The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

The Student Voice of UNC Asheville

The Blue Banner

Southside Community Farm seeking voters for safety

The Southside Community Orchard, across the street from the farm, following Volunteer Day, April 21, 2024.

At 6 p.m. tonight, April 24, 2024, at 133 Livingston St, the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville will vote to potentially dismantle the Southside Community Farm, a BIPOC-centered space in the historically Black Southside neighborhood, after 10 years of land stewardship, in order to build additional playground space outside the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center. 

“There’s not a lot of Black run farms in general. Community spaces for us to gather in our communities are really rare. Within that, we’re a community garden that is really food production oriented,” said Chloe Moore, SCF’s farm manager. “To some degree, as oppressed people, we’re always facing barriers. We knew we were in a risky position because we aren’t landowners. We knew as oppressed people with low material wealth we’re chronically underfunded. We are scrappy in the work we do.” 

Moore, a farmer of 13 years and graduate of Warren Wilson College with a degree in sustainable agriculture, was initially asked to be SCF’s community engagement manager in 2020, while working at Shiloh Community Garden. Eventually, Moore transferred to the position of farm manager, a position of responsibility rather than authority. What began as an interest in plants and animals as a child, Moore says, became an opportunity to utilize farming as a form of community building and social justice. 

“I think farming and land ownership has such an extremely long history in the United States as being very related to racial injustice, to structures of injustice for black people. In our communities, we still have associations between agriculture, enslavement and sharecropping. Those are still very real in the hearts and minds of black communities,” Moore said. “In addition, BIPOC people have been systematically removed from access to land. There’s a lot of gatekeeping when it comes to knowledge and education of land stewardship, as well as access to land.”

In 2011, Moore says, HACA acquired access to the land that now houses the one third acre farm. At this time, community members spoke about the possibility of creating a community garden or grocery market. The initial plan involved the creation of a grocery market, but due to a lack of wealth and resources, the farm came to exist out of necessity. In 2014, HACA permitted community members to use the property, marking the founding of the farm. To this day, however, no grocery stores are located in the Southside neighborhood. 

“It is especially important to remember that there’s not a grocery store in this neighborhood. That’s not something that occurred naturally. This neighborhood was part of the largest urban renewal project in the southeastern United States. Over 400 acres of land was disrupted by the City of Asheville through an urban renewal project in the 1960s and 70s. This neighborhood had upwards of 15 small mom-and-pop owned grocery markets within walking distance of people’s homes and businesses when this was a segregated black neighborhood,” Moore said. “That was very intentionally destroyed. We have to think of that in terms of food apartheid, that it’s a system of segregation.”

Originally coined by political activist and community organizer Karen Washington, “food apartheid” is a term created to counter the more commonly understood term, “food desert,” which refers to an area where people have limited access to healthy food. The distinction between terms is crucial to understand, Moore says, as food apartheid refers to intentional, systemic forces driving unequal food access, rooted in discriminatory historical practices such as redlining and segregation, both of which took place in the Southside neighborhood, which was once part of a thriving, Black economic hub known as the East Riverside community. 

“Property taxes are higher in the Southside neighborhood than anywhere else in Buncombe County. That’s a huge fueler of gentrification. Our relationship with land has been disrupted in the 20th century, that started with redlining, and then urban renewal. Now in the 21st century, we’re seeing that through gentrification, but all of these come out of the same structural issues of racism and how that connects with our ability to access land,” Moore said. 

According to the Black Cultural Heritage Trail, Asheville’s urban renewal efforts led to the demolition of more than 1,000 Black-owned homes and businesses and the eviction of more than half of Asheville’s Black residents. As part of the East Riverside Redevelopment urban renewal project, many residents were moved into public housing. In Southside, there are three low-income, public housing complexes, Erskine, Walton Street and Livingston Heights, all of which are in close proximity to the farm and utilize its resources. 

“There’s technically three, but there’s kind of four. Bartlett Arms is technically considered central Asheville, but it is really close. It is within walking distance of the other refrigerator we have stocked. There’s this refrigerator here and there’s a refrigerator on South French Broad Ave. That refrigerator gets a lot of traffic from folks who live in Bartlett Arms,” Moore said. 

Underneath the farm’s shelter, a few feet from where Moore sits is the SCF free fridge, a 24/7 accessible refrigerator, open to the public, containing various food items.

