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Building Community Gardens, Building Healthier Selves

By Maggie Brown | May 11, 2015 | Corporate Citizenship

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For Eliza Bordley, spring is the season of sore muscles. She’s sore from working as hard and as much as possible in one of the three community gardens she manages. But she loves it. “It’s the season when everything’s getting started – it’s a time of optimism,” she says, smiling.

Eliza is the Durham Agriculture Manager for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, a hunger relief organization that serves the Triangle area and beyond. As part of that role, she manages the BCBSNC Community Garden on the Durham campus.

So what brought this bright, down-to-earth (pun intended) young woman to help in building community gardens at BCBSNC? Just a few years back, Eliza, a Durham native, was pursuing an Environmental Studies degree at the College of Charleston. “It was the most depressing time of my life,” she says, joking. But maybe she is only half-joking – learning about rising sea levels, climate change, and deforestation could make anyone depressed.

Conservationism seemed an uphill battle, so she switched gears. She saw becoming involved in sustainable agriculture as a positive, real, and optimistic way that she could make a difference. “If everyone started a garden tomorrow, that, in my opinion, would make the biggest positive impact to our world,” Eliza says. So she set out to teach others about the benefits of gardening.


She says of her path to gardening, “Midway through college I realized that the best learning experiences I had always took place outdoors, with my hands in the dirt, working alongside other people. I toyed around with the idea of majoring in Biology, pursuing a career in Conservation, or becoming an outdoor educator. But in the end, my interests have always circled back to the importance of good, honest food.”

Talking with Eliza, you can feel her passion for sustainable agriculture, eating fresh, local foods, and solving the food crisis our country is facing (fighting the “whys” of how a bag of chips is a cheaper option than fresh vegetables).

And we can all do our part. Making small changes, like the ones below, can lead us all on a path to better health.

Eliza’s top three tips for a healthier you, and a healthier planet:

1. Educate yourself.

…and your family on the benefits of eating fresh, local foods, and staying away from the processed stuff. Eliza recommends reading anything by Michael Pollan or Joel Salatin; watching the documentaries A Place at the Table and Food, Inc. (they’re on Netflix); and checking out some of the really interesting TED Talks about food. Eliza herself is a great educational resource to anyone who volunteers in the garden.

2. Buy local.

Local trumps all. Eliza will buy local even before buying organic. It’s better for the local economy; better for the environment (those strawberries from California take a lot of fuel to get here); and it’s better for your health (local food is fresher).  Just look for the green “Local” label on produce. You can find local produce at most grocery stores these days, not just Whole Foods. Check out Lo Mo Market and, of course, your local Farmers Markets.

3. Grow as much of your own food as possible.

She’s not suggesting we all quit our day jobs and become farmers. “Not all of us are meant to be farmers,” she says with a laugh. Start small – with a packet of seeds, a container, and some soil. Our climate is great for growing some “easy” produce, such as lettuce mixes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Eliza cites YouTube as a great source for DIY gardening videos.

Starting your own garden or trying to find time for the Farmers Market can seem daunting – because, let’s face it, we’re all busy. But making small changes, like growing a single tomato plant this summer, can lead to bigger changes.

Growing your own food also saves you money. Eliza says, “You can spend a few dollars on a packet of tomato seeds and eat fresh tomatoes all summer. Or you could buy tomatoes at the store for a few dollars each all summer. And who knows where they really come from.”greenhouse

Eliza says, “Gardening and farming in a sustainable and responsible manner is one of the most empowering things that we as individuals can support. Even if you don’t have a ‘green thumb,’ there are still plenty of decisions you can make to promote healthy, affordable, fresh food in your community.”

To change our current food system (back to the chips versus vegetables analogy), we are going to need everyone “at the table.” So whether you start your own garden, volunteer at our garden here, or do both, Eliza hopes she can help you plant the seed to a more healthful life.