Southeast Raleigh garden provides more than just vegetables

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A community garden in Southeast Raleigh is not only providing vegetables for a downtown restaurant, it’s also providing much-needed jobs for members of the community.

Friday was harvesting day at the Passage Home South Park Garden. Lester Clay is in charge of the garden and nurtured the arugula plants from seed.

“It’s a sense of accomplishment and I take pride in it because it’s something that came from the earth and I used my hands to do it,” he said.

Clay now supervises five other men and teaches them about raising vegetables, but before he became interested in gardening he says he had trouble finding work or a steady place to live.

“I made mistakes in my life and having to deal with situations having to take care of your family you need something to do,” he explained.

His story’s not unusual in his Southeast Raleigh neighborhood.

“The average household income up to this point has been about $15,000 a year,” said Jeanne Tedrow with Passage Home. The community development organization is using grant money to employ Clay full-time in the garden and five other men from the neighborhood part-time.

Downtown Raleigh restaurant Happy and Hale buys the greens and provides food scraps for composting.

The money the restaurant pays for the vegetables goes right back to the community garden. Matt Whitley, the co-founder of Happy and Hale, says the effort comes full-circle. “We can direct our food scraps toward Southeast Raleigh to create rich soil that creates better vegetables that we then buy. That nourishes our community.”

But the garden is about much more than physical nourishment, it’s about sustaining a neighborhood.

“Ever since I’ve been doing it, my life has changed I can honestly say that. I can take care of my family. I’ve got an apartment. I’ve got a job – love my job, love my boss, love the community around what we’re doing,” said Clay.

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