New community gardens in Durham aimed to improve accessibility to healthy food options ::

By Lora Lavigne, WRAL Durham reporter Durham, N.C. — A community effort in Durham is

— A community effort in Durham is planting seeds of opportunity by working to improve the availability of fresh food and physical skills for seniors.

“It’s wonderful. I love coming out here,” Deborah Richardson said Monday as she picked plants in the new community garden at Preiss Steele Place, a Durham Housing Authority apartment complex for senior citizens and disabled residents.

Richardson, who has lived at Preiss Steele Place for almost 10 years, said access to healthy food is limited in the neighborhood.

A conversation with a community organizer dropping off food for residents during the pandemic helped change that.

“I think gardens offer a lot of opportunity for people to understand that they can be producers rather than dependent consumers of food,” said Rebecca Hoeffler, a sustainability coordinator at Duke University who took food and supplies to to several DHA properties during the pandemic.

“Being able to grow your own food is something that feeds you so much more than just eating food,” Hoeffler said.

She worked for months to get a $6,000 grant from the Southwest Durham Rotary Club to install gardens across four sites. including DHA’s Hoover Road complex and at locations run by nonprofits Volunteers of America and Slice 325.

Slice 325 is an education, nutrition and learning center, while Volunteers of America transitional housing for veterans.

“There’s something that is so magical about seeing a child get excited about dirt and soil and worms,” Hoeffler said. “Knowing that they can eat food that they grow really is really the best thing.”

“Fresh food better than canned goods sometimes,” Richardson agreed.