SEEDlings nurturing the next generation

Seedlings, left to right, Heidi Martinez, Yusuf Malone, Joshua Di Bona, Marializ Martinez and Syncere Laukum posing playfully next to the fried rice they had just prepared. (Staff photo by Vanessa Luo)


How did the meal start? Where did it come from?

For many, these are not questions that would cross people’s minds before a meal. But it’s the norm for the children at SEEDlings. In front of them are scrambled eggs and fried rice with eggplant, topped with mint, basil and marigold. The children helped cook both dishes just minutes prior.

SEEDlings is an after-school enrichment program for first-graders to fifth-graders from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. SEEDlings has been around for a little more than 10 years. Following the 2017-2018 school schedule, SEEDlings began the latest session on Sept. 5. Although SEEDlings costs $150 a month, its payment operates on a sliding scale. Some can pay as little as 10 percent, or $15, a month.

SEEDlings operates under SEEDS (South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces), a nonprofit organization consisting of a two-acre multi-use, urban garden and a kitchen classroom. SEEDS is located at 706 Gilbert St. Its mission statement is to “develop the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth and each other through growing, cooking and sharing food.”

SEEDlings, left to right, Heidi Martinez, Marializ Martinez, Maasai Carter and Joshua Di Bona crowd to look at a ladybug. (Staff photo by Vanessa Luo)

The children all chimed in with their answers.

“We prepare the vegetables.”

“The eggs came from the chicken.”

“The mint and basil plants and marigold were from the garden.”

SEEDlings’ schedule is different depending on the weather and the day of the week. Sometimes, the children learn to cook. Other times, they learn to care for the garden.

When tasked with watering blueberry plants, the children ran off excitedly with their watering cans to scoop water. Many identified the blueberry plants without help.

Some children, like 8-year-old Heidi Martinez from Eastway Elementary, has been attending SEEDlings for a couple of years and can identify nearly every plant in the garden.

Heidi pointed to a grape vine and said it was creatively renamed as a “raisin plant” as the grapes were, more often than not, dried out.

She then pointed to a nearby eggplant and said, “Eggplant is found in a lot of traditions of Mexico…they’re very yummy.”

Heather Hill, 39, the program coordinator of SEEDS, is from Tucson, Ariz. She has been developing and leading SEEDS programs since 2010. From then until now, she noted SEEDS’ focus has shifted more towards youth programs. Currently, SEEDS only has SEEDlings for elementary students. But there are plans underway to create programs for middle and high school students.

The middle school program will be similar to an apprenticeship in which the students will continue to learn about plants and cooking. The High school program will be based on DIG (Durham Inner-city Gardeners), a youth-driven entrepreneurial business that grew produce for the Durham Farmer’s Market. The high school program will be a paid position for high school students to help younger students learn more about the gardening and cooking.

At SEEDlings, children are encouraged to learn and love at every moment.

Compost was described to them as “vegan”. The children are also taught to say “please” and “thank you.” Everyone also helps with preparations and cleaning up.

“SEEDS help them become curious about the world around them,” Hill said.

As the children continued to chat amongst themselves while eating their snacks, Trevor Hyde, the 21-year-old garden manager and educator of SEEDS from Raleigh, said, “Our rule here at the garden is to be adventurous.”

Indeed, SEEDS hopes to have and will prepare endless adventures of learning and love for the children and young adults of Durham.

More information about SEEDS can be found at: http://www.seedsnc.org/

Vanessa Luo is a journalism student at the UNC-CH School of Media and Journalism. This fall she is serving as a staff writer-photographer for the VOICE.