Nadine Ford is a native Charlottean who grew up in the Druid Hills neighborhood. Mrs. Ford’s love for growing things began in her early childhood where she lived on a farm and learned gardening from her parents and grandparents. As she grew up, this love for gardening transcended into a desire to help her community through teaching, sharing and growing food. She found the opportunity to follow this dream when in 2009; she obtained permission to revive an untended community garden in Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood. The garden became a success, reflecting both her spirit and hard work. Nadine Ford was eventually asked to open another garden in her own Druid Hills neighborhood, which she did in 2016. In this interview, Mrs. Ford discusses the history of Charlotte and its inner city, her personal history, and the history of the Little Sugar Creek and Druid Hills gardens. Also, a recent appearance by Mrs. Ford on Charlotte talks with Mike Collins on the topics of “food deserts” and “food insecurity” provides an interesting foundation for this interview, affording Mrs. Ford the opportunity to talk about what was said, and what wasn’t said, about Charlotte’s problems with food access, racism, segregation and displacement. Other topics included in this interview are challenges faced by the gardens, challenges for its volunteer staff, and of the challenges faced by female growers today in particular. Highlights not only include discussions of the growing, donation and distribution of the food from the gardens themselves, but for the opportunities, dialogue, education and advancement provided by those who have volunteered and participated in the gardens growth. Mr. Ford’s descriptions and accounts clearly illustrate the challenges faced by urban farmers and in particular, minorities in the Charlotte region during an era of demographic change and displacement.
|0:00:11||Beginning of interview|
|0:01:35||North Carolina Community Garden Partners|
|0:07:17||Definition of food desert|
|0:09:42||Access to food|
|0:10:32||Independent vs. major grocers|
|0:18:15||West Charlotte area, I-77 and separation|
|0:21:52||Change in Charlotte demographics|
|0:22:57||Light rail, bike trails|
|0:24:27||Family history and farms|
|0:26:01||Beginning of community gardens|
|0:28:07||How the gardens operate|
|0:28:45||Druid Hills Garden|
|0:29:53||Plants grown in the gardens|
|0:31:57||Neighboring Gardens and networks|
|0:34:56||All volunteers, support donations|
|0:36:03||Youth, radishes and the jail|
|0:46:37||Challenges for woman in gardening and farming|
|0:49:07||Lack of major grocers in low income areas|
|0:51:57||Work ethic, fear of failure|
|0:54:31||Future of gardening|
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, hi, this is Adam Hussein, I’m a graduate student from UNC Charlotte. Today’s date is Thursday, April 18th, 2019. This interview is conducted in the Building at approximate 9:05 AM. I’m here with Nadine Ford of Little Sugar Creek Garden, and we’re here to talk about the Queens Garden World History Project, which is through the class of UNCC.
The project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region. Nadine if you would state for the record your full name for us.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Elaine Nadine Ford, but I prefer Nadine.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, and your age only if you want to.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: 56 years old.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, and what is your association with, I guess I had Belmont Garden but Sugar Creek Garden?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: I am the garden manager, I revitalized that garden in 2009 along with staff from Johnson and Wills, and friends from around the city and the county.
>> Adam Hussein: And you also part of North Carolina Community Garden Partners?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes I am a new board member, I’ve only been on there for about a month, although I’ve been an active member since their inception.
>> Adam Hussein: And actually I saw that, and that’s where I’m gonna start with before I get into other questions, that you were on Charlotte talks with Mike Collins, and if we could talk a little bit about that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Sure.
>> Adam Hussein: And could you tell me who was on the panel and what were the main talking points?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay, so we had Reggie Singleton, who was the founder and executive director of the Male’s Place. Dr. Katherine Metzo, who was a past chair of the Charlotte Food Policy Council, and India Solomon, the mobile market manager for the Bald.
And the original topic was about food deserts, and food insecurity in Charlotte. And we worked to, once we began talking, we realized that he did four shows previously on the same topic. And he came to more or less the same conclusions and the same topic points, so we intentionally tried to steer it away from the norm to talk about things that aren’t normally spoken about, the unspeakables.
So you end up in the conversation you heard things such as plant segregation. We talked about sovereignty, land sovereignty. We had a perspective of it coming from the work of community that Charlotte is currently experiencing, but we talked about white supremacy and how a lot of these items go into red-lining.
A lot of these items go into making food access hard for some people. We wanted to get into but we didn’t have time, actually the history of using food as control when the British used it against the Irish for the Potato Famine. And even when colonizers used it against enslaved people they would often feed the enslaved people that did well more food.
And the ones that didn’t do so well, they would give them minimal food which was kind of counter-productive because the ones that didn’t do well may have been weak due to hunger. So you think that they would have given them better food but they didn’t. But so the topic was again, how did Charlotte get to where it is and with the food access and how do we solve it.
>> Adam Hussein: Mel, this is your chance to elaborate more to what you didn’t get to say, these topics, I guess he was trying to stick to a narrative but you guys had some points you want to make. So if there’s any you didn’t get to make there this is gonna be in the USCC archives hopefully for 100 years or more, so now’s your chance.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, one of the things that I look at is Charlotte has a fear of its own history. And this is something that I did mention on the show. Tom Hanchett, who is the area specialist on history, wrote a great book that talked about Charlotte history, Sorting Out the New South City Charlotte.
