GREENSBORO – The first seeds were planted Wednesday in the new farming enterprise on Phillips Avenue, organized through the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina A&T, and in partnership with area neighborhoods looking to get a foothold in the food system for fresh, local and affordable food.
The project is aimed at addressing the health, nutrition and enterprise needs of one of Greensboro’s largest and most longstanding food deserts. The project is in partnership with Concerned Citizens of North East Greensboro (CCNEG), where Phillips Avenue is a major artery. The United States Department of Agriculture-funded project represents the culmination of several years of community organizing by Dr. Terrence Thomas, a social sciences researcher in the CAES.
“Residents of northeast Greensboro have been concerned about their limited access to fresh food for many years,” Thomas says, “and so we have been working with them to find solutions. We hope this will become a model for how communities can develop their own healthy food environments and enterprises,” Thomas said, adding that the project is in keeping with the College’s Local Food and Health Initiative.
The first planting Wednesday was a crop of cucumbers under a 30-by-90-foot high-tunnel greenhouse. After germinating for the next five days the seeds are expected to produce shoots in another 10 days or so, and a mature crop will be ready for harvest by the end of September.
The first employee, Cameron Grady, has been hired to maintain and manage the enterprise . The plan calls for two additional high tunnels and two additional employees. Concerned Citizens is involved in all the decision making, and is responsible for marketing the produce at affordable prices to residents and, it is hoped, to a new community-owned food co-op being developed nearby. The plan is for the CAES to turn over full management of the vegetable farm to CCNEG. Technical assistance and training is being provided by The Cooperative Extension Program at A&T.
Thomas, whose academic interest is in studying how community-based organizations solve complex problems, has combined outreach with research and education in the project. Numerous nutrition and food-preparation workshops that he organized throughout 2015 for the neighborhood were well attended and enthusiastically received, and he hopes to continue them, if future funding becomes available. Thomas also hopes to conduct longer-term studies on the health status of residents impacted by the new food environment.
“Behavior is constrained by the environment, so education alone does not have an effect, unless you also provide access,” Thomas says. “This is aimed at solving both problems.”
The project is also aimed at invigorating a spirit of entrepreneurship in young people, such as Grady, says Dr. Bob Davis, president of CCNEG. Davis, a retired A&T professor of sociology, said the urban farm proceeds will be returned to support the farm and, as it grows, more jobs.
“The neighborhood is enthusiastic about seeing this going full blast, and Concerned Citizens hopes this will get more young people interested and involved,” Davis said.