The History of SEEDS

Durham community leader Brenda Brodie had a vision of transforming neighborhoods and lives through gardening, and in 1994 she co-founded South Eastern Efforts Developing Sustainable Spaces, Inc (SEEDS) with Annice Kenan. A two-acre plot in Northeast Central Durham, SEEDS’ current home at Gilbert & Elizabeth Streets, was rented for $1 per year. This site was originally selected because of its size and proximity to organizations serving the homeless.

SEEDS’ first partnership was with Phoenix House, a transitional program for homeless men. This group, along with many volunteers, cleared the barren plot and planted the first SEEDS garden. SEEDS diversified its services by establishing Community Harvest, which was designed to support neighborhoods in their efforts to turn vacant lots into productive, community-controlled spaces. With additional help from Americorps VISTA volunteers, the Community Harvest program grew to include seven community gardens and a few school-based gardens.  SEEDS and other interested participants were able to increase access to locally-grown, organic produce to non-gardeners by supporting the creation of a permanent farmers’ market in the spring of 2000.  Today the Durham Farmer’s Market is open from 8 am to noon every Saturday in April through November and is located under a permanent pavilion in Durham Central Park.

Meanwhile, the SEEDS plot was transformed into a multi-use Demonstration Garden (now called the Southside Garden) that includes community gardening plots, an outdoor classroom, a greenhouse, environmental education exhibits, and a display of ornamental and edible plants, thus offering more opportunities for people to enjoy this urban sanctuary.  A new use of the garden space began in 1999 when SEEDS started collaborating with Durham’s Latino community and co-hosting events such as El Dia Del Nino (Day of the Child) and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a celebration to honor ancestors and loved ones who have passed on.

Over the years, SEEDS has grown and developed to meet the changing needs of the community, particularly by adding programs for children and youth.  In early 2000, SEEDS created a program called DIG (Durham Inner-city Gardeners). DIG is a youth-driven entrepreneurial business in which teenagers grow produce, herbs and flowers to sell at the Durham Farmers’ Market.  Today, DIG is flourishing and continues to expand its growing space with the additions of a hoophouse and a market garden across the street from SEEDS’ original plot.  In 2003, SEEDS responded to a need identified by the Durham Family Initiative and created the SEEDlings after-school program to serve children in 1st through 5th grades by providing a safe and supportive environment where kids can explore, play, and learn with lots of positive attention from adults.

While still maintaining and strengthening the community gardening program, SEEDS considers initiatives for children and youth to be growing opportunities to teach more people earth-friendly values.  Throughout all of the organization’s history, volunteers have fueled SEEDS’ development and expansion.  Volunteers have helped to build raised beds for community gardeners, add compost bins, tutor children in SEEDlings, and work side-by-side with teenagers harvesting organic produce.  SEEDS looks towards a growing future through the collaborative efforts of its staff, program participants, volunteers, and the larger community.