While the world according to the novel coronavirus has changed in some obvious ways, like the addition of masks to our wardrobe and reduced restaurant capacity, there are other, more subtle things at play as well. Organizations like Wilmington’s own Willowdale Urban Farm are still trying to make progress toward ensuring food security for all—something that may seem like a no-brainer to some but in reality is more common than not.
Food insecurity, at its core, is simply uncertainty about where one’s next meal is coming from. According to NourishNC.com, one in five children in New Hanover County experience it. The introduction of a COVID-19 world has only exacerbated the issue by taking away free or reduced lunch—a meal that nearly 50% of children have relied on Monday through Friday.
But Willowdale Urban Farm is working to eradicate hunger and the certainty surrounding it. It’s a 2-acre vegetable, fruit and herb garden situated at 29th and Chestnut streets, not far from downtown.
Started by Wilmington local David Brenner, the farm is one of 10 community gardens around town. Brenner found his passion in retirement, starting first with the New Hanover Regional Medical Center garden, located behind the Heart Center. “I learned about Food Insecurity from my work on the [Cape Fear] Food Council,” tells Brenner. “I always wanted to give something back to the community my children and grandchildren live in; Community Gardens seemed to be a great answer to food insecurity and building a stronger healthier community.”
Others garden spaces are located at 3rd and Wooster, 9th and Dock, and the recently acquired 4th and Castle, which was a project originally established by Gordon Cole but handed over to Brenner. Brenner also has started Wilmington Green Community Gardens, an organization designed to help develop and maintain more community gardens. Wilmington Green was absorbed by the Community Enrichment Initiatives, Inc. (CEII) in 2018, but the Facebook page remains active, ripe with gardening tips and posts to keep locals abreast of ideas during each growing season. Brenner is currently a member of the CEII; he wants Willowdale, the newest of the farms, to be sustainable and prolific as possible. Brenner has plans to include a greenhouse, meeting room, wood-burning stove, on-site teaching kitchen, and meditation garden. According to volunteer coordinator Bettina Masschaele, “It’s an ambitious project, but one that we know we will be able to achieve through community support and the help of our volunteers.”
The farm has already provided thousands of pounds of food to Good Shepherd, the NHRMC Food Pharmacy, and physicians’ offices so they can deliver to patients who may not have access to fresh, healthy food. Perhaps, most importantly, the gardens are all accessible to the residents of the areas they’re stationed in. Brenner believes they can do so much more.
“We have the ability to reduce Food Insecurity for the 34,000 neighbors suffering in NHC and the one out of five children under 18 also living with Food Insecurity,” explains Brenner. “We have 60% of our population suffering from chronic illness caused by poor diet and too little exercise. This can be fixed with the food that we provide.”
Folks who are seeking fresh vegetables can stop by the garden anytime the crew is there working, to scope out the offerings for the day. And, if they’re able, a little sweat equity in return couldn’t hurt.
Information about volunteering can be found on the Willowdale Urban Farm Facebook page. Volunteers can expect to weed, prepare beds, water, harvest, and help complete a smattering of construction projects on the farm. Everything [is] thanks to our volunteers and volunteer organizer, [Bettina]!” Brenner praises. Volunteering is open to children and adults of all ages, and the farm does take cautionary measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and asks that volunteers do as well.