Since she was a child, Susan Sides has had her fingers in the dirt, helping her mother with the family garden. That early experience had a profound impact, fostering a passion that continues to this day: Since its inception in 2009, Sides has worked as executive director and garden manager at the Lord’s Acre in Fairview — a nonprofit that aims to increase food access and, in so doing, inspire new ways of living in community.
“I love the job,” says Sides. “You’re basically creating a space for plants, animals and people to thrive. I can’t think of a job that would be better than that.”
Community is a key component of her work. It’s not enough, she says, to simply grow organic food and hand it out; that takes care of one need, but it doesn’t address the larger problem. Sides’ goal has always been to help people develop skill sets and be a part of a support system they can learn from and give to. “We’re trying to create a space where all these living things can work together and get to know each other and see how dependent they are on each other,” she says.
When people come together in a garden, “you get to hear their stories,” Sides observes. “You hear why they are where they are in life. You hear recipes from their grandmother, what kind of food they’re growing. And you get to see people look at [a] watermelon and say, ‘I never knew there was yellow watermelon; that’s the best thing I’ve ever tasted.’”
Of course, challenges do arise. When the Lord’s Acre began seven years ago, Sides was its only paid employee. Even with the added help of two part-time employees in 2014, her schedule remains busy. “She works sometimes 80 hours a week, in the garden and in the office, to ensure that the Lord’s Acre message of ‘educating and inspiring people to address the many types of hunger’ is heard,” says Robin MacCurdy, board member of the nonprofit. Besides managing the garden and training interns, Sides leads tours, organizes volunteers, writes grants, and assists in networking and marketing the organization.
In addition, Sides has helped to create the Gardens That Give organization, a group of volunteers, garden managers and other participants who work together to share resources, experience and knowledge. She has also put together a garden manual to inspire others to start their own Gardens That Give program. “She has done all of this good work declaring that what we’re really doing is spreading love — to those who are hungry for food and to those who are hungry for community … to those who are hungry to learn and to those who are hungry to serve,” MacCurdy notes.
Sides’ objective is to end hunger and, in so doing, eliminate the very services she and the Lord’s Acre provide. “Our goal has to remain putting ourselves out of business,” she says. This objective, she emphasizes, means asking hard questions about one’s intention. “Are we doing this because we want to keep doing what we’re doing, or are we doing this — making the choices we’re making — because we want to not be needed anymore? That’s the constant soul-searching thing.”
BOTTOM LINE FOR WNC: Over the past seven years, Susan Sides has championed the Lord’s Acre mission and helped its community grow and deliver more than 60 tons of produce to local food banks.