At 10th Harvest Dinner, SEEDS shows local gardening can help tie communities together

Sorghum-glazed pork belly with micro-mustards. Black walnut sausage with caramelized onion confiture and sourdough toast. Candied fig and goat cheese ice cream.

These dishes may sound like gourmet entrées from Food Network, but they can be found on the menus of restaurants right here in the Triangle.

On Sept. 19, SEEDS hosted its 10th Annual Harvest Dinner at the Pavilion in Durham Central Park, celebrating the local community of gardeners, chefs and consumers. SEEDS (South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces, Inc.) is a nonprofit community garden located at 706 Gilbert St. in central Durham. Around 220 guests attended the dinner, which featured the dishes of 19 notable restaurants based in the Triangle.

Executive director Emily Egge said the event serves as a fundraiser with the goal of raising $50,000 to support SEEDS’ various sustainability programs. The nonprofit is still receiving donations, but Egge said she estimates proceeds will total about $40,000.

“[The dinner] not only will be a great fundraiser for SEEDS, but also a great opportunity for all of our guests here tonight to try some old favorites and some new favorites and continue to help support this incredible food economy that we have here, and by supporting the restaurants that support the farmers who are cultivating our land,” Egge said. “We’re hoping to keep the cycle going.”

Egge said she hopes events like the harvest dinner will allow the chefs to build relationships with their customers and bring people together to raise awareness about food security and local gardens.

Nancy Mayer, a Durham local who has been attending the SEEDS harvest dinner for about five years, said she bought her ticket for this year’s dinner months ago. A long-time member of SEEDS, Mayer said she wants to support local food production and the organic food movement.

“You get to buy the produce from your neighbors or your friends,” Mayer said. “I mean, over the years in the Farmers’ Market I’ve gotten to know a lot of the farmers. I joke with them and I know who they are and I buy their food. That’s really important.”

All entrées and drinks were made with locally grown products and donated by the chef-owners.

The Cupcake Bar, located at East Chapel Hill St., was one of five bakeries that served desserts at the dinner. Anna Branly, co-owner, said the eggs used to make the peaches and cream cupcakes were from Maple View Farm in Hillsborough. The peaches are from Farmers’ Market. Piedmont Restaurant on Foster Street in Durham got their micro-mustards from Sweet Beet City Farm in Durham. The cheeses and creams in many other dishes served by restaurants, including Toast, Pizzeria Toro and Mateo, were from Chapel Hill Creamery.

Charlie Deal, chef-owner of Jujube and Dos Perros, located at Raleigh Road in Chapel Hill and 200 North Mangum St. in Durham, respectively, served roasted poblano tamales and Vietnamese salad rolls.

“Some [ingredients] are more local than others,” Deal said. “Doing Asian and Mexican, it’s hard to keep it entirely local. So we get some from Farmers’ Market, and we also have some farmers that deliver right to our backyard. They’re hobby farmers – just friends of the restaurants’, not actual official farms.”

Dennis Clements, former president of SEEDS and dinner attendee, said the Triangle – particularly Durham and Chapel Hill – is at the forefront of the local food movement.

“If you want to go to one of the Farmers’ Markets at seven in the morning, you will see the chefs of these local restaurants buying the food before you can get there because that’s what they’re going to use in their restaurants, not something that they bought in a store somewhere,” said Clements, whose term ended in June.

Salima Taylor, an event volunteer and a junior at North Carolina Central University, said she got involved with SEEDS because of her interests in food justice and people who don’t have proper access to healthy food.

“For the people who are able to afford this dinner, this is wonderful. They can get the word out and everything,” said Taylor, 21, who has been a volunteer with Durham Inner-city Gardeners – a program under SEEDS – for two months. “But I think an initiative like SEEDS is great because inner-city individuals and low-income people can also take part in trying to get more fruits and vegetables into their diet and take control of their health outcomes.”

As SEEDS continues to expand in the future, so will the organization’s impact on the community, Taylor said.

“I think they’ve [SEEDS] played a really pivotal role because I think they bridge that gap between certain populations,” Taylor said. “Not only are they in east Durham in a neighborhood that is low-income and people can come and get vegetables outside of the garden, but then there are also volunteers that come from all over Durham to play a part in that process.”

Clements said the nonprofit has developed more focus over the years and added more youth services like SEEDlings, a program under SEEDS that teaches children about where their food comes from and how it’s prepared.

“SEEDS is just one of the few opportunities that sort of expands this knowledge base,” Clements said. “We need a thousand programs like SEEDS. We can only take care of maybe 10 or 12 SEEDlings and maybe 10 to 15 kids in high school. That’s just touching the tip of the iceberg of everybody that could use the education.”