And it explained how Charlotte actually started out as a very integrated city, both racially and economically in the First War. Then, when the Jim Crow Laws hit is when Charlotte gave in, went the way of the South and began the segregation. When you looked at Charlotte make up, you will see you have that Meyer’s Park, Eastover wedge.
And he talked about how that was formed, which was basically, people from out of town wanted to invest in Charlotte. Well the planners would guide them to this wedge. This is the wedge they wanted to develop for their well to do, and it allowed the outlying areas to come what may, become ghetto, so to say.
So that was the planned segregation. Then you had the area’s Second War, which was a prosperous black neighborhood. It was deemed, right after the Jim Crow laws, the city planners decided they didn’t want black people living there. So it didn’t happen until the 1960s, and then when it happened, the area was repainted 1960s, 1970s, when the area was torn down, it was repainted as being a ghetto.
Well, my grandmother lived there, and I can promise you she did not live in the ghetto. It was a very mixed income neighborhood that was very prosperous. So we want to talk about that, we also just want to talk about land sovereignty, about the fact that when the land was being divided, you had state colleges that would give white farmers land to grow food, and wouldn’t give black people lands to grow food.
So right then and there you start with this food inequity situation. And that’s one of the things people don’t talk about. They always want to talk about, well how do we get to food here and now? Well let’s go back and look at what happened? How do we get here?
Because until you know your history you can’t move forward with your future, so.
>> Adam Hussein: So you need to do that to get to the root of the problem, you can’t do your thing, you just can’t bring food in and solve the problem.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No you can’t, and that’s what a lot people try to do.
I liken it to swapping hogs. You just go in, throw food at the hogs the hogs will eat it. And people tend to think if you just go in and throw food at people who don’t have it they’re going to eat it but it’s much more than that.
You have to look at hows and you have to look at medical, you have to look at what is missing from this neighborhood that doesn’t have versus this neighborhood that has, and where is that balance? You wanna treat those that don’t have with as much dignity and respect as you do those that do have.
And again, these are things that when we talk about the topic of food access, even when you look at the definition of food desert, and this is what I told Mike. Technically it doesn’t, it’s so nebulous, it makes no sense. A food desert is described by the FDA as an area that lacks food.
And that the nearest grocery store, I’ve seen it from being half a mile in distance to being a mile in distance. So it depends on where you’re looking. But, and as I also told Mike, when I grew up in an area that was called a food desert, I never knew I was in a food desert until the Food Positive Council started up 10, 15 years ago here in Charlotte.
And then I kept hearing this term. Food desert, you live in a food desert. I never went hungry. I don’t know of any neighbors that went hungry, because we had that sense of community. If somebody fell upon hard times then the rest of the neighborhood got together to help them out until they made it through.
And it wasn’t so much a handout, because it may be if Mr. Martin fell on hard times, well, he’s a bricklayer. So while we may,
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Feed him, he would come by and do some brick work for my father, or something. So it was that sense of community, but we don’t look at it like that.
We want to honestly look at these organizations that come in, well, we’re gonna have a food drive. We’re going to give food, but then when you’re gone, what’s going on?
>> Adam Hussein: So the desert is not so much that people couldn’t find food and are starving, is it more like access to healthy foods?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: To me the term food desert is more of a have and have-not situation. I’m going to tell you that you live in a food desert, and I’m going to tell you that you need to do this, that and the other. So it’s control, I’m telling you what your situation is, as opposed to, and this is one of the biggest problems we have.
We don’t listen to the voices that are in there. So by you telling me I live in a food desert, you’re setting me up for almost a psychological warfare. What do you mean I live in a food desert? My god, I’m less than? So it’s more than just about food.
Like I said, when they started saying that, I’m like, what are you talking about? We’ve always had food.
>> Adam Hussein: So it’s just a label.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It’s just a label and it’s designed by outsiders.
>> Adam Hussein: Well, since we’re talking about that and fresh food, tell me a little bit about the problems in not having access to fresh and healthy food.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, and then again, you have to look at what’s the definition of access? Because now I mean there are so many ways, you can grow your own food. You can get with a neighbor and do a neighbor garden. I don’t want to say community garden because that’s confusing.
You have delivery services, Amazon will deliver food within two hours if you get the subscription. And sometimes, I wanna say and I’ll go back to look to see that they even discount it for people who have a marginal income. You have Uber or Lyft, (I won’t take Uber) so you could call and say, hey can I get a car to go to the grocery store?
So what is that concept of access, now what do they mean? And back in the old days when I was a kid, you just got out there and walked to the grocery store. So in my neighborhood there are two grocery stores, that’s probably from my house. One is less than a mile, the other one might be two miles at the most.
But the city says I live in a food desert, because they’re not major grocery stores. They’re not major, they’re not a Publix or a Harris Teeter or an Aldi’s. So again, why is that definition? What does the concept of a major grocery store have to do versus the store in my neighborhood is Wayne’s.
It has all of the same material as a Food Lion, but because it’s not a Food Lion, I live in a food desert
>> Adam Hussein: So you don’t really feel there’s a difference in these independent grocers as far as what food you can get being healthy. Or so forth versus a Harris Teeter or a Food Lion, or anything?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No, only difference may be the prices
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: May be a little bit more expensive because they don’t have that bulk buying. You may not get the freshest of the fresh, but it’s not inedible. It’s not gonna be as pretty, and that’s one thing also with Americans, is that we’re used to the pretty fruit.
I went the other day, I was at a Harris Teeter, had to get some food. And they had bananas on sale for $1, the bananas that they wanted to get rid of quickly because they don’t look pretty. So I grabbed them and said I’ll put them in the freezer for my smoothies.
When I started peeling them, to take the skins off, the banana part was fine. The skin was a little mottled up, but the bananas weren’t bruised, I mean, they were great. But again, because Americans are trained, I want that pretty yellow Chiquita banana, I don’t want one that has spots on it.
So the food that is still good, but it was gonna go to waste.
>> Adam Hussein: Have you seen the opposite, where you get the food that looks wonderful on the outside. And it’s probably come from another country, South America or something by the time it gets here,. And they’ve made it look pretty, they’ve coated it or whatever.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And it has no flavor, so tomatoes, for instance, I’m a Southern, and I know when tomato season is here and when it’s not. But we’ve gotten to where we have access to tomatoes 24/7, and if you look at the nutritional value of some of these tomatoes. They don’t have any, because they’re just like the chickens.
You go out and when I was a kid a six-month-old chicken wasn’t but yea big. Now a six month old chicken about the size of a emu, because they pump it up, but it has no flavor, it has no nutritional value. Same thing with all this food you get, they grow it fast, they grow it in a sterile environment, so to say.
In that the soil doesn’t they have the
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: The germs, the microbes that give it flavor, so you get this beautiful tomato, it has no flavor. Apples, sometimes I’ll get, if it’s off-apple season, but I really just want an apple. And I don’t get a North Carolina apple, it has no flavor, so avocados.
So it’s, yeah, you can get food and it will be pretty, but it won’t have flavor. It’s off season, it probably won’t have much nutritional value, but that’s the way we’re being trained.
>> Adam Hussein: Going back to the interview, one topic that was interesting was the mentorship for the young men.
Being involved in growing and producing food, I thought that was really interesting. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, so that’s Reggie Singleton’s project and it started out of the Health Department, the Males Place. He started in 2009, and they have a garden in Fred Alexander Park over off of.
It’s on McAllister, it’s over off of Beatties Ford Road. And he takes the gentlemen from age 12 to 18, basically his program is to break that prison pipeline. So he teaches these young men how to be men, how to take care of their family. One of the aspects of it is growing food, he’s teaching them how to reclaim our heritage of being farmers.
Southern heritage, black heritage, but just being farmers, they are broken up into tribes. In each tribe the gentlemen are called warriors, so each tribe has a section of the garden that they tend to. And they bless the garden with a opening day, they harvest, they work this garden with the crops, with the seeds.
Then they have a harvest day and then they have a closing day. And they’ll present at farmers markets, they’ll sell at the farmers market and all of the money they raise goes to a big event. So this year they’re going to Cuba in June, so all the food that they raise and they sell will go to that event.
So it gives these guys that may normally not have a chance to get out and see the world, it gives them a chance to go out. They’ve gone to South Africa, like I said they’ll go to Cuba, they’ll do volunteer work over there. They’ll look at gardens over there, or the agriculture so they can bring these things back and tie everything together.
>> Adam Hussein: That sounds like an amazing program.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It is, and they’re great guys, for instance But I’ve known Reggie, we’ve started at the health department, so I’ve known him for a while in this program. But, they will come out because he is about letting these young men learn how to give back.
They come out to Magaluf, Sugar Creek and Tilburg with this little tiller, and it took them about half a day to get it rolled on but again, to get to learn how to give back. They’ve gone to the elders’ houses and done lawn care for them, cut the grass and clean up.
So he is making these young men fitting into society or to make sure that they are a benefit to society, and that society benefits them as well.
>> Adam Hussein: Now, how’s the participation? It’s seems like the incentive to be able to give back and also to make impact other places in the world, would be a great incentive for the participation in the program.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It’s very well attended. He has a lot of neighborhood support. So he has the young men coming, he has their parents participating. He gets the elders from around the neighborhood, elected officials often will stop by. So it’s very prosperous, and it’s a great program. It is a hidden treasure, people are starting to find out about it now.
But it is one of Charlotte’s truly hidden jewels.
>> Adam Hussein: And actually, that’s the first, when I listen to the, Mike Collins it was the first time I heard about that, I said wow what a great opportunity, not only travel another country but when you’re learning about producing food, and you’re going to another country, and you’re sharing that with somebody else.
I thought that was awesome when I heard that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, it’s a great program.
>> Adam Hussein: Now going back to another topic. So you’re talking about the divide, racism that actually created the inequality in the first place. Couple things I ran into also talking to people in and the Lockwood project that I was involved with, also had mentioned that when they built 77, that was a dividing line.
Just give me your thoughts on that.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So, when the whole area was, sorry about that. The.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Drip Hills Lincoln Heights, Newland Road, that whole west Charlotte area was hugely connected. And this is a pattern across the country.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: For some odd reason, the government gets concerned when like-minded people that they don’t want to have together get together.
So for instance, you had at one point where during the Jim Crow years, the progressive white people and the black republicans got together, so when the democrats were the client. And then they got to they start saying, hey look, these are some things we need to do to fix.
So, once the democrats saw that, and they knew they didn’t want these people in power, they developed a method to separate them, with the same last ten come up now. Well, to the progressive whites who are usually lower income and does all the black people don’t take your jobs.
To the black people I don’t know what was I said but, it was enough to put that wedge in there. And then even with blacks from being Republican over to Democrats, things were being said that my father was Republican. And by the time I came up the boat, there was no being a black republican was not, being a republican was not a thing because it was no longer for black people.
Same thing with 77, you have this great industrial area with Charlotte, and in other to from what I was always told, in order to quelch some of that power, they did. They came through and they put 77 right through the black side of town. And when, for what reason, just to, I mean you look at it, it just goes through all the black neighborhoods.
>> Adam Hussein: What about, in relation to that, what about the gentrification and the light rail line now?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, and I don’t use the word gentrification, I call it displacement because that’s what happened. So, if you want to look at that even that topic in itself. What’s going on in Charlotte right now, is housing is very hot the price of housing is very high.
You have the young man transplants what we wanna come, come in and they’re fine if they can’t afford these higher in neighborhoods. So they still have a decent amount of money, so they’re moving into what are now the lower end black neighborhoods. Well, physics, two objects and they occupy the same space at the same time.
So by them going out and buying the black neighborhoods, they’re displacing the black people. Or, I’m not going to say black people, the lower income people. Because some of them are white too and brown. So that’s one step. And Charlotte to me has always, well not has always.
But since, I remember shift being world insurance came down, that’s when Charlotte went from being a southern town to actually losing its identity. And now it seems to me its hooked on being young. So, its doing everything it can to populate this younger generation, its like in Logan’s Run, when everybody hit 30.
They buzzed him off, they killed him. I tell people, [LAUGH] Charlotte could do that. I really do. I think once you hit 30, they will get rid of you. So in the Lockwood community which actually started out as a White neighborhood, Lockwood, I think Heights, all these neighborhoods Benefitted from the work being done at what is now Camp Norfin when it was the Model T Ford factory.
So there were red-lined neighborhoods which meant that black people could not purchase a house in that area, but once the Model T Ford Company closed down these people, Were out of jobs, so they moved out, which opened up these neighborhoods for black people to move in.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So what was the question?
[LAUGH] I got sidetracked. We were talking about, gentrification.
>> Adam Hussein: Yes.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And 77.
>> Adam Hussein: Yes.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And the light rail. So now the light rail is coming through, but the light rail is a little more glitzy. It’s cool and it’s hip, so it’s gonna go and serve that population, it’s gonna serve the hip and cool population.
If you even look at the Carolina trail, trail, trail, the bike trail. That doesn’t go through, you’d think it would go through lower income neighborhoods so that people can hop on it. And get the places now is again it’s going into the higher end glitzy neighborhoods. Charlotte will destruct or what I’ve seen is there’s a lot of destruction, but there’s not a lot of repair.
>> Adam Hussein: Make sense.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: [LAUGH]
>> Adam Hussein: It does. it does and I can see why the special people working down town wanna live near the, The rail line in our situation I have one of my sons has actually learned that he’s renting a place that’s by the light rail he works downtown and he thinks he’s it..
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah and its expensive. Yeah.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, yep. So, let’s go towards the questions but more towards yourself.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay.
>> Adam Hussein: And how you got involved in this And I guess if you could begin with your history about how you learned about growing food and things.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Like I said a few times, probably, I’m from Charlotte.
My maternal grandmother grew up on a self-sustaining farm. The only time they left the farm was to get sugar and fabric. So she taught my mom and my aunts, my uncles, excuse me, how to grow food. My dad’s mom was a herbalist and she was also a gardener.
So she taught him how to grow food. With all of that influence around me, I had no choice but to learn how to grow food. If I was really into it, I probably could have learned how to butcher a hog and choke a chicken. But I was like, no.
[LAUGH] We okay with that. You passed on that. I passed on that. Or strangle a chicken. So it was the norm in my family for everybody to have even just a little garden. It didn’t have to be big, but to always be in the soil.
>> Adam Hussein: So you each had your own little patch?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: At the house, everybody had to help my mom with her garden. And then, as we grew up and went our separate ways, everybody still has just a little, it might be like three tomatoes. But it’s just something about putting plants in the ground and growing things that’s edible.
I think my niece, because my nephew just started his garden. She just got her house so she’ll probably start hers this year. But I think it’s something in our blood. So with that being said, I’ve always grown food. Just in a small scale for me. The way the garden came about, I was a health inspector.
So I saw food out there and I just saw food out there in ways that being a health inspector you just see food. Then I switched over to solid waste, waste reduction. And after a couple years, first, I worked with businesses to encourage them to recycle. Then an opportunity came up for me to do organic waste reduction, gardens.
And I was driving around one day looking at the community gardens, and I saw the one in the Belmont neighborhood, North Alexander Street, that was abandoned. So I reached out to Park and Rec and was literally like hey, you got this piece over here, can I have it?
And they were like yeah, because nobodies doing anything with it. So I reached out to Don who’s my mentor and I said hey, I got this great opportunity to open up this community garden. Can you help me out because this was bigger than my backyard garden. He told me some in and outs, some things to do.
We started enlisting people, like I said, just from the area. Not so much from the Belmont neighborhood, but just from around. And hey, let’s go ahead and do this, let’s grow some stuff. Totally independent of that, Johnson and Wells chefs reached out to me because they wanted to do, what we had at the time, a master composters program.
Which was a 40 hour program that taught you how to compost and how to teach others to compost. They asked if they could do it. But their work schedule only allowed them to do it on weekends, Saturday mornings. I said, you know what? This is great. We can do it a hands-on approach.
We’ll spend four hours in the garden every Saturday. The first hour will be dedicated to education and the next three will be working to revitalize our garden. So we did that. We knew we didn’t want to rent the plots to people, we wanted to have a communal feel to it.
You come, you work, you harvest, you eat. And that’s how it started out, so even now, we don’t rent plots. You come in, we have a punch list every Saturday of things that need to be done. You decide what it is you can do and what you can’t do.
If you only know how to pull weeds, then you pull weeds, but you’ll learn how to plant seeds. You’ll learn how to harvest. You’ll learn how to identify issues going on. Our goal is get you in there and then to teach you. And then if you decide that you want to do it on your own and you wanna do a home plot, that’s fine.
At least now, you have the tools and the knowledge to get it going. So it’s one of three communal plots, I think in Charlotte, of communal gardens. The other one is Druid Hills, which we just started that one, three seasons ago. It’s in the Druid Hills neighborhood and that’s a communal garden, people come in and help with it.
>> Adam Hussein: How big are the gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Little Sugar Creek is 960 square feet. It used to be a house and what’s pretty cool is the fella that used to live there, he’s a older guy. He’s like 80 something years old. He came by one day two years ago and we see this guy walking around.
We’re like, can we help you? And he was with his wife and they just happened to be in the neighborhood and he wanted to see whatever happened to his old home. And so that felt good because he approved of it. He’s like I like what you’re doing with the property.
It’s like thank you. And the Druid Hills has 15 plots, it’s raised beds. Eight by four raised beds, so it’s 15 of those. Little Sugar Creek is laid out in ground as production, whereas Druid Hills is more your traditional community garden with the wooden beds.
>> Adam Hussein: And what kind of plants are you growing?
Do you grow the same ones at both places?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes and no, because of land restrictions. Druid Hills is more your traditional tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, flowers, I’m trying to think what else we’ve got. We do okra over there, that’s Druid Hills, whereas Little Sugar Creek is a little more exotic.
So we’ll have okra, corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, eggplants, peas of sesame seeds. I’m trying to think of what’s on the list of stuff. I would say everything from Druid Hills would have come from Little Sugar Creek but not everything that’s at Little Sugar Creek will be at Druid Hills, I think I said it right.
Everything at Druid Hills, we run at Little Sugar Creek outside of Bacchus. But not everything at Little Sugar Creek can be grown at Druid Hills. That was it.
>> Adam Hussein: Having an herbalist in your history, do you grow anything from that influence?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: We do, we have medicinal plots.
So we have St. John’s wort, dill. You can use the dill seeds and mix it with honey to help with internal issues. Peppermint. We have obviously peppermints and spices. Trying to think what else we have going on out there. We have a lot of stuff.
>> Adam Hussein: I know you’ve networked obviously with other people with some of the same goals and things you have.
Are there any other neighboring gardens that are close by yours that you work with or exchange ideas and so forth?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: So this is one of the cool things about Charlotte, the community gardens scene is very connected. We work with Belmont, the Belmont community garden which is part of Charlotte Greens.
Charlotte Greens is the oldest urban or inner city garden association in Charlotte. So they have the Belmont neighborhood, community garden, Willmore. Bethlehem Center, Genesis Park, two more. The rose place that’s in North Davidson, the rose shop that’s right by the cat station. Anyway, they have a community garden there.
Or they help with the roses over there. So, Sissy Schoal used to be the head over that. I think she retired so now it’s Anna somebody. I haven’t spoken with Anna in a while. But I work with them. Of course with Reggie. When we started out, we did a lot with Urban Ministries and Hope Haven.
I just left Assurance Sharing Garden at Assurance Methodist up near Huntersville, so yeah, we have quite a few.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you have any plans? You’re involved with these two. Are you expanding beyond these once you get them established?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: If people want, I’ll come out and help download, I forgot about downloading.
So probably, but our thing is not just to supply food, but it’s also to build a connection. Our biggest pride is that we get a lot of people that may never associate with each other in real life or outside the garden, but once you come into the garden, everybody’s equal.
I mean we’ve got Trump lovers and we’ve got complete Obama lovers. And we start working the soil, and there are no issues and no problems. We’re concentrating on getting these plants to grow. So it’s these kind of things that we love to see, that sense of unity and community.
>> Adam Hussein: So you would say growing food brings people together?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It does, mm-hm. You’re growing the food and being in the soil. I think more so being in the soil because half the time we’re pulling weeds. And we’re pulling weeds and we’re chit chatting and joking. So it’s just the connection back to the earth.
>> Adam Hussein: I will say pulling weeds by yourself is boring.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: My Lord. Yeah.
>> Adam Hussein: So if you’ve got an interesting conversation going to be pulling weeds, then no problem, no problem. You do say everybody’s a volunteer. There are no paid employees, everybody’s a volunteer.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Everybody volunteers. We’ve been fortunate enough that we don’t even really pay for our material.
Our seeds, we pay but usually we’ll catch donations. We’ll have gardeners that may grow too many. We have one woman, Holmes, that lives up in Davidson. She’s been great. She loves to grow and she always has a surplus. So she will bring us her surplus of plants. We have another woman, Shannon, that’s a realtor.
