Building Community Through Food

Thanks in large part to a seed grant from the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is launching a Learning Garden and the Seed To Supper beginner gardening program in Spring 2015, both in the Southeast Raleigh food desert.  IFFS Raleigh Food Security Coordinator Katie Murray shares her insights and observations on how growing food builds community.

Generations come together

The Camden Street Learning Garden is kind of a new model for Raleigh.  While there is quite a large community growing area on site to increase access to fresh food in the neighborhood, there are also other areas that provide experiential learning opportunities and allow for experimentation.  This garden will be available to anyone in the neighborhood but also to nearby schools and universities that would like to take field trips or do research about public health and urban food production.

We are developing a green space in the middle of a city where kids, families, and individuals can be in nature discovering living things that they normally don’t come into contact with.  We are currently creating a food forest which will contain a variety of edible perennials including fruit trees and berry bushes.  Over the next few months we will be working on growing areas where gardeners can experiment with different, more sustainable growing methods such as keyhole beds, herb spirals, and hugelkultur.

Volunteers of all ages come together to garden at the Camden Street learning garden.
Volunteers of all ages come together to garden at the Camden Street learning garden.

It’s often easy to get young children excited when I ask to hear their ideas and we discuss all the plans for the garden, but what can sometimes be surprising is interest from teenagers.  At a recent workday, there were 20 kids from the community, ages 2-16.  It was overwhelming to witness the level of interest from the youth.  There were older folks, too: 94- year-old Nathaniel Hines, who still drives his own car and works out, said he grew up on a farm but hasn’t gardened in decades.  The Learning Garden provides him with the opportunity to get back to his roots. Another local resident, Marjorie Gunther, is bringing her sisters and grandson to garden.  So, from the very young to teens to seniors, everyone will be working in one space; learning from the plants and from one another.

Growing self-reliance

As a society, we have become a culture that is used to instant gratification.  If you want food, you go to the grocery store.  It’s simple enough, right?  But what if there is no grocery store near you?  What if you don’t have a car?  What if you don’t have enough money?  What if a hurricane hits and the area loses power for weeks?    When you make a decision to grow your own food, you are taking control of your own food security and your health.  Gradually you become less dependent on outside forces such as the whims of corporations or the weather patterns.  You can grow the kind of food that has the highest price tag at the grocery store, and you can do it without using chemicals and on a budget!

The Camden Street Learning Garden provides space to learn how to do all of these things.  People in the community are given access to land, seeds, water, tools, and gardening experts who will teach them how to produce a lot of food in a small amount of space.  There is nothing quite like growing what you eat.  You can say “I grew this myself!” and feel a rush of pride knowing that you did something on your own when you used to depend on someone else.  That sense of pride translates into other areas of your life.  It has a ripple effect.

Growing food grows leaders

2014-12-04 12.00.55-1
2014-12-04 12.00.55-1

My vision is that the gardeners who come to Camden Street leave each day with more than just knowledge about growing their own food.  My hope is that everyday they learn a little bit more about themselves.  Gardening can be challenging work at times and it pushes you in ways you never thought you could be pushed.  It makes you think about life, your basic needs and what is actually important.  It helps you to understand who you are and who you want to be.  But once you are armed with that ability to rely on yourself and the knowledge of what moves you, you are changed.  And then it is easier to discover how you can give back.

This garden provides a space for people to take what they learn about themselves and to use that knowledge to benefit those around them.  It creates opportunities for individuals to become leaders, to make their voices heard, and to take on a new role in the community that they had not previously considered, no matter what age they are.

The Great Connector


Everyday my goal is to provide the gardeners and volunteers with an uplifting experience that reminds them that there is such a thing as community.  Sometimes it is hard to remember what that looks like.  We can be so disconnected from one other and from nature in this technological age but the garden reminds us to slow down and appreciate the simple beauty in the daily growth of a watermelon or of a friendship.  It truly connects people from different backgrounds and generations in a way they can’t experience through a cell phone or computer.  It’s a chance for us to feel like part of something bigger than ourselves, to be a part of a team, all while doing something so basic—growing food, the great connector.  It’s an opportunity for us to have our boundaries pushed and our assumptions about one other questioned. 

The obvious goal in a food desert is to increase food access.  And we are working to accomplish that.  But my larger goal is give the people who come to The Camden Street Learning Garden the ability to create experiences that will change their lives forever.   So in the end, they aren’t just growing food.  They are growing people.  They are growing community.  And that is what it is all about.


By Katie Murray, Raleigh Food Security Coordinator. Contact: