Community members fight for the future of Southside’s urban farm

VOICE OF THE PEOPLE: Southside Community Farm manager Chloe Moore, front row, second from left, prepares to make comments at the April 24 Asheville Housing Authority board of commissioners meeting. Hundreds of community members attended to advocate for preserving the farm. Photo by Gina Smith

A cool April breeze ruffles the rows and raised beds of spring vegetables at Southside Community Farm as Chloe Moore runs water over handfuls of vivid green leaves at an outdoor wash station. A small boy romping with a group of young children at the Head Start playground next door darts up to the chain-link fence. 

“What’s that?” the boy asks brightly.

“It’s chard, Swiss chard,” Moore says. “Do you like greens?” The boy shakes his head vigorously, a decisive no. “Do you like blueberries?” Moore asks. “Yes!” the boy responds, grinning and clapping his hands. “Me, too!” Moore beams.

Impromptu interactions like this one are common occurrences at the farm, says Moore, who has managed the half-acre main growing space and nearby small fruit orchard and herb garden in Asheville’s historically Black Southside neighborhood since late 2020. But those and other opportunities for Southside residents to enjoy the lush space and nourish themselves from the farm’s abundance were threatened with the introduction of Resolution No.  2024-11 at a recent meeting of the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s board of commissioners.

The March 27 proposal called for the demolition of the 10-year-old farm, which occupies HACA-owned land behind the Housing Authority’s Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center. The farm’s removal would make way for a $200,000 outdoor youth play area to serve the more than 150 children — mainly from local public housing communities — who take part in programs at the Edington Center. 

Farm staff began sharing news of HACA’s plans on social media in early April, quickly generating support from the community. Nearly 3,000 people have so far signed a petition asking for the farm’s preservation. And hundreds, including numerous elders and community leaders from Asheville’s Black legacy neighborhoods, rallied at the April 24 HACA board meeting at the Edington Center — the first since the resolution was introduced — to speak out against the farm’s removal. 

While the meeting ended with an expression of willingness from HACA CEO and President Monique Pierre to take time to explore mutually agreeable solutions, the future of the farm remains undecided.

Conflicting desires

Previous HACA leadership provided the farm’s main plot behind the Edington Center to Southside residents in 2014 for use in growing food for a community plagued by food access challenges since urban renewal policies razed homes and businesses, uprooted gardens and shuffled residents into public housing in the 1960s and ’70s. But no lease was ever put in place, Pierre told Xpress in a telephone conversation. 

“There was no formal agreement for them to be there. The Housing Authority, for a while, worked with them because there was, I guess, no conflicting desire to have anything else in that space,” she says.

The resolution emerged, Pierre continues, from conversations that started in January about ways to use HACA’s budget to create a safe, outdoor children’s activity area, including basketball courts, at the Edington Center. A small lawn on the other side of the facility has been a popular makeshift play area for youths, she explains, but part of that property is owned by a nearby church, and the location presents serious safety concerns due to its proximity to busy Livingston Street. 

“So the only option is behind our building,” she says. “It was all about how do we best utilize the resources that we have for our residents. [The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] requires that anything that we do, whether it’s our land, our buildings, our apartments — whatever it is, whatever resources we bring in — are specifically and explicitly to benefit our residents who live in public housing.” 

Moore points out the proximity of the fenced playground at Herb Watts Park, which was renovated and expanded in 2019 and 2022. “And there are indoor and outdoor basketball courts that are brand new at the [Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center], and a basketball court at Walton Street Park, which is in public housing. So, to me, why would you add another basketball court in the neighborhood and get rid of the neighborhood’s only farm?”

‘Direct benefit’

The resolution asserts that the farm “does not provide a direct benefit to the residents of the HACA in a significant enough manner to justify its use of the HACA property” and that its proximity to the Edington Center “has resulted in rodents and infestation in the building.” 

FEEDING COMMUNITY: On its small plot behind the Edington Center, Southside Community Farm grows more than 50 varieties of crops each year to distribute to the surrounding neighborhood. Photo by Gina Smith

Moore says that last year, the farm — the only one in Southside, which has no grocery stores — produced close to 2,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit from more than 50 crop varieties ranging from collards, beets and tomatoes to apples, blueberries and elderberries, which are made into syrup. 

Three-quarters of that harvest was distributed to the surrounding community at no cost, mostly via the farm’s free refrigerator and another one on South French Broad Avenue near Bartlett Arms public housing community. A quarter of the harvest was sold at the farm’s EBT-accessible farmers markets, which run monthly May-October, often drawing crowds of up to 200 people to shop from around two dozen vendors, all of whom identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

As for rodents, farm leaders say HACA had never approached them with those concerns before the resolution. And a letter of support sent by N.C. State University’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems to Pierre and the HACA board on April 23 — one of more than 200 such letters sent about the farm by late April — states that on a recent visit to Southside Community Farm the CEFS team observed “proper sanitation practices that would prevent such pests from entering the space.”

Farm co-founder and longtime Southside resident Musa Fardan says that with its covered outdoor pavilion, educational offerings and mission of providing free, fresh food to all with no questions asked, the garden functions as a social hub in an increasingly diverse neighborhood. “It is supporting the community in a healthy way,” he says.

Moving the farm to a new location, says Fardan, would destroy a valuable community resource of carefully cultivated, rich soil a decade in the making. “When I put the first plow in the ground, I had doubts about it ever becoming what it is now, because the soil was just dust in some areas,” he says. “I feel that if we lose this land, it’s going to take us another 10 years to get apple trees that look the way these do now, and blueberries — beautiful.”

He and Moore say the farm is very much open to collaborating with HACA to explore solutions. But they say no one from HACA approached farm leaders before the resolution was proposed to discuss the situation, and up until the April 24 board meeting, they had not been successful in multiple attempts to meet with Pierre.

Farm staff and leaders responded to news of the March 27 resolution by drafting and emailing a letter directly to Pierre and the HACA board members asking to discuss the proposal. After receiving no reply, they followed up with emails and phone calls, including to Pierre’s assistant, who was responsive, but they never heard from Pierre before the April 24 meeting. HACA Commissioners Reggie Robinson and Roy Harris, who is also a farm co-founder, responded to the outreach and were communicative, farm staff members report. 

Resident input

By the Housing Authority’s count, at least 250 people were at the April 24 board meeting — normal attendance, say HACA staff, typically tops out around 30 people. The large room at the Edington Center was at capacity with people standing along the walls and seated two and three rows deep on the floors beside the chairs. Outside, dozens lined the hallway hoping for a chance to enter. 

Though HACA didn’t gather input from public housing residents before the introduction of Resolution No. 2024-11, Pierre says her team sent out a four-question survey in mid-April. Those results were shared on a screen and read aloud to the crowd, revealing that of 202 residents polled, 158 had heard about the community farm and 44 had not, but the majority of those who were aware of its presence didn’t realize it was a public space available for their use.

A large majority said they had never accessed food from the farm, but just over three dozen said they used it daily, weekly or monthly. In a multiple-choice question whereby residents could select more than one answer, more than 150 stated that they’d like to see the farm space used for basketball courts and/or a playground, and 70 said it should remain a community farm. An additional 36 respondents said they’d like an outdoor stage for entertainment, which the farm’s pavilion already has. 

As the results of the survey were presented, several attendees who identified themselves as Southside public housing residents voiced that they had never heard of the poll and had not been included. 

Charlesetta Fletcher, a resident of HACA’s Erskine-Walton Apartments who volunteers at the farm and has used its free refrigerator, expressed dismay that neither she nor some of her neighbors received the survey, which HACA said was distributed door to door and by email. 

“Nobody came through with it,” she says. “I’m always home, plus I have cameras that I look at every day. Nobody came through doing a survey.”

Farm staff also noted during public comments that the survey wasn’t dated and there were no specifics mentioned about the resident demographic that was polled.