If she has too many seeds, she’ll give me a call, hey, I got too many seeds. Friendship Trace Community Garden has been a really big supporter with seeds. The jail north on Spectrum Drive has a horticulture program that they’ve supported us since we started. And they are part of the 4H program ag extension.
So a lot of people want to see us succeed and they help us out immensely.
>> Adam Hussein: Yeah, and actually I was gonna ask you about that. Where do people hear about it, and where do you get them from? Actually I did read something about the jail. The Sheriff’s department had a program that was really successful in getting them to come out and help out there.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yep, they will, they grow the plants. And one of the coolest things ever was, I guess this was our third year. We partnered with the Trinity Principle. Lots of little kids and we picked up some radish from the jail. Which, radish is very hard to transplant because it’s a root crop.
So I’m teaching the children how to, you don’t want to disturb it. You basically want to put the whole plot of soil Into the soil and hopefully the radish will take. Well, it did, and they sent back the greatest emails or letters, handwritten letters to the inmates. And those guys they were beaming because here they are in jail, being looked upon by society cuz you’re in jail.
You serve no purpose in life. But with them growing them radish seeds, they were able to feed families, that weren’t their own. No, they couldn’t do directly for their own family. But here, they were able to feed a whole grade of children and their parents. So it’s like yeah, you do have a purpose in society in that you’re feeding folks.
You’re giving these people a chance to taste real homegrown food. And usually, when we talk about that, folks automatically think, when we talk about feeding folks. Well, they’re poor people, we gotta feed poor people. No, I have met people that have really nice six figure incomes, and their pantries look like crap.
So, and that was one of the things that I mentioned on Mike Collins’ show is that we’ve lost that sense of education. You can have all the food in the world, we can put food everywhere. But if you don’t know how to cook it and you don’t know how to prepare it, that’s just like me giving you a Maybach, you don’t know how to drive.
Here’s the keys, a tank full of gas and you don’t even know how to turn the car on. What good is it gonna do you?
>> Adam Hussein: And actually that was actually one of my other questions I had coming up. So since you mentioned the importance of the education, you were touching on that, touching a little more about the importance of education, and I guess accomplishment.
And doing good and all the other benefits of education. Could you expand a little bit more on that?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going. And like I said, one of the things that I’ve noticed is when we give food to people, and we’re dying to say, you want some cucumbers?
Cucumbers, I don’t know what to do it. And I do have a tendency to come from a place of need, so I’m, well, what do you mean you don’t know what to do with it? You peel it, you put it in some vinegar, and you eat it. But to think, you’re so disconnected from your food supply that you don’t know what to do with a cucumber, which again, that’s kind of obvious.
So if you can’t handle a cucumber, then I don’t expect you to really be able to handle collard greens. And maybe I see people with so nutritional, and that their diets are like mostly fruits. Well, that’s gonna spike your blood sugar. You have to put nuts in there.
Or they’ll cook collard greens until they’re just all the nutrition’s in the pot liquor. And they don’t know what to do with the pot liquor. But it is an education of how to harvest the food, how to prepare the food, how to preserve the food. You don’t want to just,
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Take, I don’t know, say, potatoes. You can freeze potatoes but you wanna blanch them first to make sure the sugar and everything is out, I guess. I don’t know why you blanch them. I just know to blanch them.. But people don’t know how to do that anymore, so they go to the alternative which is all fast food.
>> Adam Hussein: Now is that, not just growing it, but is that preparation thing part of the education?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yes, we have one woman that’s awesome, Hilda. She’s from Jamaica. And their eating patterns are totally different from ours. So I would say they’re almost more natural, or hers are. So she’ll come in and she’ll tell us, okay, this is how you wanna do.
She cooks, she grows callaloo, which is a green. All right so this is how you wanna do callaloo. You don’t cook it until it’s really soggy. In the beginning, because we have the four chefs, they would bring in all these really cool things. And well, this how you cook everything.
One chef, Chef Ellsworth, everything was sauteed with garlic and olive oil. That was her answer for everything. Just sautee it with garlic and olive oil and you’ll be fine. Okay. So we do teach preparation. And what we don’t know, because some things you know but you don’t know how to explain it.
I would send to Kristen Davis who works for NC Cooperative Extension. And because that’s what she does, that’s her job is local foods and local food preservation and preparation. So we use resources, and we’ve got people, again, because that’s part of education. I don’t want you to think that I know everything.
I want you to get out there and talk to others. And find out, on a collaborative, find out what, a collective, what everybody knows. And then use common sense to filter out what you need and what you don’t need.
>> Adam Hussein: That makes sense, definitely makes sense. Knowledge is power.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And read up. I have my volunteers when I send out a e-list, I have books that I’ll suggest to them. Or if I see a really good article, I’ll send it to them because that’s how a lot of myths. People think, for instance, with community gardens that if you go into a low income area, you put a community garden that your food access problem is solved.
But it’s not because it’s a lot of work. You have to, if you’re a single parent with three kids, with stair step kids, you don’t really have time to go to a plot, turn that soil over. You may not be lucky enough to get free plants, so you have to go and buy plants.
You have to go and buy seeds. You may have to pay a rental fee for that plot. You have to go out there and water that plot. Or if a storm comes you have to wonder what’s going on or if I have plants. So it’s a lot of work and they’re not going to be concerned with that, so.
