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Growing Community One Crop at a Time

A visit to the Betty and Jim Holmes Food Bank Garden finds volunteers stringing trellises for future beans and checking raised beds holding young spinach and purple kale.

This marks the 24th year that volunteers in the garden have grown and donated fresh vegetables to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC.

The garden began in 1998, thanks to Jim Holmes’ vision to use farmland at the Children’s Home, now Crossnore Communities for Children, to raise produce for the Food Bank, said Libit Glenn, who's volunteered since the garden began and Holmes asked for help from her Sunday School class at Centenary United Methodist Church.

“He saw all this land and knew people needed food and said, “I can make this happen,’” recalled Glenn, who is now President of the Board for the Food Bank Garden.

“The amount of produce grown here has been phenomenal,” said Ellen Kirby, who began volunteering at the garden when she returned to Winston-Salem after retiring from her position as Director of Community Horticulture at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. She has served as the Coordinator and President of the Food Bank Garden from 2009 to 2021. “I love it here. I just love to see things grow. I love to try new things.”

Produce grown in the Food Bank Garden plays a key role in Second Harvest’s “Feeding Health” initiatives, as is evidenced in warehouse space for fresh produce at the Food Bank that has expanded dramatically over the years. Scheduled harvests of the Food Bank Garden’s crops go straight into a cold storage facility at Crossnore. The next day, Food Bank drivers pick up the bounty, and produce arrives fresh at the Food Bank.

On-site cold storage is just one of the changes in the evolution of the garden that strengthens its impact for neighbors facing food insecurity. Collaborating on crop selection ensures volunteers grow what families prefer, which decreases waste.

“We always ask Second Harvest what they think people would like, and we check with them,” Kirby said. We asked them, ‘Do we send too much okra?’ We can grow tons. Lisa Richardson, our liaison at Second Harvest replied that it’s always taken.”

The garden’s longevity and success come from volunteers throughout the years, who till the rows, mow, plant the seeds, water, pick weeds, pluck tomatoes, clip okra, and lug watermelons from the fields. In recent years, garden organizers added raised beds to increase opportunities for growing spring and fall crops. In March, they plant spinach, kale and collards. They grow onions and beets and string trellises to prepare for bean season to begin after the risk of frost. They also added super-raised beds to enable volunteers, who may be elderly, to participate without having to bend down.

The sustainable Food Bank Garden uses no pesticides and herbicides, and instead battles pests with non-chemical strategies, such as row covers and aromatic herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, and basil that repel deer and other pesky animals. They added a composting area where volunteers can bring vegetable scraps, that eventually become nutrient-rich compost to boost plant growth. Deterring local wildlife like deer, hawks, coyotes, and rabbits requires creativity, and this year’s plans include solar lights and deer repellant spray.

The Food Bank’s Chef Jeff Bacon, VP & Executive Director of Providence, keeps bees on site to increase pollination, and he makes special requests—such as eggplants for crops to aid his culinary students.

A new and exciting addition has been collaboration with Crossnore, Kirby said, to participate in education and nutrition efforts for children and cottage parents. Second Harvest Nutrition Educators visit Crossnore to teach cooking classes using Food Bank Garden produce in the Farm-to-Cottage program. Cottage families’ requests from the garden have included salad ingredients and tomatoes.

COVID-19 impacted volunteers the past two years as organizers limited participants to keep them safe. Even so, in 2021, volunteers filled 969 work slots totaling almost 4,000 hours in garden chores. This year’s season will benefit from three recent Eagle Scout projects, including a patio, renovations to the tool shed, and improvements to the kiosk area.

Volunteers come from more than 20 area groups who see participation as a team-building event. Groups from businesses, garden clubs, local universities and churches and individuals gather here to grow produce—and build community—at the farm in the middle of Winston-Salem. Centenary UMC has provided volunteers since the garden began, and in recent years committed to garden funding in its mission’s budget. Companies provide equipment and seeds, donate infrastructure and, most-importantly, volunteer hours.

“Jim Holmes wanted it to be community-oriented,” Kirby said, and the Food Bank Garden continues to live up his vision. Garden volunteers are committed to continuing the garden — and to growing with it.

“The volunteers bring something new to us every year,” Glenn said. “It’s a learning experience.”

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Garden Location:

Crossnore Communities for Children

1001 Reynolda Road

Winston-Salem, NC

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Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC

3655 Reed St. 

Winston-Salem, NC 27107

Tel: 336-784-5770

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