Avondale Community Giving Garden – Cindy McKenzie

Cindy McKenzie is a member of the Avondale Presbyterian Church and one of the founders of the Avondale Community Giving Garden. She began working on a community garden at Avondale through a connection from Myers Park Baptist Church, who introduced her to Common Grounds Farmstand. She estimates that this took place about ten years ago, roughly 2009. In this interview, Cindy talks about foundation of the Avondale Community Giving Garden through a partnership with Common Grounds, the types of produce grown in the garden, and the different challenges and success that the garden has experienced over the years. Cindy provides an thoughtful perspective on childhood memories, community gardening, and distributing food to the greater Charlotte community. 

Robert Suydam is a member of the Avondale Presbyterian Church and became involved in the garden roughly five years ago (around 2014). He introduced new ideas to the reinvent the Avondale Community Giving Garden by partnering with Friendship Trays. The Avondale Community Garden / Giving Garden produces over 500 pounds of fresh produce which is donated to Friendship Trays, a nonprofit organization located in South Charlotte. Friendship Trays creates and delivers healthy meals to elderly and infirm community member in their homes. In this interview, Robert talks about the redirection of the community garden through the partnership with Friendship Trays, outreaching the garden to community members who want to rent beds, and the self-sustainment of the Avondale Garden through the funds raised by plot rentals. He provides an interesting perspective on the challenges of volunteer sustainment, experimental produce, and community gardening in the Charlotte community.

Tape Log

0:00:07Interview Begins
0:39:07History of the Avondale Community Giving Garden
1:00:07Collaboration between Common Grounds and Avondale Presbyterian
2:04:07Cindy talks about the community garden growing tomatoes for the Common Ground farmstand ten years ago
4:19:07Robert pitches the idea of Avondale partnering with Friendship Gardens to keep up with the changing times
5:30:07Church garden shifts to community garden. Begin renting garden beds to community members three years ago.
7:00:07Garden bed renters and the dynamic they add to the community garden
7:34:07Describes size and layout of the garden
8:08:07Types of seasonal produce grown in the garden
10:25:07Involving children/young adults in the community garden
11:50:07Volunteer base and types of volunteers that work in the garden
13:10:07Challenges of volutneer labor force
15:23:07Dealing with rabbits, deer, and birds in the garden
15:54:07Water in the garden and the water system used (rainbarrels and totes)
18:25:07Composting in the garden
20:16:07Pollination beds and pollination approach in the garden
21:23:07Communities favorite types of produce from the garden including tomatores, turnips, and kale
22:50:07Compost in the garden
23:21:07Produce that did not take well in the garden particularly beets
24:40:07Mixing seedlings and seeds in the garden
25:50:07Food distribution and harvesting season
27:40:07Challenges of Charlotte’s community gardens
31:12:07Favorite parts of working in a community garden
33:12:07Community gardening within Charlotte Mecklenburg schools
34:30:07Knowledgable gardeners and new garderners
36:33:07Youtube as a teaching tool for new garderners
37:40:07Disease and insect infestation in the garden
38:29:07Future of community gardens in Charlotte
40:19:07Partnerships with other gardens
42:20:07Changing food environment in Charlotte and evolvement of gardens
44:03:07Final thoughts on the community garden
50:15:07Reflecting on past memories of grandparents and gardening
52:51:07Interview Ends



>> Savannah Brown: Hello, my name is Savannah Brown, and today I’m interviewing Cindy McKenzie and Robert Sudam. The date is Monday, March 25, 2019, at 6:30 PM. We’re interviewing in Charlotte, North Carolina. Today, we’ll be discussing the Avondale Community Garden, and Cindy and Robert’s involvement at the garden. The garden is located on the Avondale Presbyterian campus, correct?


>> Cindy McKenzie: Yes.

>> Savannah Brown: And they donate fresh produce to Friendship Trays, a non-profit organization that delivers meals to the elderly and infirm communities located throughout Mecklenberg County. Okay, so can you just tell me a little bit about the history of the garden, and how it got started?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Sure.


Do you want me to start?

>> Robert Sudam: Yes, please.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Okay. We basically were approached by a person, and I’ve forgotten her name, from Myers Park Presbyterian Church, who was getting involved with something called the Common Grounds Farm Stand. It was a sort of a cooperative, put together by a group of women at Myers Park, and they call themselves the Mustard Seeds.


And they were going to sell fresh produce and baked goods, prepared foods, and some additional items. And the profits were going to be used to support a person to work with homeless neighbors at Urban Ministry Center. So that’s a mouthful. [LAUGH] The person they hoped to fund would be a part-time person that had some legal background, so that they could counsel homeless neighbors as to how to get their benefits, how to navigate the systems in Charlotte.


And so they sort of cooked this idea up. I wish I could remember the year, it’s probably been ten years ago.

>> Robert Sudam: It was before my time, yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, about ten years ago, let’s say. So anyway, they approached Avondale and asked if we would start from scratch a garden to grow tomatoes, for their farm stand.


And so that’s kind of how we got started, with maybe eight beds? I really can’t remember. I’m gonna say about eight beds. And we really had no experience, and we just sort of had a work day, built a bunch of garden beds, planted tomatoes, and season after season, some seasons are great, some not so great, and we donated the produce to that farm stand.


They were probably in operation about five years. I don’t know if you ever visited.

