The Charlotte woman runs two community gardens that not only nourish her neighbors but show them: You can grow your own food, too.

By Elizabeth Holmes
Updated March 07, 2019
The Gardener: Nadine Ford
Credit: Jeff Minton

Nadine Ford, 56, grew up gardening, a skill she learned from her parents and grandparents. Her mother’s mother was raised on a self-sustaining farm, and her father’s mother was an herbalist. But as she talked with friends and neighbors in Charlotte, North Carolina, she realized how unusual her green thumb was. “It blew my mind that people didn’t know how to grow simple foods,” she says. So when Ford, a senior environmental specialist for a county solid-waste department, came across a neglected community garden in the city’s Belmont neighborhood back in 2009, she asked if she could revive it as a teaching garden. Ford recruited other gardeners via Nextdoor to help build the 20 plots from scratch, soon attracting the interest of outside groups, like the county sheriff’s department, which began teaching horticulture to inmates.

Three years ago, Ford was asked to start another community garden, in Druid Hills. She recruited a friend to help manage it. Volunteers work on the gardens year-round: They put down seeds—from peanuts to okra—as early as February in greenhouses and begin growing in the ground come March. At the end of the season, they remove plants and do maintenance.

From the start, Ford knew she wanted to give away the bounty. Ford has partnered with Friendship Trays, a local agency that delivers meals to seniors and people with disabilities. She has given produce to her neighbors and mentored young people, including pregnant teens, on the importance of nutrition. She sees her mission of getting healthy foods into the hands of her neighbors as something bigger. “If you don’t get good food in your body, then you’re going to get sick, which means you’ll miss work, which means you won’t get a paycheck, which means you can’t move up the economic ladder,” she says.

Ford often cooks for family and friends. “They’re so amazed: ‘Oh my God, you grew this tomato?’” she says. Her response: “Yeah—you can too.”