SEEDS embraces changes for new year

Laurel Shulman (right), explains internal changes SEEDS will be making within the next six to eight months. Volunteers, community members and staff weighed in on SEEDS' new direction during a community meeting held on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016.


As SEEDS (South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces) approaches its annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday, Sept. 22, the nonprofit organization reviews this past year and what changes it can make to better serve its ever-changing community.

“We can do many things, or one thing really well,” said Laurel Shulman, operations manager of SEEDS. “We have a strong network of supporters, partnerships and relationships with programs that feel more loosely connected than we wish to be. We feel like we are spreading ourselves too thin.”

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Father and son explore the wonderful world of vegetables Saturday morning on Sept.18, 2016 at the Durham Farmers’ Market. One of SEEDS’ main objectives is to help young people learn about sustainable living and community engagement.

The solution: “Work smarter, not harder,” said Emily Egge, executive director of SEEDS.

Since its inception in 1994, SEEDS has been focused on promoting sustainable agriculture, organic gardening, food security and environmental stewardship, said Egge, but the Durham-based organization has also seen the needs of the community change over the last 22 years. In an effort to focus on what it feels does best, educating youth on sustainability, SEEDS has decided to become a garden school.

Not your traditional school, SEEDS’ new direction will give children the opportunity to enter the program at five years old and stay with it until they are 18. Currently, SEEDS has two core programs, one for elementary kids, children’s gardening and cooking programs, and DIG (Durham Inner-City Gardeners), a program aimed towards high school students, however there currently isn’t a program for middle school students.

Egge hopes that SEEDS’ emphasis on youth will allow for SEEDS to make a deeper impact on young people that can stay with them throughout their life. “We can do more by doing less,” said Egge.

This decision to focus more on youth, however, means some programs will have to be “sunsetted,” as Shulman calls it, or phased out. Of the programs that will be sunsetted are adult educational workshops and the community garden where local community members can pay to have their own lot on the Southside garden SEEDS owns.

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Brenda Brodie (left) and Placide Barada (right) take a stroll through SEEDS’ urban garden following a SEEDS’s community meeting on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 where staff and volunteers discussed changes the organization will face in the coming season.

Although adult-oriented workshops will be terminated, it does not mean that adults are excluded from SEEDS. Where SEEDS has spread itself thin, partnerships like Hub Farm, a 30-acre habitat that teaches food production and land stewardship, will work with SEEDS rather than compete, and offer workshops for adults at SEEDS’ facility, said Shulman. For adults who used the community garden, SEEDS will connect them to North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, an outreach partnership that provides educational programming, for a farm that best suits their needs, with the hopes that adults will continue to utilize their sustainable knowledge at the garden in SEEDS free communal space, as well as volunteer opportunities in the garden.

With the program emphasized on expanding youth involvement, SEEDS addressed the concern of the community which youth, if any, will be excluded from programs if interest is too high.

“We are focused internally on our own youth first,” said Jody White, SEEDS development and outreach coordinator. As stewards of a healthy population, Shulman said that the organization must focus on the population that wouldn’t normally have access to these foods.

“That’s where scarcity is our friend,” said Egge. “If there are too many kids wanting to participate and a waitlist must be formed, then that will show the case for a need of support from the community to grow.”

Currently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists four inner-city areas of Durham as food deserts – in which a significant portion of the population doesn’t have access to fresh produce within a mile radius. One food desert identified by the USDA, just west of North Carolina Central University, has as many as 38 percent of the population without vehicles who live more than a half-mile radius away from a supermarket.

Despite there being continued growth for sustainable initiatives such as SEEDS, community members acknowledge that food scarcity is still an issue and needs the support of one another.

Peter Vail, a local farmer from Raleigh and co-founder of MoonDance Soaps and More, was one of the original vendors at the Durham Farmers’ Market alongside SEEDS in 1998. Reflecting on the success of sustainable initiatives in Durham, Vail stressed the importance of local farmers continuing to support the community.

“People need to know you don’t have to go to Whole Foods to get good, fresh produce,” said Vail. “They’re a nice option, but, yeah, they can be a little expensive. Local is more vital to the community. At the end of the day when we would close down our stands, us vendors would go grab lunch in Durham or go out to Brightleaf Square, put the money back in the community.”

SEEDS hopes to continue engaging with the community it was created to serve and wants to hear back from them. SEEDS will be hosting its annual Harvest Dinner Thursday, Sept. 22, an event where local food vendors join together, support one another and raise money for SEEDS and the community. As part of the Harvest Dinner, SEEDS will announce these new changes it will be making internally over the next six to eight months, as well as opening up the conversation to the Durham community, letting them voice what they think has been successful and expressing their hopes for the organization.

The Harvest Dinner will be held Thursday, Sept. 22 from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Durham Central Park.



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Market goer enjoys picking out fresh okra from a stand at the Durham Farmers’ Market Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. SEEDS closed its stand at the market this year to focus its resources on its youth programs.