The school bus driver drops the kids off at the entrance of the garden. Kareemah Abdusamad rushes out of the building on 706 Gilbert St. to greet all of the children who are running down the dirt pathway. Abdusamad welcomes each child and asks about their day. She notices that 10-year-old Adrian Platt has a hole in his jacket. She’s already talking about sewing the jacket up as they enter the building.
Katie Williams holds the door open for the children. They tell her with a quick hello before running off to put their backpacks away in their personal cubbies. The children run around the open room before snack time.
“For a lot of children, it really is an experience that they are connected,” Abdusamad said. “They pay attention. ‘Ok, we are going to plant this. We are going to cultivate.’ In other words, I like to say that they have an appreciation before they arrive to us at SEEDS, from garden to table.”
South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces (SEEDS) has a new afterschool program that started last fall. The program teaches young children about gardening in addition to homework help and educational programing. According to SEEDS’s website, the program began in 1994 and has the goal of transforming neighborhoods through gardening. There are multiple SEEDS gardens throughout Durham.
Abdusamad, the children’s program manager and lead teacher for SEEDS, has seen the children develop and grow as a result of the program.
“I have seen a direct relationship when they bring in homework at the beginning of the school year and some concepts they don’t understand because they just are getting the theoretical part of it at school,” Abdusamad said. “Here, the hands-on complements the theory they’ve been getting in things like science and math. When we say, measure the area or the perimeter, it’s not just on paper. They are actually doing it.”
The children in the program are in first through fifth grades. Abdusamad and Hilary Nichols, the garden manager and volunteer coordinator, say that the program will expand to include middle schoolers next year. They have already made headway with this goal by opening the upcoming summer camp program to five middle schoolers per week.
Nichols has another project of her own at SEEDS. Along with other volunteers, she is working on building a bee observatory so the children can see how the bees live. Bees are pivotal to the gardening process since they are the main pollinators. The volunteers painted a mural on the bee observatory to provide a visual for how the bees live and interact with the environment.
“They learn about the creatures in the garden,” Nichols said. “They really interact with all of the ways we make food happen. After that, they harvest the food and go inside to cook it.”
There are also chickens in the garden. Abdusamad and the kids in the program have used some of the eggs in their cooking. They have a restaurant-grade kitchen for all of their cooking.
Katie Williams, a recent Guilford College graduate, is the afterschool assistant who helps Abdusamad work with the children.
“I was interested in the fact that this is a community garden,” Williams said. “So how do you spur environmentalism or sustainability in an urban environment? Because that is one impactful way you can get that going in people’s mind.”
SEEDS has adapted to meet evolving needs of the community. Since the program’s inception, everything from the environment to the Durham neighborhood in which SEEDS is located have undergone changes.
Abdusamad said that the children have noticed the unusual weather this winter. She uses the weather and changing climate to teach them about the environment.
“Children can see the relationship [with gardening] if it is unseasonably hot,” Abdusamad said. “We are saying we don’t usually have this plant blooming this time of year. They can see it, but you have to call their attention to it.”
Along with changes in the environment, Abdusamad has noticed changes in the community surrounding SEEDS.
“It is the changes of the time we live in,” Abdusamad said. “It is coming about just because of the unjust nature of the communities, whether it’s Durham, the Bronx or Maine. It’s just the end result of an unjust system. Because three years ago, let’s not go five, some of these houses you see were boarded up. You wouldn’t want to drive through this neighborhood. But suddenly, certain people knew about the tax breaks. Certain people got that information because they are politically astute. Their friends are on this board or that board, so they were able to come, and that’s the pattern. We do need to embrace the change, but we also need to keep the whole community involved in these kinds of things.”
As the season changes into spring, students will soon move the fruit of their labor, their seedlings from the greenhouse, outside to the garden.
Edited by: Elise Clouser and Sarah Muzzillo
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