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Urban food forest underway in Greensboro

by Eric Ginsburg

eric@yesweekly.com

@Eric_Ginsburg

David Myers hasn’t been promoting what he’s doing because he wants to be about action and not talk, but the short trees protruding from a longvacant lot command the attention for him. After years of eyeing the site and working out a lease agreement with the property owner, Myers recently broke ground on the Prescott Street site between the Westerwood neighborhood and downtown Greensboro.

Myers, 35, signed a 10-year lease with Guilford County Schools, which owns the property. The lease agreement requires him to do something educational with the land, which isn’t a problem considering his intention to create an “urban food forest” to facilitate learning about growing food. The school system signed over the land to Myers for free, with the caveat that it can quickly reclaim it as needed.

The long, rectangular property is adjacent to the Guilford County Schools technology center and abuts the western side of a proposed downtown greenway loop. Gerald Greeson, the director of the school system’s maintenance department that oversees the site, said Guilford County Schools had no imminent plans for the site that has been vacant for about eight years.

Greeson added that while there is a favorable exit clause in the contract for the school system, it allows Myers to execute his plan with the assurance that Guilford County Schools won’t come and reclaim the property and knock down the trees in the near future. That allowed Myers to set to work on the Black Diamond Food Forest, the name under which he is doing business for the project.

Myers is brimming with ideas, which isn’t surprising considering he’s been looking at it since 2007. Plenty of aspects of what will unfold here are uncertain — maybe a small pond, he said, or he may grow hops. A bocce ball court might work nicely, he said, maybe a small kitchen for events, or food trucks.

He’s even thought of eventually expanding to a nearby property on the corner of Friendly Avenue and Spring Street, marked with a sign reading “the Ireland House.”

But for now, there are more certain short-term goals and core plans. The northern half of the land will become a food forest, growing mulberries, chestnuts, apples, pears, plums, persimmons, blueberries and more, he said. Myers planted the trees on a color scheme, he said, moving from yellow to white to purple flowers, and the plan is for the tree canopies to touch and provide shade.

“Wildlife will probably eat a lot of what’s out here,” Myers said, standing over an empty hole and looking across several planted trees. “Everything’s sleeping now.”

The trees aren’t the only things in place. Myers has liability insurance so people will be able to access the lot during daylight hours, he said. Water will be connected soon and recycled. Material acting as gravel was recently laid as an entry path from the Guilford Avenue side. He won’t use any chemicals, he said; this is about sustainability.

While there isn’t a partnership agreement in place between Guilford County Schools and Black Diamond Food Forest, Myers hopes to eventually incorporate the land into part of the school system’s curriculum. Greeson said that education and curriculum are separate from his department but said the right people are aware of the project. To a large extent, it’s a waiting game until there is more to see.

Myers, who lives close by, said there aren’t many parks in the area and that’s part of the reason he wants to provide public access to the land for people to learn about growing or to simply enjoy the outdoors. The sloping property is somewhat of a clean slate, populated only by grass and weeds.

A Hardees cup, Red Bull can, Pepto- Bismol bottle and a Johnny Bootlegger peach shot bottle kept each other company near a corner amidst glass shards and a propped-up hubcap as Myers strolled the site recently.

A cutout of a snail, the word “Slow” emblazoned across its front, greets passersby on Prescott Street. A lone, leafless tree donning Christmas lights keeps watch over the southern half of the fenced off plot.

FOOD: The plan is to keep it open to the public

It’s a slow-moving process — Myers doesn’t want to acquire any debt for the project so it rolls forward as his finances allow.

His girlfriend owns Gaia Conceptions, an “organic, eco-friendly” clothing company, and recently moved into a building next to Westerwood Tavern that faces Myers’ lot. Several people have donated money for general support or to pay for a specific tree, but she has provided a significant portion of the finances so far, he said.

Myers helps her as a personal assistant, muse and custodian, he said. For now, the plan is to keep the food forest unlocked and open to the public during the business hours of Gaia Conceptions.

Much of this is trial and error, Myers said, looking down into a hole that unexpectedly took on too much water because of the soil quality. Some of his friends expressed interest in planting a garden on the south side of the property, he said, but the plan was unintentionally encumbered by the previous tenant, Greensboro Ice & Coal.

The ground on that portion of the site is packed with coal, so much so that a piece Myers took home burned. He hopes planting a sunflower field will help clean up the soil, he said.

Despite uncertainties, the project is grounded in Myers’ experience. He draws inspiration from his grandfather, who had a peach orchard and apple trees. And he gained practical experience and understanding as an intern at Goat Lady Dairy in 2005, and later at his own outfit, Piedmont Edible Landscaping.

The trees were in the ground, hugged by cardboard and wood chips, before it snowed last week, Myers said, and he is hopeful they will make it through the weather.

“I’m finding on nice days that I’m out here, everyone stops by,” Myers said.

If all goes as planned, more people will join in his vision and help the site develop as the season changes, he said. !

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