“In some ways it can be tricky because we’re totally funded through grants and donations. It’s really important to us to have this fridge open. We are really focusing on reducing the stigma around food access, because that is a huge barrier to people for food access, especially people of color. That stigma prevents people from accessing resources they could use. The fridges are available all the time and we try to keep them stocked. They empty really quickly, so it’s a challenge to keep them stocked, but it’s really important that people are able to access them on their own schedule and on their own time,” Moore said. “A lot of people have work and can’t access certain resources. If they don’t have car access, we want people to be able to access them whenever they need to. We also provide resources delivered to people’s homes for people with less access. We have a veggie box program through the warm months, providing 20 BIPOC families and households with food every week, delivered to their homes. It can be helpful for families with young children and it’s certainly helpful for elders and people with disabilities.”

On the farm, the majority of the food is grown in rows. As the weather warms, Moore says, they’ve begun growing potatoes, turnips, strawberries, radishes, carrots, parsley, cilantro, onions and garlic. In the raised bed section, there are 15 beds, some of which are taken care of by individual Southside members. Many of them have themes, as one contains various pollinator plants, another being the African heritage box, containing plants such as roselle, African blue basil and black eyed peas. Crops are chosen by the community’s members, as well as the items stored in the free fridge. 

“At this point, we kind of know what the community likes. We’ve talked to folks for so many years about what people are excited about. We can also tell from the fridge, what goes immediately and what sticks around. We have a whole hillside of elder that we use for elderberry syrup making for medicinal use. We have black raspberries, blueberries, figs and we have apple trees,” Moore said. “We also know based on our cultural heritage, what crops are culturally relevant. A lot of folks in black communities eat the greens of turnips as well as the root. Also, as a farmer, I like to try new things every once in a while. Maybe it’s a boom, maybe it’s a bust, but I like to try to test something out. This year, I’m going to grow gundelia.”

Up the road, on the other side of Livingston St. is Livingston Heights, as well as the Southside Community Orchard, where on April 21, several volunteers and community members met for a volunteer day event. While some volunteers worked back at the farm, Moore and others pulled weeds, removed dandelions and placed seeds. Several months earlier, in the summer of 2023, UNC Asheville sophomore Anaya Harry worked as an apprentice on the farm through an internship program. According to Harry, while on the farm, they helped with weeding, harvesting and stocking the free fridges. Prior to working at SCF, they never worked on a farm. 

“I felt most comfortable being able to work on a farm run by a black and queer person. I knew it would be a safe environment for me to learn and grow about urban agriculture and its importance to the community,” Harry said. “Despite me only being on the farm for one month, I learned the importance of its location to the people, the land, and those outside of the community. The farm has provided the Southside neighborhood with fresh food and access to the produce. I was in awe when I saw the success of the free fridges, the support and gratitude from the community, and the importance of the presence of the farm in a neighborhood that has no equitable access to a grocery store or food market.”

SCF, Harry says, holds a special place in their heart and the hearts of the Southside community. The dismantling of the farm would have a devastating impact not only on the local community members, but those outside of the community as well.

Not only has the farm impacted people by making sure they have access to food, but they have also supported people in the community by bringing them together through workshops and the farmer’s market. Alongside the farm impacting the people, it has also impacted the land. The Southside neighborhood lacks enough greenspace to mitigate the potential consequences of living in an urban heat trap. In a neighborhood where there are so many structures built out of material that trap heat, it can lead to serious health and environmental consequences. Yet, Southside community farm combats that in the best way. It can by being a bountiful and abundant green space,” Harry said. “Lastly, the small plot of Southside community farm right outside the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center has made a tremendous impact on communities that do not reside in the Southside neighborhood. Southside Community Farm has reached UNCA via classroom discussions, readings on the history and importance of this local farm and projects that encourage students to interview and interact with the farm manager, Chloe Moore. It is evident that SCF feeds the mind, the body, and the environment.”

Reflecting on their experiences at the farm, Harry shared fond memories of their time there, working alongside members of the Southside community. 

“This farm means a lot to me because to me, it is not just a plot of land with produce. It is the manifestation of a community that prioritizes its health and well-being enough to make a change on their own accord. This farm to me means family and I will never forget the people I met and worked with. Some of the best days working on the farm would be when we would drive to the Swannanoa River and just play in the cool water after a hot summer’s day,” Harry said. “The day I met Mr. Harris and other elders who founded the farm meant a tremendous amount to me because they were the reason the community had access to the fresh food they have today from the farm. Lastly, a moment that meant the world to me was when one of the elders who started the farm, Mr. Harris, made a framed collage with photos of me and all I have helped grow. It was at that moment I realized not only did I view the farm as part of my family, but I was viewed as a part of the farm as well.”

According to Moore, in regards to the farmer’s market which takes place every first Sunday of the month, it is one of their biggest public events. Additionally, the farm hosts educational events for all ages, to help educate community members about farming and to foster a closer connection with the outdoors. Significant efforts have been taken to engage youth as well. 

