by Stephanie Thomas
Frequently, the “outside” of a homeless shelters is stark, but the Interactive Resource Center (IRC ) at 407 East Washington Street in Greensboro NC is an exception to the rule. The IRC is landscaped with gardens and trees. What’s even more remarkable is that the gardens and trees produce food including vegetables, herbs, strawberries, black berries, and blue berries, plus 12 different types of trees including apricot, pear, plum and fig. When the gardens were first created, 4 1/2 years ago, they were primarily vegetable gardens. Over time, there was a realization that vegetables not only required high maintenance, and needed excessive amounts of watering, but they were not as useful to people with no means to cook or store them.
I dropped by the IRC one Friday morning to meet with Charlie Headington, the head of the Greensboro Permaculture Guild. When I arrived, Charlie and his fellow volunteers, Robb Pritchett and Audrey Waggoner, were busy pulling weeds. It was only 11:00 am but hot and everyone had already built up a sweat.
Charlie showed me around the gardens, pointing out particular plants, and explaining what they were. I recognized the fruit bearing plants of course, but many of the plants which looked like weeds to me were in fact there for a particular purpose. The gardens are all natural and rather than using pesticides, they use particular plants and even certain bugs to help keep the gardens healthy.
Not only do folks, like those at the IRC shelter who are without homes, need fresh food, but many of Greensboro’s residents live in food deserts and would benefit greatly from these public gardens. (A food desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food).
The Greensboro Permaculture Guild has a number of public gardens in Greensboro, maintained by their 25 active members. They have gardens at St. Elsewhere, The Children’s Museum, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church and the public orchard on Church Street, just to name a few.
As I watched the volunteers hard at work, I wondered if the IRC guests knew why these gardeners were there or if they appreciated the work. There were a number of individuals sitting outside so I walked over and asked one of the gentlemen what he knew about the gardens. He answered my question when with enthusiasm and pointed out many of the plants and trees, showing a particular fondness for the fig trees.
“It’s good for the people who come here. It’s good for their soul. They need beauty as well as food. And these gardens provide both.” – Charlie Headington