The North Carolina Community Garden Partners will host their annual statewide conference, Growing Garden Connections, in Asheville on Oct. 25 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center. Randal Pfleger of Grass to Greens, a panelist at the conference, provides Xpress with a preview of what participants can expect.
Mountain Xpress: Tell us about the mission of Grass to Greens.
Pfleger: Grass to Greens is an affiliated program of the nonprofit, Bountiful Cities. Our mission is to create edible landscapes for homeowners and businesses in the Asheville area. Our tagline is “Transforming yards into beautiful and edible landscapes.” We carry out much of the same work as Bountiful Cities, [but] on private property. Our main goal is to grow food and build community in Asheville and surrounding areas.
Can you tell us more about what you’ll be discussing at the conference?
I am on the opening panel titled “Celebrations and Challenges.” The main point that I want to get across, is that when we use the term “community gardens,” we’re talking about two separate and interrelated activities. In my experience, especially in Asheville, we end up with community garden managers who are gardeners first and community organizers a distant second. Our best examples of community gardens have a good balance of garden production as well as community, educational, and social programming.
What are you most looking forward to at the conference?
I’m most interested in broader scale of community and urban agriculture projects throughout N.C. While we have a vibrant community gardening community here in Asheville, there are many successful and established community gardens throughout the state and I look forward to hearing and learning about their experiences.
What do you think growers and community organizers from throughout the state can learn from Asheville?
The first thing that is worthwhile to know about community and urban agriculture in Asheville is that we are 20-30 years into this effort. If there’s a community in another part of NC that looks at Asheville as an example, they need to understand that this is a long-term endeavor. For example, it’s also important to note that the Lord’s Acre was doing community agriculture work in the 1930s here. It’s helpful for other communities to see this [in order] to draw on their own agricultural heritage and legacy.
I [also] think it’s critical for people to understand that while the Asheville Chamber of Commerce presents Asheville as “Foodtopia”, there are many people in our community that struggle with affordable access to high quality food every day.
What do you think is the benefit of this conference for local community organizers and growers?
It’s an opportunity to showcase our work and to learn from other gardeners and farmers involved in community and urban agriculture. Community outreach and engagement tend to be challenges for garden managers and it would be great to involve a broader group of community members. I also think that institutional food buyers and nutritionists, those who want local food in their facilities, would be another sector to involve, in order to foster relationships with community and urban agriculture.
NCCGP’s Growing Garden Connections conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 25, meeting in the Sherill Center at UNCA. Tickets are $15 for NCCGP members or $20 for non-members, and can be purchased through Eventbrite at avl.mx/0h6. For more information, visit nccgp.org or call 336-703-2859. Mountain Xpress will have additional coverage of the conference throughout this week.