construction will go from late April through October, and will add a teaching kitchen, programming space, mud room, improved insulation and a solar-powered water heating system among other updates.
In lieu of a traditional groundbreaking, community members and garden employees were invited to take cuttings from a fig tree that will be removed to make way for the building’s new front door. About 30 people gathered to hear founders praise the garden’s progress since its creation in 1994.
Executive Director Emily Egge said the renovations, which will increase the building’s space from 3,200 to 5,000 square feet, will help SEEDS better serve Durham.
“I’ve sent out our apologies to the neighbors for the dust and the noise that they’re going to have for the next couple of months,” said Egge, squinting in the April sunshine, “but I think when we come out on the end, we’re going to be an even better resource for our community.”
Egge said the SEEDS building, which she estimated was built around 1910, is long overdue for a renovation.
“The building right now is about as unsustainable as you can get,” Egge said. “It’s not well insulated, it doesn’t stay warm in the winter or cool in the summer, the roof leaks – so we’re really starting with some of the basics of having a really long-lasting building that does sort of the basic sustainable features really well.”
Heather Hill, the coordinator for children’s programs at SEEDS, said the changes would help bring more children and young students into the garden.
“When we do camps, when we do after-school, when we do programs with youth – we’ll be able to have more kids here,” Hill said. “We’ll be able to impact more children in the Durham area every year and get them connected to gardening and nature.”
One of many youth-oriented programs that operates out of the garden is Durham Inner-city Gardeners (DIG), which teaches Durham teens about organic gardening, sustainability and food security. DIG Specialist Kamilah Holtz said she looks forward to cooking with her group in the new teaching kitchen.
“Part of our programing on Saturday is having lunch together and trying to utilize some of the vegetables that we grow out in the garden,” Holtz said. “So we’ll have more space to be able to do that correctly. We’re having to get really creative with how we cook, using crock pots and rice cookers and anything that you can kind of plug in to a wall.”
While gardeners are excited for the renovations coming to SEEDS, Egge said some of the most satisfying changes have already happened in their neighborhood.
“We originally leased this land for a dollar a year back in ’94,” she said. “There was nothing else here; there weren’t the businesses, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity up and down the street, so I think the owner was pleased to have something happening here, and something positive happening here. And I think that SEEDS being here has been one of the things that has attracted some of the commercial revitalization down Gilbert Street.”
Egge added that as the Gilbert Street community has revitalized around SEEDS, little has changed about the building in that time. She said it was high time for their headquarters to join the community’s progress.
“We have seen quite a few changes here in Durham, quite a few changes in this community and in this property itself in that time,” she said. “And it’s about time that we saw some good, positive changes in this hundred year old building too.”