>> Robert Sudam: No.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Okay. Probably about five years, they were very successful in raising money to fund this position at Urban Ministry Center. As the years sort of went on, the clientele that shopped at the farm stand, they were looking more for prepared goods.


At least still carried some produce, but I think their profit margins were just a lot higher on the prepared goods. And so our focus sort of began to change a little bit as their focus changed. And eventually, because they were an entirely volunteer-based organization, it was quite labor-intensive.


Setup and take-down twice a week, usually May to September. They sort of saw it through, raised a ton of money, had a lot of fun, and then just said, we’re going to move on. So we needed to move on. [LAUGH] And that’s kind of when I met you.


>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, that’s when I came into the church.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And I was probably struggling a little bit at that time, you know, what are we gonna do with our garden? We still wanted to grow produce, and Robert had an idea.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, so I’d worked with Friendship Gardens previously, with another church.


And so I pitched that we should get involved with that group, that it’s a wonderful organization. And so we directed, redirected our resources in that direction. And they’re just great partners to have. They provide vegetables, plants, to us to grow, and then they use everything you can produce and bring to them.


You can trust that it’s going to used to benefit folks in need. So that was our redirection.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And then during that, so when Cindy was talking about the group, is the garden was completely run by church members. And then when we started redirecting five years ago, I guess, to Friendship Garden’s trays, then it still was just all church volunteers.


And it just, there’s a turning point where volunteers start to burn out. And we thought, maybe we could do something bigger with this plot of land down here. And Cindy came up with the idea that we should outreach to the community, and make it a true community garden, instead of just church members, hook it up to the entire community.


So, three years ago-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, this is our third spring.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, third spring, we solicited, or we just put out feelers, that we have beds available. Obviously, very low cost. So it’s also a self-funding garden, and at the same time still benefits Friendship Trays. So what we did at that point in time is, we had individuals own their bed and their produce.


But we have six beds that are completely dedicated to Friendship Trays.

>> Savannah Brown: Okay.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, so it’s a way to bring fresh blood in, and still maintain that element to giving food to folks in need.

>> Savannah Brown: And so, for the people that rent the beds, they bring in their own produce?


Their own produce plants?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yes.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, they do.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And seeds. And to the extent that they’ll help with Friendship Trays and Friendship Gardens, they can utilize those plants. But again, that’s to help Friendship Trays.

>> Savannah Brown: And do they. I was like, I had something going.


[LAUGH] But I was going to say, the produce that they produce, so they don’t have to donate it to Friendship Trays, their own bed? They can take it home, or they can donate it.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah. I’d say the majority of the vegetables produced by folks, outside members if you will, well, they’re not outside.


But those folks, probably majority they grow for themselves, and it’s been great, because we’ve had a diverse group. We’ve had folks that have come in and never gardened before, but always thought it’d be fun, and wanted to be a part of the community. And then we’ve had other folks come in that knew exactly what they were doing, and have taught us things along the way.


So that’s been a whole new dynamic that has really added to the community garden.

>> Savannah Brown: That’s really fun.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It has been.

>> Savannah Brown: Can you tell me a little bit about what the garden looks like? Just, how big are the plot, or the bed sizes, or?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Sure.


Currently, we have 17 beds, and most are about 4′ wide with about would you say 3′ of growing.

>> Robert Sudam: Well, is it-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Or is it 3′ by 12′? It’s either 4′ by 12′ or 3′ by 12′.

>> Robert Sudam: Like 4′ by 12′.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I think it’s 4′ by 12′.


>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: That’s a lot of beds. That’s a lot more than I thought.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, it’s 17, each being about 4′ by 12′, yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: Some are a little smaller, but the majority are about that size. Yeah, and what types of produce do you grow?


>> Cindy McKenzie: Wow, we’ve grown some creative stuff.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: Everything, it’s, we try to keep it seasonal, so we try to make sure that we help folks. That can plant early radishes and turnips, and then go to beans, and tomatoes and squash, and just kinda follow the seasons.


With the beds that are for Friendship Trays, our goal is maximum production. So we plant these specifically to try to produce the most, and with asking that group what they would like. Most of the time, they’re just glad to have anything, so they say plant whatever you want.


But we’ve also switched some to herbs, because this past year part of their fundraising was salad dressings.

>> Savannah Brown: Lucy was telling me about that interview.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, so we grew herbs for them that went into salad dressing, and so it really varies

>> Cindy McKenzie: Because we’ve done potatoes, I’d never grown potatoes.


So he started the potato bed, okra, and all kinds of squash, onions, peas, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: You name it.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Kohlrabi.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, kohlrabi is a good one.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It tastes weird I think, but it’s interesting.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: It has similar ties to water chestnut.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah?

>> Robert Sudam: It’s a really odd looking-


>> Cindy McKenzie: Like a bulbous kinda thing [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, but it’s a lot of fun, so I mean we can get kids, and again I said to you earlier. One of my passions is getting kids in the garden and trying to spark that interest. Which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.


So if you can bring in unique produce that they’ve never seen before or bring in a new flavor, tha’s what I enjoy doing. So the kohlrabi is something that looks like it’s come off of Mars, it’s really a bizarre looking vegetable, so it sparks an interest. And grow things like even stevia, we grew stevia, which is an artificial sweetener.


And so when kids came in, we call it the candy plant, give them a leaf. And it’s so sweet, they’re grabbed, immediately you have their attention.

>> Savannah Brown: Do you have a lot of kids in the garden?

>> Cindy McKenzie: That has evolved as well, when we were primarily a church-based, growing for Friendship Trays.