Supporters speak out

The board limited public comments to a strict 30-minute window with tight time limits for each speaker, so many who had signed up to make remarks were unable to do so. Among the eight who spoke was Southside resident, artist and educator Cleaster Cotton, who introduced Black community elder and legendary local cook Hanan Shabazz, referring to a conversation the two had had about Southside’s food-secure past.

“She spoke about the fruit trees that used to be in this area before urban renewal, or what people here called ‘urban removal.’ And how if you were hungry, you could walk down the street and eat a piece of fruit from a tree, and how all those trees left,” she said. “Now the trees we have in the garden, the farm — apple trees, the pear tree, elderberry trees, fig trees, blueberry bushes, raspberry bushes, strawberries — people can come and eat. People can come from their homes and cut collard greens and go home and feed their families.”

Shabazz, who for years did culinary job training and served food to the neighborhood through various programs at the Edington Center, stressed the importance of the farm, eliciting thunderous applause and a standing ovation from attendees. “The garden is very important. It means a lot to be able to go out there and pick food up from the earth, get your hands dirty,” she said. 

Southside native, former public housing resident and past HACA employee Shuvonda Harper reiterated the community’s former food self-sufficiency and the need to reclaim it, noting that with urban renewal 1,100 homes and dozens of businesses, including 14 grocery stores, vanished from Southside. “Those things were lost in this community, and what came up was our public housing community,” she said.

After the comments, Pierre told farm staff and supporters that she was willing to meet with them to discuss collaboration and there was no rush to make a decision, although no timeline was provided.

“It’s very early. It’s not anything that has to be done right now, and I just feel like there’s room and there’s time,” she said to Xpress. “I’m willing to do the work, I’m willing to communicate, I’m willing to compromise wherever it’s possible.”

For more information and updates from Southside Community Farm, visit The farm’s first BIPOC Farmers Market of the season is noon-3 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at 133 Livingston St., Asheville. 

Editor’s note: This article was updated on April 30 to correct one of the survey data points and include additional data about an outdoor stage.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

7 thoughts on “Community members fight for the future of Southside’s urban farm

  1. Mike Rains

    This society is hard to understand. Here we have the chance to give children a neighborhood playground to let off steam, burn calories and just be kids. Something desperately needed in our society and for these children.

    Yes, a community garden is a nice asset, but seriously, it doesn’t come close to matching the playgound benefits for our society.

    And what’s all this dragging in urban renewal and loss of local grocery stores? All neighborhoods lost local grocery stores over the years. That is a pitiful victimization “argument” in my opinion.

    One would think that the neighborhood (and especially the elders) would see the clear priority of the children over those getting free food.

    • Robert McGee

      While I often agree with you, I plan to visit the Southside garden before taking a stance. Gardening has many exercise/health/community-building benefits besides simply producing ‘free food.’ Gardening is something that people of all ages can share/enjoy. It also takes much longer to build soil than to erect playground equipment. I suggest you read about Blue Zones and watch a documentary called ‘The Garden’.

      • Mike Rains

        Good points on community gardening, most of which I am familiar with as our daughter is involved in these projects as a teacher in Oregon.

        Just when it comes to children, my view is that an engaging playground is much more useful/important for kids (especially young kids).

        Ideally, they’d be able to have both. Perhaps the 1 acre could be split 2/3 to 1/3 (playground to garden) or 3/4 to 1/4. Maybe that is the compromise.

        Let us know your thoughts after the visit.

    • Dan L

      I think it’s pretty simple. The residents should decide. If they’d like to keep their farm then that’s what should happen. If they want a playground then that’s what should be built.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    HACA’s Pisgah View Apts once had a community garden led by a few interested outsiders trying to help teach and grow food for the residents with the ongoing need of volunteer residents to tend it. Lasted about 2-3 years…now they mow that acre.

  3. Virginia Daffron

    Glad to have such a thorough overview from a reporter who’s so, er, grounded in this space and these issues.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.