What does it take to turn an empty lot in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Durham County into a successful, thriving community garden? A whole lot of work and a committed community partner.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) has been that partner for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle's Geer Street Learning Garden in Durham.
“Blue Cross NC has supported urban agriculture in Durham from the very beginning,” says Kay Coleman, the Food Shuttle's Urban Agriculture Coordinator, who oversees the thriving growing space designed for community gatherings and growing food for donation to surrounding agencies. “We have volunteers from Blue Cross NC almost every single week, a different group each time, and from all over the organization. People who don’t know each other come together and they get to know each other over weeds. That’s been a beautiful thing.”
It’s hard work for volunteers as they have helped transform what was a vacant lot a year-and-a-half ago into a thriving garden with twelve raised vegetable beds, a fruit tree garden, a cob pizza oven, small greenhouse, two beehives, compost system, pollinator gardens and areas for community gardens.
It’s an effort that Sandra Wilson, a Blue Cross NC employee who lives in the neighborhood, can truly appreciate: “Having a community garden means having a relationship with each other and communicating with all kinds of people who love to be here and love to see the food process. I think it brings the community together as it’s something that anyone and everyone can be a part of. It makes you fit in, gives you camaraderie and it makes our community beautiful.”
It’s a mission that combines Blue Cross NC’s healthy living messages with the Food Shuttle’s hunger relief efforts.
“As a company that is focused on the health and wellness of North Carolinians, our employees value healthy lifestyles,” says Kim Blair, Blue Cross NC Director of Community Relations. “Employees love the opportunity to get outside, learn about how and what to grow in certain seasons, and ultimately enjoy knowing that they had a hand in ensuring community members in need in Durham have access to healthy food.”
Blue Cross NC employees volunteering at a revitalized Geer Street Learning Garden.
Sandra put it all together: “Blue Cross NC’s message is healthy living, healthy lifestyles and the Learning Garden teaches people how to eat healthy foods, where the food comes from, how to incorporate it into their lifestyle. That means better eating and better health.”
Thanks to continued support by Blue Cross NC, financially and through volunteering, the Geer Street Learning Garden will continue to thrive.
“This garden has been an incredible community-connector. With Durham as our home, we want to be part of revitalization of this area and the healthy food corridor being created,” explains Kim.
The Geer Street Garden has undergone a dramatic transformation in just 18 months, so we can’t wait to see what’s next!