We were always looking for people to partner with, and we partnered with Sedgefield Middle School. With their Montessori partner for a while, and the kids would come over and help us harvest or plant.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And that’s tough, cuz it’s during the work day, so has to be people that can do that.


That have that availability, but that was really, really fun days, planting or harvesting or sometimes tasting, trying out things. The other things that they did they were service-oriented, the Montessori program. And so they would also come on campus and help us clean out beds, or clean out the tool box, or things like that.


>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: So that probably lasted three years, I’d say, the Montessori program actually moved to a different location. Yeah, but that was a lot of fun.

>> Robert Sudam: And even our youth center-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, our youth group has done some things in the past.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, it’s fun to get them in.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, that’s really neat, I was gonna ask you about volunteers. Because I didn’t know what it was, I was gonna say, do you feel that you already have a built-in network of volunteers with the church? Or do you feel like it kinda is more outside?

>> Robert Sudam: [CROSSTALK]


>> Cindy McKenzie: It does, it’s a good way to put it.

>> Robert Sudam: It can be challenging, you have to find those people who have the same passion, that grow a garden. Those are the kind that stick, but still you can find like we have two people soon they [INAUDIBLE] their beds this year.


That are newer gardeners, that are just as passionate as somebody who’s been doing it since they were young.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, well, and Mark, one gentleman has children-

>> Robert Sudam: Good point.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And there’s a children’s center, a daycare center, a childcare center on campus. And one parent loves to garden, and he gardens with his sons, because they can just walk right over.


Either when he’s dropping off, in the morning, or picking up in the afternoon and tend their plot. And his plot is usually the best-looking one, or sometimes.

>> Robert Sudam: It is, and it’s always harvested, they’re definitely using everything they can grow.

>> Cindy McKenzie: They are, yeah, you can tell.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, that’s a good one.


>> Savannah Brown: Do you have a pretty steady network of volunteers? I’ve kinda noticed with community gardens I feel that can be where they struggle sometimes. Is there a volunteer base to keep it running?

>> Cindy McKenzie: That’s definitely where we struggle the most, and that’s really what prompted the switch to a community garden in a sense.


Was, it’s hard work sometimes, and it’s really tough to get people, I guess. To get people involved on a consistent basis for a long time, let’s say, it’s tough. There are a lot of choices in charge, all the things to do, and ways to your spend your time with your family.


And so yeah, that’s probably where we struggle the most. And the community garden has simplified it.

>> Robert Sudam: Significantly, simplified it.

>> Cindy McKenzie: For me.

>> Savannah Brown: What I think of one of my previous interviews,she was talking about holidays and a lot of us over the summer. When people have other commitments, or choose to do other things, and so that can be difficult as well.


Just keeping people involved in this kinda like prime growing season, especially if they’re students, or kids, or other things are going on. And so people keep their own garden beds, the renters, volunteers don’t help with their beds like.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Right, they do, we have a set of garden rules that we modeled after the Dilworth Community Garden just right down the street.


They’re pretty common sense things, but yes, people maintain their own bed.

>> Savannah Brown: Do you struggle that all with vandalism or any kinda?

>> Cindy McKenzie: [LAUGH] Last year, I mean not a great deal.

>> Robert Sudam: Occasionally might have a tomato or a cabbage go missing, but not vandalism, per se.

>> Savannah Brown: Right, anybody really littering in the garden or do they keep it clean?


>> Robert Sudam: No, it’s a very clean.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate with that, because we’re right on the road.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Within view of, I don’t know, 30,000 folks a day, I don’t know, it’s–

>> Robert Sudam: I think the deer have been the worst vandals. [LAUGH]

>> Savannah Brown: I would say like pests like any kinda like rabbits or deer, or anything?


>> Cindy McKenzie: Rabbits, deer, birds.

>> Robert Sudam: But surprisingly we’ll find, I mean you can go down there and see where deer walked around. But surprisingly they have not really disturbed our garden, probably because of the road.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: So it hasn’t been bad or all.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Not significantly, really.


>> Robert Sudam: No, sweet potatoes, they ate the tops off all the sweet [INAUDIBLE] crop, but outside of that, not much.

>> Cindy McKenzie: We’ve been fortunate, water is another kinda challenge, we do not have city water at the garden. We have a system of rain barrels and Totes.

>> Savannah Brown: Totes?

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.


>> Cindy McKenzie: I could not think of the word for tote today, those are interesting.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, tell me more about that, how does that work?

>> Robert Sudam: So that’s a great system, since the garden is down lower than the church, it’s all gravity fed.

>> Savannah Brown: Okay.

>> Robert Sudam: So we have decent pressure from these totes which are kind of commercial big cubes they hold 350 gallons.


>> Cindy McKenzie: Or something, yeah that’s fine.

>> Robert Sudam: Maybe around that they hold a lot of water, so we have three of those set up to capture water off the roof of the church. And then we also have what, four water barrels, baybe more.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah I guess we only, I guess we just have four, it’s just four now.


>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, probably just four rain barrels now that we have installed those large tots.

>> Robert Sudam: So we have a significant amount of water and we use a significant amount, and most of it is harvested from the roof.

>> Savannah Brown: Wow.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: That’s pretty awesome, some sustainability going on.


