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Southside Community Farm to be demolished under proposal by Asheville Housing Authority

Farm Manager Chloe Moore.
Laura Hackett
Farmer Chloe Moore has stewarded the Southside Community Farm since 2020.

One of Asheville’s community farms may be dismantled to make room for a $200,000 playground.

The half-acre Southside Community Farm has provided fresh produce for residents of the historically Black neighborhood for a decade, but a proposal by the Housing Authority’s new CEO, Monique Pierre, would eliminate the farm.

In lieu of the farm, Pierre proposed a safe youth play area for the 150+ children who participate in after-school and summer camp programs at the Edington Center, which is owned and operated by the Housing Authority and primarily serves children who live in public housing.

“One of our biggest concerns is that our children have a place to play where they have fun activities, basketball courts, and engaging games that give them that social emotional developmental opportunity to run around and be kids outside,” Pierre told BPR in a phone interview.

She said that the Edington Center currently uses an unfenced area on the property, but traffic poses a risk for kids who are playing. There are other playgrounds in the area but not one that serves the Edington Center’s specific needs, she said.

Pierre added that the housing authority’s sole obligation is to serve its residents. “We just want to make sure that we provide the best and highest use of the space,” she said.

The farm is wedged between the Lonnie Burton Child Development Center and the Edington Center, along with multiple public housing developments. All those properties are owned by the Housing Authority.

Farm Manager Chloe Moore, who has tended the land since 2020, said the farm is a “really valuable” neighborhood resource for a community that lacks access to fresh food.

It grows more than 50 different edible and medicinal crops, including collard greens, strawberries and calendula.

The farm also runs a free community fridge program that offers unrestricted 24/7 access to sandwiches, produce and other meals for nearby workers and residents, many of whom live in nearby public housing like the Livingston and Erskine-Walton apartments.

One of two free community fridges run by the Southside Community Farm.
Laura Hackett
One of two free community fridges run by the Southside Community Farm.

Ernesto Yumans, who works as a security guard at the nearby preschool, said the farm is a critical resource for the community.

He said he was helped out by the fridge program recently, during a week when all his income went towards paying for other bills. He looked in the community fridge and found a chicken salad sandwich.

“That’s a blessing,” he said. “For the whole community.”

The Housing Authority owns the half-acre of land but has allowed the largely-volunteer run farm to use the property since it was founded in 2014.

“From what I understand – since I was not here at the time – is that the farm was just kind of a handshake agreement. I don't believe that there was ever a formal lease,” Pierre said.

Pierre said the Authority’s legal team is researching to confirm the land agreement.

The proposal presented at the March 27 meeting said the farm has led to rodent problems in the nearby housing authority office. It also said the community farm does not provide a “significant enough” benefit to the neighborhood to justify its use of housing authority property.

Moore told BPR that she thinks playground space is important, but she doesn’t understand why it has to replace the farm – especially since there are several existing parks nearby, including a preschool playground next door, the Herb Watts playground and the Walton Street Park.

“What doesn't exist elsewhere in this neighborhood is a farm where people can access food,” Moore said. “This place serves as a playground and a learning space for youth in its own right and it's really important that kids learn about where their food comes from.”

She said she is worried that this year might be the farm’s final harvest.

The farm is wedged between the Edington Center, left, and the Lonnie Burton Child Development Center, right.
Laura Hackett
The farm is wedged between the Edington Center, left, and the Lonnie Burton Child Development Center, right.

After urban renewal, Southside has struggled with ‘food apartheid’

The Southside neighborhood was once home to an abundance of local grocery stores, but through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the city’s urban renewal policies ravaged the community. The policies resulted in the demolishment of more than 1,000 Black-owned homes and businesses including mom and pop grocery stores.

Now, the only place within a mile to purchase food is a gas station mini mart on Depot Street.

“This neighborhood is in food apartheid,” Moore said. “I use the term food apartheid, not food desert, personally, because it is a system of segregation that was very intentionally created.”

To address Southside’s lack of food access, residents Roy Harris, Shuvonda Harper, Musa Farfan, and Gwen Hill founded the farm in 2014.

Moore is one of two full-time employees. Volunteers help weed, plant, harvest and fill up the farm’s two community fridges with sandwiches and other meals.

For the last three years, the farm has hosted a monthly “BIPOC Farmers Market” that includes produce and other items from Black and Brown vendors. It also hosts educational programs for youth and distributes weekly boxes of produce to Southside residents through its CSA partnership with the West Asheville-based Feed AVL Farm.

Moore said she is proud of what the farm has provided for the community and is heartbroken about the chance that it might have to close.

“You can't just move a farm,” she said. “A farm is the soil itself. It's the land itself. It's something that we've been building for 10 years.”

Lise McIntosh, who has lived in the Southside neighborhood for more than 50 years, said the farm “does a lot for the public.”

"[The farm] benefits a lot of people, especially older people who don't have large incomes or have a garden. It's a generous thing to do to help the public out.”

In response to the proposal, Southside Community Farm launched a petition that has received more than 2,000 signatures since last week.

Pierre said no permanent decision has been made.

“We will be engaging and working with residents to find out what they would like to have in that space for their benefit,” she said.

Pierre said the housing authority is in the midst of conducting a survey with public housing residents to see what they’d like for the space. The survey will be presented at the authority’s next board meeting, according to Pierre.

If the farm does get dismantled, Pierre said she would be open to partnering with the Southside Farm to find a new location.

The Authority Board is scheduled to vote on the resolution at the April 24 board meeting at 6 p.m. at 133 Livingston Street. Residents interested in participating in public comment can attend the meeting or send input to comments@haca.org.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.