>> Adam Hussein: And talking about the healthy food, and you mentioned earlier about organic. Do you guys- No. That’s not?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: No, because it’s to me, organic it’s become a label that, it’s just, I think it’s something you pay for. I mean, you have to jump through the hoops to get it, but at the end of the day, what does it really mean?
We grow our food eco-friendly, which means we companion plant. We pick bugs off with our hands and put them in a box of soapy water. The only time we use chemicals is if we have hornets. And we will pull out the hornet spray and take them down. But for the most part, we have volunteers out there, we didn’t need anything else.
We don’t need any RoundUp, we go pull weeds.
>> Adam Hussein: And that’s part of what they call, there’s a difference of being organic certified and just trying to be as organic, I guess that would be natural as possible. And that sounds like that’s what you’re doing anyway. So it’s just not certified organic.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, like they say, our grandparents ate organic food but it was never called organic.
>> Adam Hussein: That’s true, that is true. Okay, and let’s see. This is a hacker’s question and a questionnaire. It’s have you experienced any acts of vandalism or setbacks at your gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: We have, but we’re part of a park.
So we had somebody go in one day, break into our shed and steal all of our tools. Okay, it happens. It was covered on the news, and people came and helped us out. So we had somebody, that was at Little Sugar Creek. We had somebody cut the fence, break into the shed, and stole a bunch of tables that we had.
It’s all okay, it happens. You just know that they needed it for some reason and they got it. That’s okay.
>> Adam Hussein: How about the neighbors around your gardens, how do they feel about having the gardens there?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: The one in Belmont is in heavy displacement and change, so it’s different.
We’ve got a different set of neighbors. So the first, when it was in transition, actively going through it, the neighbors were actually happy to see the land being used because it brought a sense of calm to the area. Now we got a lot more dog walkers, and to me it seems almost as if the neighbors are a little more disrespectful in that we’ve actually had them allow their dogs to poop on our plots.
We have plots outside the fence that we would use to feed people when we weren’t there. Well, because they keep letting them use them as bathrooms, we’ve just converted them to flower beds. So it’s kind of irritating in that sense. Druid Hills, the neighbors didn’t originally want the garden.
They wanted a fountain, because it’s an older neighborhood. It’s either, it’s mixed, old or young. And the with this. So they wanted a fountain. But because it was a low income area, they were like, well, we’re gonna give you a community garden. And they didn’t want the community garden, and so they don’t mess with the community garden.
We have, I have three or four, three. I have three ladies that help me with it, and we just bring groups in to do the big stuff, so.
>> Adam Hussein: Speaking of ladies, there’s actually another student in my class wanted us to ask this question cuz she’s studying the angle of women and farming.
And we’re asking, are there any unique challenges that women face in the food growing industry?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, outside of, now I’ll get this stereotype. If I’m in the garden, and we laugh about this, we have a white guy, Kurt, that’s been there for a few years. When people come, they automatically go to him, start asking questions.
And he’ll kinda look at them and he’ll let them ask the questions. And then he’ll point, well, she’s the one you need to ask. And without fail, they’ll look like what, what? So there is a stereotype that even with the term garden, I think if I would actually call it an urban farm, people would freak out.
Garden, we can say, it’s a garden, okay? So okay, it’s a lady thing. But with a farm, yeah, because people don’t expect that it’s not a woman’s job even though we are making strides there. It’s still looked upon as a white man’s territory.
>> Adam Hussein: It’s interesting you said that because there was an interview I listened to, and the man, and the farmer and his wife are both in the interview.
And she would interject at places. And then basically at the end she basically she wanted to have her piece cuz the questions, I guess she felt like she was left out, whatever. She said her piece at the end. She said, don’t forget about me. I support him. I’m the one that takes care when he’s not here and I’ll support stuff.
So it’s the same thing, that we were so focused on the man that we forget about Forget about the wife or the woman being able to do just as much and we’re a fair partner in the operations.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: And that’s if you look at most cultures, the women are the ones that grow the food.
And if you again, if you research the history even of America, Southern rural gardens, that was what the women did, but- It’s just a perception that we have.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, let me go back to a couple questions actually.
>> Adam Hussein: Back to what we talked about earlier in the interview, what you wanna talk about with the Mike Holmes interview.
Why don’t you think the major grocery stores don’t wanna open up branches in their areas yet, in these areas?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well from what I was told, grocery stores don’t make a lot of money off of their food. They make a lot of money off of the, I don’t know the exact term but the paper towels, the cigarettes and the non perishable items.
So, if you put a grocery store and they also wanna look at home ownership. These are the reasons they’ve always given us. We can’t get a store in the Druid Hills neighborhood, because we don’t have any area that has adequate parking. We don’t have enough home ownership. We don’t have a high enough income.
But yet we have a brewery, that is as big as a grocery store that has ample parking. If we had nice walking trails, we wouldn’t need the parking because we could walk to the store to get what we need. So we wouldn’t have to drive there. But yeah, from what I understand it’s just that the grocery stores don’t make their money off of selling food.
So I guess if you’re not gonna sell food, why go into an area that needs food?
>> Adam Hussein: So I guess it’s all about profit.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: It’s about profit, but at the same time that whole and this is what was mentioned yesterday, was the city could give incentives to independent growers.