>> Robert Sudam: Yeah it’s great.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It’s great when it rains. [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: It’s great when it rains we have had some issues. They key is what we’re gonna do is not drain resources and this is a way for us not to drain resources. The totes we got from Friendship Gardens because they were getting rid of one of their gardens, so we salvage those, two of them, and then you picked one from.


>> Cindy McKenzie: I guess from Sam who, well they raise tilapia and them I think or ship them-

>> Robert Sudam: What’s the name of that group again cuz that’s-

>> Cindy McKenzie: It’s not 100 Gardens or is it?

>> Robert Sudam: It’s a 100 Gardens, yeah, or a 1,000 Gardens?

>> Cindy McKenzie: I think a 100.


>> Robert Sudam: That’s bad.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I know, it’s terrible and Sam and I can’t recall his name, he’s a really interesting person, he used to do hydroponic gardening, some of it in Haiti.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: So what happens when it’s drought, like do you ever experience?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.


>> Savannah Brown: What happens then?

>> Robert Sudam: If it’s extreme, we run out of water, we do supplement.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Right.

>> Robert Sudam: We’ll go out there with the hose and just fill up a little bit in one of the totes.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And wait for the next rain.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: Well that’s really cool, I hadn’t heard of anything like that so, do you do any sort of composting?


>> Cindy McKenzie: Our composting couple moved.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: We did for.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Three years, I’m gonna say three years. We had a couple who were just environmentally friendly and they were both retired and they did some composting, with rotating bins and coffee grounds and that other stuff you throw in there, I don’t remember.


>> Robert Sudam: Egg shells and-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, egg shells and leaves and it was all cold comfort I guess you call it, I don’t know, and they tended it with help and took about six months or so to cook up some contest and we would use it in the garden.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: So it’s basically leaves from the property or other clean leaves they would collect from from neighbors it’s pretty labor-intensive.

>> Savannah Brown: Very labor-intensive.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, I’ve even thought about it at home I just don’t think I can make that happen, I want to.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, no, and composting is and if you live in an urban environment, it can be hard if you don’t have somewhere to take it.


Like, we’re living in an apartment, I can do a bin in my kitchen, but then you have to take it somewhere every week and you’ve got a brown matter and green matter, so.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, it’s like a recipe and I guess I just didn’t feel confident. That we could run the garden, have water, manage the folks that grow produce and compost, so compost kind of went by the wayside, yeah unfortunately,


>> Savannah Brown: So, we just mentioned a little bit earlier Robert and I but what about your pollination approach, so.

>> Cindy McKenzie: You’re the expert on that.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: We’re lucky in that the woods next to the garden there’s a lot of pollinators, vines, that grow up, so they’re bringing a lot of honey bees and pollinators to the garden.


We also have in the center of the garden a pollinator bed?

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: That has flowers that attract pollinators as well, so if you-

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah and that made a honeysuckle [CROSSTALK].

>> Robert Sudam: Honeysuckle.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And then one thing I like to do is leave some of the cabbage and things of that nature that have the nice flowers, bees love that.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: So let some of those flower because you can also eat the flowers on salads very pretty, but it’s really good for attracting pollinators.

>> Savannah Brown: Mm-mh.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, we plant flowers specifically to attract pollinators.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, what I was just I was going back to your produce but were there any kind of well not best sellers but anything that, people love that you guys grow?


>> Robert Sudam: People always love fresh tomatoes.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, okay, I’ve-

>> Robert Sudam: I mean that is the number one vegetable that people love by far.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, hands down.

>> Robert Sudam: Now we love to, early in the season, to plant and grow turnips, because turnip’s one of the first thing you can get in the ground, and they grow so fast.


>> Savannah Brown: Okay.

>> Robert Sudam: And so you can grow a lot of turnips and feed a lot of people in a short period of time and have multiple generations of crops off of that. So that’s one of the big ones that we plant, and then we do a lot of kale,


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: Kale’s another early crop that we can get a lot of volume off of, and then after that is when we go into the tomato plants. The tomato plants in Charlotte are a little tricky because the squirrels love them.

>> Savannah Brown: Really?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yes.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: So, that is a challenge in Charlotte.


>> Cindy McKenzie: My nemesis.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH] The squirrels?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yes.

>> Savannah Brown: Do you, well my garden is just on my patio so it’s just pots. So will you use the same beds, so when you harvest turnips then you just harvest them early enough to put the tomatoes in that same bed.


>> Robert Sudam: Right, right and we try to do plants that complement each other, we do a little bit of rotation and always bring in fresh soil each year.a

>> Cindy McKenzie: We tried one of those giant compost cubes this year that they deliver it in the big yellow bag and it’ll be interesting to see how that works.


Yeah, but we usually just supplement a little bit of garden soil with some sort of compost, mushroom blend or something each year.

>> Savannah Brown: Is there anything you planted that just did not work at all?

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, I’ll say.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: Well, I meant me personally, I’m not great at thinning, so beets and radishes didn’t work so well for me at the community garden.


I tried cowpeas this past year and they grew like crazy but I didn’t get down there often enough to harvest it that’s probably, I mean we’ve got some Well the cowpeas did, the plants themselves did very well. They did great it was just me harvesting. What else has just been a dud?


So, I tried leeks.

>> Robert Sudam: To me turnips have always been the one thing that have not grown, not turnips, the, it’s one of the other root vegetables has not grown for me the beets, sorry.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Beets, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: The beets just will not grow for me.

>> Cindy McKenzie: No I.


I’m terrible at these.

>> Savannah Brown: What is thinning?

