GREENSBORO — Fresh produce should arrive in one of Greensboro’s food deserts late this summer.

Food grown in the community.

A worker for the Urban Farming Enterprise planted about 100 cucumber seeds in a greenhouse on Phillips Avenue, in the midst of one of the city’s largest food deserts. N.C. A&T researcher Terrence Thomas said this is part of an effort to address health and nutrition in the community and to teach people how to incorporate fresh produce into their diets.

“The whole idea is to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the community at a reasonable cost,” Thomas said. “Not just providing fruits and vegetables — to have them understand the role of fruits and vegetables in diet.”

This is in a community that has gone without a grocery store since late 1998, when Winn-Dixie closed its doors, one of 17 areas in the city that are considered food deserts. A food desert is any census tract in which at least 33 percent of the population lives at least a mile from a supermarket and more than 20 percent live below the poverty level.

When it’s fully operational, this greenhouse will contain a variety of products — cucumbers, tomatoes, greens and lettuce.

The farm has been slow getting rolling, and the summer planting has passed. So by sowing quick-sprouting cucumbers, growers hope to demonstrate to the community how efficiently an urban farm can provide affordable food.

This first planting is a small one, covering barely a quarter of the 90-foot-by-30-foot greenhouse’s floor.

“We’ve been talking about this for years, so if we get an opportunity to put something in the ground and a chance, we should take it,” Thomas said. “We could wait until fall to put the fall crops in, but then you’re losing an opportunity to motivate people and to demonstrate that a thing can work.”

Cameron Grady has been hired to manage the greenhouse. He will plant more crops in September that will be harvested in November, around Thanksgiving. The greenhouse — or high tunnel — is designed to extend a growing season, both earlier and later than the season in which crops are grown in the open, said Kurt Taylor, an N.C. A&T Cooperative Extension associate.

“That allows us to provide even fresher local produce, fruits and vegetables. A high tunnel … roughly 3,000 square feet — we’re looking at over 300 tomato plants within this structure.”

Each of those plants could produce 15 to 20 fruit.

“We can harvest tomatoes — if we plant them late — in October and November,” he said.

That schedule would coincide with the opening of another community project aimed at easing the effects of the area’s food desert: the Renaissance Community Co-op, scheduled for November.

This farm will be able to sell fresh produce to co-op operators at low prices, Greensboro City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter said.

“You’re cutting out transportation costs,” Abuzuaiter said. “It’s just going to be down the street from the co-op. It’s been a long time coming.”

This community-owned co-op also is intended to “bring good jobs, healthy living options and community wealth to a neighborhood that struggles with obesity, diabetes, unemployment, and poverty,” its website states.

Organizers of this 10,500-square-foot grocery store, also on Phillips Avenue, have started advertising for staff, said Bob Davis, president of Concerned Citizens for Northeast Greensboro.

His organization sponsored Thomas’ grant proposal — a requirement of the federal grant that is funding the farm — and has been a leader in getting the co-op on its feet.

“The urban farm is a project that we hope will really invigorate northeast Greensboro and concerned citizens,” Davis said. “We are a lot of retired folks. We really need a hook to bring in some young people. The urban farm provided an opportunity.”

As its organizers build more greenhouses — the grant application called for three — the farm is creating opportunities for young people to take jobs managing them, Thomas said.

“What we’re going to do is leverage this to see if we can get contributions from the Greensboro community — commercial community and otherwise — to finance another greenhouse on White Street.

“If you make a contribution to this, you create everlasting goodwill for your company.”

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Contact Joe Gamm at (336) 373-7090, and follow @joegammNR on Twitter.

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