There’s tons of stories even Talley’s Green Groceries which was over in off of East Boulevard, they kept their overhead low by buying in bulk. So if you wanted beans, you went in with your container and you pulled the bulk of beans. So they didn’t have to worry about packaging or things like that.
Another there’s a co op and I don’t remember where it was or where it is. It’s the same concept, if you want eggs, they get the flat of eggs, 2,000 in the case. If you want eggs, you go in with your egg holder or your egg carton of 12 carton.
And you pull the eggs from the bulk of the eggs. So if they can give just somebody or group of people in citizens going to this neighborhood say. Hey look, if you build this grocery store we will help you out, let’s just try it for a couple years, see how it goes and give them something to do it.
And it’s a win win because you’ve got food in these areas, you’re pushing for small businesses in the city. And it actually probably can give the city a sense of identity, because Lord knows it doesn’t have one.
>> Adam Hussein: That’s a whole other.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: That’s a whole other project, I know.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, is there an aspect of our growing food that people wouldn’t consider or is misunderstood by the general public?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: They want it to be easy. And they don’t understand that it is but it’s not. What we’ll get people that will start their seeds and then they start, well, my seeds not doing well.
Well, it’s nature, you can’t control it. Some days you’re gonna have a really good crop, some days you’re not gonna have a good crop. And that’s one of the things that concern me too with I see farmer’s markets that or people that wanna put in farmer’s markets. Organizations in low income areas which is great during the summer.
Well not the farmer’s market but the community gardens, it’s great during the summer but what are you gonna feed the people in the winter when you can’t grow in these community gardens? But the people are afraid of failure now. And I think that shows up a lot in growing food.
If you’re not doing it for profit, like if you’re a farmer, yeah, you don’t want the failure. But, if you’re in the community garden, and you’re trying to grow, it’s okay to have a failure.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you think the way society is now has an impact about patience?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Society has no patience. They have no patience and everybody wants to be so connected. We’ll get people and I’ve have to do this that went to Facebook every action that they did in the garden so they get nothing done. I’m like, put your Facebook down for a second, put your phone down and look at what you’re doing, reconnect to the soil.
I think one of the things that kills me is when you get grown people and they see a bug and they freak out. I’m like, or the little carpenter bees that don’t bother anybody. This one lady was professing, I just love nature, and she saw one of those bees and next thing I know she’s telling me how she created a solution to kill ‘.
It’s like these bees don’t bother you. Why would you want to kill them? Well, cuz they’re bees. It is that the automatic, like with snakes. Any snake is a bad snake. No, no copperheads. Yes, take those out. But don’t take out black snakes, don’t take out garter snakes.
So again, it’s that huge disconnection. Kids would rather sit at home playing on video games instead of getting out in the yard getting dirty.
>> Adam Hussein: We need the bees to pollinate for us. What do you see the future for your gardening, say the next five years and next 20 years?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Well, I think it’s only gonna grow. Hopefully, I will retire within the next couple of years, so I can devote even more time to the garden. And I definitely want to and I started working on it a little bit last year to incorporate more history, more Southern history into the garden.
Start doing more heirlooms that are lost or incorporate some open hearth and cooking, something that brings back history. Because I think if people learn our history, they would learn to love our history. And it would actually shape the way Charlotte is going. I also want to, and this is in both gardens, I want to start having more.
I’m not going to say I want because that’s always in the future and you never gain it. We have on the books for the fall open conversation, so we may talk about, we call it biscuits and tents, sconces and teas. So everybody can bring a biscuit and tea is biscuit, you bring your favorite biscuit, you bring your favorite tea.
We sit around, we chitchat and we talk about things. Anything from politics to religion, to growing, the unspeakables, start those communications back up. I think one of the things that’s happened in society is people are so sensitive because they don’t talk about stuff. When I was growing up if you were fat, somebody calls you fat, and you just you might kick their **** a little bit, but it’s just different.
It’s like nobody knows how to take insults or the truth nowadays. So but as far as how it applies to the garden, we planned, we have on the books more activities to open up communications. So [SOUND] but yeah. So we’re only gonna grow. We’re only gonna get better, and we’ll eventually take over the world.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay, well that sounds like a good plan.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, thank you.
>> Adam Hussein: Do you have any pictures or better yet, maybe I could come by you sometime and take some pictures of the gardens?
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Yeah, we’ve got tons of pictures, on a Facebook page, I can send you, and you always welcome to come and take pictures of the garden.
>> Adam Hussein: Yeah, if you could send me some pictures too and ones that’s okay for us to use. I don’t want to use anything that anybody doesn’t want me to take and has rights too. But if you have some pictures it’s okay for me or for the project to use.
And if you can send those to me it would be great.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: Okay, and there’s a great aerial, somebody did it with a drone on YouTube that our Charlie Checkers did it. So I think, I mean, it’s on YouTube so it’s open for anybody. You can probably be in any project.
>> Adam Hussein: Okay yeah, if you could send me the link that would be great. Actually I have some other video and I could maybe put it with a project. And combine the other videos on my project, so that would be great.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: I can do that.
>> Adam Hussein: Well thank you, Nadine, it’s been a pleasure and a great interview and thank you for your time.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: You’re welcome.
>> Adam Hussein: And hope you have a great day.
>> Elaine Nadine Ford: All right, you too.
>> Adam Hussein: Thank you.