>> Cindy McKenzie: When you plant a bunch of seeds and then a bunch of them germinate and the little seedlings come up. You’re really supposed to thin them out so that their roots don’t compete for nutrients.

>> Robert Sudam: When you have the really small seeds, then when you put them down, you just have to make sure that they’re at the right spacing.


Otherwise, they won’t grow. Like carrots, there is a gazillion carrots seeds in a packet.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And they’re tiny.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, they’re tiny.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And so, if you place them too closely and don’t thin, then the root bulb, or whatever, can’t form. It doesn’t have enough room.

>> Savannah Brown: So do you guys do a mix of seeds and kind of already grown plants, if that makes sense?


>> Robert Sudam: We do, yes, starters.

>> Cindy McKenzie: That’s what I loved about Friendship Trades were their seedlings, particularly the turnips. Just couldn’t get enough. They’d get small seedlings, plant them.

>> Robert Sudam: And that’s where are all the kohlrobi-

>> Cindy McKenzie: 60 days.

>> Robert Sudam: That’s where are the kohlrobi came from as well.


>> Cindy McKenzie: Kohlrobi, yeah, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, the turnips are 45 to 60 days.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I was gonna say, I couldn’t remember about that.

>> Robert Sudam: And that was great for the kids as well cuz it was instant. [CROSSTALK] Because they start them in the greenhouse.

>> Savannah Brown: I was like cuz like I waited for forever and ever and ever for my peppers.


I got my first one little flower and I was like, yes. It was months. Everyday I was out there watering.

>> Robert Sudam: Peppers are a late season.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, peppers are a challenge for me.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, they come very late.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, and I had a couple, I had two that did great and one, he just couldn’t make it.


>> Savannah Brown: But it was okay, I mean, I guess that’s the the life of gardening.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It is trial and error.

>> Savannah Brown: So can we talk a little bit about the food distribution. So are you harvesting all year, or all summer kind of? Or is there one big harvest?


>> Cindy McKenzie: It depends on the crop. Potatoes, one big harvest. I loved growing butternut squash from Friendship, the seedlings came from Friendship Trays. And that was sort of one big, huge harvest at one time. I think otherwise-

>> Robert Sudam: Some of the beans are the same way, so depending on what varieties, so if it’s a bush bean, typically all comes at one time.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: Or if it’s a determinate tomato, they all come at one time, indeterminate, they don’t. So you can pick them all year or all summer. Simi also has a bunch of beds at her house. And grows in those beds for Friendship Trades as well.

>> Savannah Brown: So most of your food goes to Friendship Trades.


You guys don’t do any kind of farmer’s market or anything like that.

>> Robert Sudam: No, no.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, and what about your congregation, do they come here? I mean, is it mostly just the volunteers for the garden?

>> Cindy McKenzie: It’s mostly just the volunteers. Back in the day, we did some harvesting and had some garden days, and also had, when we had just a bounty of tomatoes we would have them available for people to purchase.


And the donations would either support that forum stand or Friendship Trades.

>> Robert Sudam: The volunteers really are our church members, but it’s not the whole congregation coming down.

>> Savannah Brown: Right, right. What if we fit some of the challenges? I know we talked about the squirrels and some of those things.


But what have been some of the other challenges you have experienced with, it doesn’t have to be your community garden, but just with community gardens here in Charlotte, what would you say?

>> Robert Sudam: I would say that the number one, you’ve hit on it, is volunteers, consistent volunteers. You’ll get someone who’s and there’s no, I mean there’s just so much to do and people have families, but they’ll start gung-ho.


And then all of a sudden, when you hit July, and you hit the heat in August, or we’ll say July. It’s hard to keep people energized at that point in time, to keep coming. Cuz tomatoes, you pick them, a few every day, or around, depends on which kind they are.


So you have to keep someone coming down constantly to pick and water, and that’s tough. And I’ve hit that at two community gardens.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I think that’s been my biggest challenge as well and just for me, location. I mean, I think a community garden best serves,

>> Cindy McKenzie: A little more narrow, what do you call it, geographical whatever.


I live way off Carmel Road, and so it’s tough. It’s about a 20 minute drive to get to the garden. And the beauty of it though, is Friendship Trays, once you get to our garden, Friendship Trays is just down the road, basically. So that part’s wonderful, and I think has allowed the partnership to continue.


But the kind of people that seem to really love it are the people that live within walking distance. They can just walk down, pick their produce, tend their plot, and particularly people that don’t have access. They may be in a townhome or a condo an apartment and they just don’t have space.


So some of the younger people or they have limited sunlight, just really, I think enjoy that part of it. Or ride their bike.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, I think I’ve noticed that there’s all these big lists of all the community gardens in Mecklenburg County. And then when I’m trying to contact people, they’re defunct or.


I’m not able to reach any, and so it seems like this idea of community gardens, people are really excited about. But when it comes down to it, the gears aren’t firing on every cylinder, if that makes sense.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It does.

>> Savannah Brown: What is the one that-

>> Robert Sudam: There are ways that I think, so in a community organization like this, a community garden organization, meaning the friendship, feeding Friendship Trays and gardens.


There ways that that community or that organization can motivate the gardens. And so that’s kind of, at this point, an element that could be enhanced because if you give a lot of advice, you build some kind of gardens, churches competing, those are the types of things that really energize folks.


