SEEDS begin to blossom in renovated building

After a three-month delay, staff and volunteers of Durham’s 20-year-old community garden, SEEDS, moved into its newly renovated building at the end of January.

Garden manager Hilary Nichols sorts through packets of seeds in building’s largest space. (Staff photo by Kaitlyn Knepp)

Garden manager Hilary Nichols sorts through packets of seeds in building’s largest space. (Staff photo by Kaitlyn Knepp)

SEEDS, a non-profit educational community garden, is still located on the corner of Gilbert and Elizabeth Streets, but in a new, user-friendly building.

Plans for renovations have been in motion for nearly four years. Main construction began in April 2013, and all renovations will be finished by mid-February.

Executive Director Emily Egge said last summer’s heavy rains slowed down exterior demolition.

“Digging in the ground and pouring concrete is not possible when it’s raining,” she said.

Some of the building’s new features include a solar-powered hot water heater, low-flow fixtures, LED lighting, a large kitchen and a new rainwater collection system.

At the SEEDS garden. (Staff photo by Brittney Cherry)

At the SEEDS garden. (Staff photo by Brittney Cherry)

“We’re collecting all the rainwater from the roof through two cisterns that were recently put back into the garden,” Egge said. “We have the goal of not using city water for our garden.”

The organization also received many donations. Durham Academy donated the maple flooring from its gym, which is now in the building’s main space. Durham restaurant Parker and Otis donated a three-compartment sink for the new kitchen.

To help connect the space with the garden, Egge said they installed large windows across the entire front of the building.

“We tried to incorporate those kinds of things that just are going to make it a welcoming, friendly place to be, a low maintenance space, because we want to be able to focus on our programming and not maintaining our building,” Egge said.

Closeness to the garden was a major goal in the design of the new building.

Workers put the final touches on the building's exterior renovations. (Staff photo by Kaitlyn Knepp)

Workers put the final touches on the building’s exterior renovations. (Staff photo by Kaitlyn Knepp)

SEEDS volunteer Chef Kabui said he is happy with the new space because young volunteers will get to see what they grew while eating in the new kitchen.

“The open space is important because it helps the young farmers become more connected with the garden,” Kabui said.

In addition to the building’s renovations, the gardens will also see a few changes in the garden’s design.

Garden Manager Hilary Nichols said about 40 to 50 feet of garden space around the building was torn up by construction.

Nichols said she hired a permaculture designer to gather input from the staff, neighbors and volunteers about their visions for the garden. After collecting their ideas, a permaculture design class at North Carolina State University created 14 potential designs.

The SEEDS design council will vote on a final design in the next few weeks. Work on the new design should start at the end of February, Nichols said.

“We’re trying to make sure that everybody involved at SEEDS has some input into what the garden design is and that it’s going to work a lot better than the old one did,” she said.

Nichols said she is most excited about the building’s new basement. Since the old building did not have one, tools had to be stored in Nichols’ office.

“It’s not fun to have a computer and shovels in the same office,” she said.

Nichols said she would build a connection between the garden and the new building by working with volunteers in the kitchen.

“I’m trying to incorporate more and more eating and food experience in with the volunteer experience,” she said. “People come, work in the garden, and then get to taste a little something to kind of show what their work goes into.”

Nichols said SEEDS is looking for more volunteers, and anyone interested can sign up online at

Edited by Jasmin Singh

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