SWARMing Around Goldsboro, NC
North Carolina is known for its rich agricultural history. Eastern North Carolina, in particular, remains steeped in the rural traditions that have built a long-standing relationship with good food, agriculture, land and cultural identity. While across America, there is a widespread belief that young people are becoming more and more disconnected from the traditions, in a recent trip to Goldsboro, NC, it was refreshing to see that notion dissolve into a myth. I had the opportunity to visit with several young folks who are determined to keep those traditions alive and thriving.
The tour began with a stop to one of the nation’s premier research stations that investigates sustainable and organic production systems and community based food systems. We briefly toured the Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ (CEFS) Small Farm Unit (SFU). Bryan Green, the SFU manager, indicated that this 30 acre demonstration and research site is representative of the amount of land that many small growers have. The SFU is an example of diversified farming that takes into account the need for healthy soils, rotational cropping with the integration of animals as a means of creating sustainable farming systems that benefit farmers and the communities in which they live.
While in Goldsboro, I also engaged with some young people from Students Working for an Agriculture Revolutionary Movement or SWARM. I was so inspired by the involvement of area youth…from consumption to distribution and beyond! We also visited Dillard Academy Charter School where they have a school garden and 99% of the students take part in the free and reduced price lunch program. We were welcomed by school administrators, community leaders and the mayor of Goldsboro, Al King, who is one of the biggest supporters of the work that is happening there.
Wayne Food Initiative (WFI) leader, Cheryl Alston, spoke about the strong relationships that have been established among group members since their first meeting in 2007. This is a great example of the resilience and creativity that exists in so many small, rural communities and that model can be replicated nationwide. The Dillard teachers incorporate their garden space into nearly every aspect of their classroom instruction, including math, science, art and physical activity. Florita Coakley, a FoodCorps member which is co-hosted by CEFS, says parents have told them their children are bringing home recipes from their nutrition classes and challenging them to try them.
One of the most inspirational points in the day was engaging with Demarcus, a member of the SWARM team. Demarcus was with his Produce Ped’ler colleagues, Roman and Jonathan, and their coordinator, Corey. Produce Ped’lers delivers fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farmers market to adjacent food deserts via bicycle rickshaws – a win-win for the youth who exercise their bodies and their entrepreneurial spirit!
My brief visit to Goldsboro was a very powerful experience and reinforced how planting community gardens can be a great catalyst for building stronger, healthier communities. I look forward to fulfilling my pledge to come back to Goldsboro soon to help the Dillard youth with their spring planting. I am quite certain that a friendly reception and a healthy meal will be waiting!