And I think that might be one thing that could help, cuz like you said, you reached out and they’re defunct or it’s just hard to get a hold of somebody. And part of that is because it’s tough to keep them going. But if you give something that’s a little bit, a hands on touch, I think they could do a lot better.


>> Savannah Brown: What have been some of your favorite parts of the community [INAUDIBLE]?

>> Robert Sudam: For me, honest to goodness, it’s been delivering food to Friendship Trays, knowing that it is going to help the community. I mean, that’s been my favorite part about it. I take pride in the quality and the quantity of vegetables that we can produce and provide to help things.


>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed that partnership the most. Just, you’ve mentioned it earlier, when you deliver produce there, you know that it’s gonna be used in the kitchen. Because I will say, occasionally, we were donating to Loaves and Fishes, the food pantry right next door. And, it just depends on if one of their clients or their shoppers, if they like that vegetable or need it, and fresh produce is hard to manage [LAUGH].


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It’s kind of dirty, it’s kind of buggy maybe and I think that you know not everybody likes to cook.

>> Robert Sudam: For instance one time we took a huge harvest of carrots that had these beautiful green tops and the debate was do we pull the green tops off?


Because it’ll save them labor on that side, or is that okay. Maybe they’ll figure out something to do with the green tops. So we took all these carrots and they made a carrot top pesto.

>> Savannah Brown: Wow.

>> Robert Sudam: So which we never ever would’ve thought about.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: So it just shows they’re creative in providing fresh produce to their constituents if you will.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I was trying to look up. There’s one really great community garden at an elementary school. I’m drawing a blank. Basically it’s on the property and Mecklenburg County provides the water and compost. I’ll think of it. I’ll find it.

>> Savannah Brown: [CROSSTALK] I know that high school-


>> Cindy McKenzie: [CROSSTALK] Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: They had the urban farm.

>> Cindy McKenzie: [CROSSTALK] Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: That´s through the friendship trays they kinda started that one.

>> Cindy McKenzie: [CROSSTALK] Right.

>> Savannah Brown: So Lucy told us a little bit about that.

>> Robert Sudam: So that was through them and it was through the 100 gardens, and they’re the folks that set up the hydrophonics for that.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And the fish and the fertilizer. That’s a neat space.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, I had, one of my colleagues interviewed, she’s volunteered for a long time with Garringer Farms, so she interviewed, I’m not sure exactly who it was, but she got that interview. So, it was very cool.


>> Cindy McKenzie: It was Winterfield Elementary.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I guess the kids are involved in the neighborhood, too. And they had a really dynamic garden manager. And I cannot remember her name. But I was impressed with that one. It’s been a number of years since I’ve been over there.


>> Savannah Brown: And so I know Robert and I had just mentioned this, before, but do you think the people need the prior knowledge to garden or that they can pick it up along the way? Or do you find somebody who volunteers here have knowledge of gardening or grew up gardening?


>> Robert Sudam: So I don’t think when they’re in the garden it matters getting them to the garden. So if they have a background in gardening they’re more apt to volunteer. You get someone who has not gardened before, they’re so energized energetic that they’re fun to have in the garden and they’re always incredibly helpful because they just want it.


They want so much knowledge.


>> [MUSIC]


>> Cindy McKenzie: I’ve really learned the most from like you, my grandmother, hands on, people that have some knowledge, and actually had their hands on the dirt, and did really great things. And even more about insects and pests and.

>> Robert Sudam: The diseases, cuz unfortunately I’ve had them all in my garden.


>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: Well, I’ve experienced all of that too, but it’s been really helpful for me to, I took some classes through the cooperative extension office, over time, and there were, I think it was called the Green Teacher Network. Not sure if it exists or if it’s called something different now.


And they would offer seminars, like half day, classes, training. And it was really for education, for teachers in the classroom. That other anybody from the community could go, and I learned a ton just by going to some of those, yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: That’s what the woman I interviewed previous, she said that a lot of, she was with the UNC Charlotte community garden, and she said a lot of people were going too.


And that’s kind of a theme that we’ve been seeing in our sponsors like YouTube gardeners and YouTube farmers. And it’s become a teaching tool which is kind of cool. People are saying I have plants doing so well. They can kind of get into that kind of a forum but I think people as long as they have the excitement to try it or just to at least get out there, get their hands dirty one time.


And they can definitely learn along the way and like you said in the garden it doesn’t matter as much like once you’re out there you can figure it out.

>> Cindy McKenzie: It’s a lot of fun. I did go to YouTube for several things for potatoes, for different tactics to keep the squirrels off the tomatoes.


Yeah, I mean YouTube’s great because I know with gardening you’ve got to be able to see it. You can’t just or I can’t just read about it. Well figure it all out. I have to come see it as well. So yeah YouTube was pretty good.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah I found YouTube to be a confidence booster.


>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: If you see someone can do it, you’re like well I can do that too, so it’s a great resource.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah we had in class we were talking about how one of the farmers they learned to like fix their tractor through it. And they’re like well if they can do it, I can do it.


[LAUGH] So have any diseases hit your garden? I know you just mentioned that kinda but.

>> Cindy McKenzie: One year, I don’t know, it was some sort of tomato blight when we were just growing mainly tomatoes, and it rained constantly that year. And it was just, it looked like something from Mars.


It was bizarre, just defoliated all the tomato plants and they were just vines with kind of squishy tomatoes left. It was terrible.

>> Robert Sudam: Powdery mildew is always.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah. Squash. Squash.

>> Savannah Brown: What is it?