“It’s the only place where we sell food, but the rest of the food that we grow is given away. We sell food and open the space to a bunch of other black and brown vendors. Farmers, crafts people, food producers and it’s EBT accessible,” Moore said. “We have done a series of herbal medicine workshops and we’re going to continue this year. We also worked with a bunch of youth programs in the area to support youth education. There’s a preschool right next door and they have come to us for tours of the farm. We’ve done regular programming in the past with the Grant Center, right down the road. They have summer programming and we’ve been part of that. They also have after school programs. We’ve also done youth programming with youth who are in the Eddington Center. Last summer, Robin, who was running a lot of the youth programming there, she was bringing kids down to the farm every week, sometimes multiple times a week to learn about the produce we’re creating, to learn about pollinators, short lessons about nutrition, environmental science and agriculture. That’s something we’re really hoping to expand. We’ve been in the process of hiring someone to do youth education specifically, because we don’t think it should just be an add-on to farming. We think it’s important enough to invest in it specifically. Our plan is to hire a black educator and farmer to focus on youth education in September.” 

Out of all of their experiences on the farm, Moore says, their favorites were with youth, educating them about potatoes. In a letter written to the farm by a young community member, posted to the farm’s Instagram account, they wrote: “I don’t want Southside to get removed because it’s a very nice garden for everybody to visit.”

“One of my favorite things to do with kids is harvesting potatoes, because it’s such an easy access point into liking vegetables. Everybody likes potatoes! You don’t like vegetables? You like tater tots? Don’t tell me you don’t like french fries. I’ll tell the kids, ‘OK, there’s a ton of potatoes on the farm , and we’re going to harvest some and you can take them home today. Where are they?’ They look around. Even a lot of adults don’t know what a potato looks like. It’s a really great learning opportunity to see where our food comes from. Most of us don’t have the privilege to be connected to our food. It gets kids digging in the dirt, finding worms. We talked about the importance of worms and what they do for the soil. Then, the kids get to take a bag of potatoes home, something we know most families are going to be familiar with and going to cook and enjoy,” Moore said. 

Tonight, at 6 p.m, the meeting is set to vote on the potential dismantling of the farm, after 10 years of land stewardship. As reported by the Blue Ridge Public Radio, the Housing Authority CEO, Monique Pierre proposes the building of a playground for the Edington Center’s “specific needs” and to work with community members to find a new location for the farm. According to Moore, it is not this simple. 

“Land stewardship is a way I connect with land. It’s the way our community connects with land. When we’re able to do that and have a deep relationship, we start to see land differently. We start to appreciate land differently and we appreciate ourselves as part of an ecosystem. In Black communities, not only are we chronically removed from access to land, removed from our ancestral history as farmers and land stewards since long before the time of enslavement, we also face a brunt of environmental impacts and environmental racism in the United States,” Moore said. “Our land stewardship, not only is it very spiritual and very relevant in that way, it’s a very important way to empower our communities. A farm is the soil itself. That’s not something you can pack up and move down the road. Having green spaces with trees, with perennials, with plants means having safer communities because it cools neighborhoods that get extremely hot because of how much concrete there is. In those ways, our land stewardship is for a healthier planet, healthier food and healthier people.” 

Regarding the farm’s future, Harry says, it must remain in its current location. Offering means of support, they shared several ways to support SCF and the Southside community. 

“What I wish to see happen in SCF staying in a community that values and treasures it greatly. I wish to see HACA work with the farm on planning ways to provide a safe and fun play space for children while also keeping the farm intact. As for support, I’d love to see every community member who feels even the slightest passion and awe about the works of SCF to speak up whether it be through signing petitions, writing letters of support, showing up to the hearing, and spreading the word. At the end of the day, every community needs a farm like Southside Community Farm. A farm that not only feeds the bellies of the southside, but their community and sense of belonging and being heard as well,” Harry said. “If it had not been for my experience on this farm, I never would have realized the grand importance this small farm has on the entire Asheville community. It was this experience alone that makes me passionate to continue to support farms and the work they do for the community.”

Sitting outside as rain poured from above, directly next to the farm, Moore shared their hopes for the farm’s future and prosperity, anticipatory of tonight’s vote. 

“The Housing Authority is a very large land owner, they have access to a lot of land. How do we keep the benefits that we’ve already built together? To add, instead of having a narrative where we have to take something away, in order to put something else, this shouldn’t be an either or for this neighborhood. We want to build more youth education here, we want to get more kids involved. In addition to finding places to add play areas and have safe play areas, I want to see this be utilized to its fullest by the Eddington Center and by Housing Authority residents. I want to see the Housing Authority support making that happen,” Moore said. “The farm is a playground in its own way. This place is able to serve kids, teens and adults. We think that’s really important. It’s an intergenerational space for learning, play and exploration.” 

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