>> Robert Sudam: Powdery mildew.

>> Savannah Brown: Aaww.

>> Robert Sudam: It hits your squash and zucchini early.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.


>> Robert Sudam: And so it’s always one that’s-

>> Savannah Brown: Mm-hm.

>> Cindy McKenzie: And squash bugs.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, so cut the cut worm.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, is that what it is?

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, I have that at home as well.

>> Savannah Brown: What do you see for the future?

>> Cindy McKenzie: For me, I’m not going to say anything all that creative partnerships, children.


>> Cindy McKenzie: I think there could really be a revival. If,

>> Cindy McKenzie: I don’t know how to say this.

>> Robert Sudam: Maybe you have to find passionate people.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, you really do, a core at least ten.

>> Robert Sudam: But that’s true with anything.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: So,

>> Robert Sudam: Clearly, it was when Obama was president, right?


His wife was an advocate.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, good point.

>> Robert Sudam: And so you saw a lot of people in gardens and wanting to kinda emulate that and understanding because she was a spokesperson for it. There was a lot of interest at that point in time. So if you find someone like that, that can outreach.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And get people excited about it, then absolutely.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, and the full cycle of planting, harvesting, and cooking.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I always wanted to do some sort of cooking classes for people that otherwise might just not be able to have that experience. Cooking fresh produce particularly with children.


We try that a little bit here and there, but it’s just sort of one off kind of things, not anything organized, over time.

>> Savannah Brown: Have you helped any community gardens get started or partnered with any kind of organizations?

>> Robert Sudam: We have, we have the church that we helped.


>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, we went to a meeting at Matthews Church. I think at one time they had a garden on the church grounds that had so many times, it just sort of goes its way. And they were considering restarting it, some members really wanted to sort of give it a boost.


And we went and talked to them about.

>> Robert Sudam: Shared some of our trials and tribulations, some of those things that worked and did not work and.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, yeah, experience.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Offered some help, I think they wanted to be independent and use the resources that they have.

>> Robert Sudam: And they were truly going toward a community garden as well.


Outreach to neighbors and bring in all sorts of socio-economic diverse groups, which I thought was great. I’m not sure how they’re doing today, I’d love to know.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I know, I’ve driven by there a few times, but the garden’s in the back, and I just haven’t gotten out of the car, gone over there and looked.


And the gardening has been popular at some of the retirement communities. I think you just have to have sort of a-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Synergy.

>> Robert Sudam: You need a couple of people to be the garden cabinets.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: That really carry the garden and then can get the other volunteers and garden members took this back.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, I think one of the things that you all said earlier that I thought was the most important is that I think you’re going to have to evolve. And as the world keeps evolving, and if they stay static, I don’t know how they’ll do. I think Charlotte especially is kind of in this praise of food right now.


There’s always a restaurant or something popping up and the especially this farm to table, that’s another kind of aspect we are looking at. So I think if community gardens can start maybe looking for different avenues either with how the industry food has always intended to be able to to kind of evolve with it.


And I think we can do well, I mean, and there’s very few people want to be involved in them with gardens. I’m sure my brother moved into a new neighborhood up in Cornelius, and the developer had, I don’t know, let’s just say half an acre, and asked the neighborhood would you like a sport court kinda thing?


>> Cindy McKenzie: Or a community garden? And they overwhelmingly chose the garden. And so the developer put in all the beds, leveled the land, and put in all the beds for them and the water source, and the gravel pathways, and everything, and fencing.

>> Savannah Brown: Wow.

>> Cindy McKenzie: So the developer paid for all that.


[LAUGH] And it was sort of a garden on a platter. Here you go, it was great.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I mean, I could see the Cross Charlotte Trail community gardens, along that. It comes to funding, too, I guess.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, is there anything else maybe I didn’t ask you, or that you wanna tell me, or just a fun story about the garden that you’d like to share?


>> Cindy McKenzie: I don’t know about fun stories.

>> Robert Sudam: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: We’ve had rabbits nesting in some of the beds. Last weekend when we had our spring cleanup day, we had a hawk come down and eat a snake right there, and yeah, so we’ve had our moments with wildlife.

>> Robert Sudam: Think I mentioned it to you earlier before we started taping, but we have kids come into the garden where the middle schoolers come in.


It’s always fun to say okay, pick a radish, and they have no idea what plant to go to. Can you please pick a bean for me? No idea where to find it. And to kind of take them through the garden and let them discover where the vegetables are, and to see them light up.


And to pull a radish out of the ground, and dare the group, who’s gonna take a bite out of the radish? And watch one child take a bite, and then they all want a bite of the radish. Or pick some sort of herb where you pick the leaf off, there’s so much or the licorice plant, something tastes like licorice.


And then they have an aha moment. That candy actually comes from this as well. And it’s those are the moments where it’s really neat. You can see you’re starting to plant a little seed in achild, hopefully it will grow into a future garden.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I just feel like today, a lot of children and families don’t have the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt.


My grandmother grew up on a farm and she picked cotton, and she learned how to can so she wouldn’t have to pick cotton.

>> Robert Sudam: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: And she did water bath canning until she was probably about 83, she stopped. But she would can tomatoes and green beans, and we’d eat those throughout the next year, and-


>> Cindy McKenzie: Made jams and just always had a small vegetable garden in our backyard, very small. And great flowers, it’s just a neat way to connect with her.

>> Robert Sudam: The same experience, my dad and mom were gardeners. They always had big gardens, and they always looked for things of interest.


So one year we were living in.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Really, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And my dad and I went down to the lake, which is in our backyard, and we’re catching brim with cane poles. And my dad said, I’m gonna teach you how the used to grow their tomatoes. And so he brought this bucket full of brim up to the garden, dug a hole.


Hopefully PETA’s not gonna listen to this.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Robert Sudam: Dug a hole, threw a fish in the hole, and put a seed, a tomato seed, and buried it. And the decay of the fish fertilized the most beautiful tomato plants you’ve ever seen.

>> Savannah Brown: That’s cool.

>> Robert Sudam: And so he’d always do things like that to keep it interesting and fun.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, that’s true fish.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH]

>> Cindy McKenzie: I’ve tried buying some. I mean, some kinda funny things do happen, some of the fish imports. I used to get home and my dog just went crazy, and dug up around the roots, all the tomatoes. I can’t do that.


I can’t keep him away from it, but a real fish, that’s really cool.

>> Savannah Brown: And then we’d plant a small crop for the course for it has to sell promenade. So we’d go out there and we’re in the garden, shaking it. We’d come out with beautiful ears because of doing that donation, we’re saying That’s really cool.


I know, my mom, she was a big gardener, big composter, and then we had, which sounds so funky, but she let us make a worm farm. Where [CROSSTALK] you and so-

>> Robert Sudam: Those are perfect.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, it was so much fun. And I think just that, she instilled that love just for watching something grow and taking care of something in me and so, and just having fun.


Every year, we could take out something new to try, so it didn’t always work, but she let’s us go, we could try something. So just experimenting and seeing what can happen when you do different things and-

>> Cindy McKenzie: Never gets old to me.

>> Robert Sudam: No.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I mean, to plant a seed that size of the head of a pen and have a beautiful carrot, it’s just amazing to me.


>> Robert Sudam: And I like to experiment, I’m always planting something new and different.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Yeah, remember that midnight black tomatoes?

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, they’re black tomatoes, which squirrels don’t like black, they love red.

>> Savannah Brown: [LAUGH] Good to know.

>> Robert Sudam: So I’m always doing a, more of a purple variety of tomato, which helps.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And then from looking at heirloom vegetables that are coming back, and bringing something like the ground tomatoes, which are, taste like a fruit?

>> Savannah Brown: Really?

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, there’s a lot of pectin in ‘ so they’re used in pies used to be using pies. There’s so many different things to learn, yeah.


>> Savannah Brown: Yeah, I think gardening, you’re like a little bit of a scientist, a little bit of an experimenter, I don’t know, it’s easy to do all kinds of different things with that. And we don’t have to just put yourself into like, I just plant things, because there’s always something new.


I mean, even just rotating your plants or seeing where they should go in the sun, especially, if you have a patio kind of garden. It definitely is a little bit of an advantage to move them around and see what they like, so. Well, I don’t have any more questions, but if there’s anything else you would like to share about the garden or?


>> Cindy McKenzie: I don’t know, can you think of any, let me see, write down a couple of things, but I think you’ve asked all the questions and we’ve covered it all. Another thing that sort of stood out to me, I should mention, were the times that we went to the farmers market as a young girl growing up.


You kind of never forget that, or I didn’t, the Kings Drive Farmers Market and the Yorkmont Farmers Market. I’ve really enjoyed that as a child. And I think that was it.

>> Robert Sudam: My grandparents always gardened in community gardens.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Really?

>> Robert Sudam: They never really had one in their-


>> Cindy McKenzie: Really?

>> Robert Sudam: Yes, always and so-

>> Cindy McKenzie: We just didn’t have them in Charlotte.

>> Robert Sudam: When we would visit them, I’d go with my grandfather, drive out to his community garden. And it was always a bunch of like-minded, passionate people taking pride in their plot, pride in their vegetables, showing off.


>> Cindy McKenzie: [LAUGH]

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah.

>> Robert Sudam: And that was always a great event.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Where was that?

>> Robert Sudam: Winston, Virginia.

>> Cindy McKenzie: Okay.

>> Robert Sudam: In a bunch of, couple different places.

>> Savannah Brown: Yeah. I think community gardens are just wonderful, especially now living in an urban environment. And I just I don’t have the space to garden except for the pots I can grow, so I do peppers where my best.


And then I had basil, which did really well, but my tomatoes just didn’t do as well. Because my pot wasn’t deep enough.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah.

>> Savannah Brown: So I think they got a little root rot, they weren’t doing great. They were blooming, but they just weren’t producing. So I think community gardens for people who maybe don’t have the space or even just want to be in an area where they can be with like-minded people.


>> Robert Sudam: Right.

>> Savannah Brown: It’s the perfect blend.

>> Robert Sudam: Yeah, I agree.

>> Cindy McKenzie: I think a challenge for me too with the garden was if you’re working which, of course, you are. You have these aspirations where we’re gonna have a potluck or we’re gonna have an event down at the garden or in it.


It’s hard to make all that happen, particularly when the produces are rolling in like you said July and August, but everybody’s at the beach, I mean, palm garden season. That’s always been always, I guess, have this romanticized notion of what it would be like to have a community garden.


And it’s tough to keep up with the day to day, week to week, month to month task. It’s hard to get to, sometimes, the fun stuff, anyway. I can’t think of anything else.

>> Robert Sudam: No.

>> Savannah Brown: Well, thank you both so much, this was wonderful.

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