GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — A garden in Greensboro intended to provide healthy meals to families in need is feeding bellies and souls. Positive direction for youth and families, or PDY&F, is a Greensboro faith-based organization that works to provide meals for the hungry.

Before they started a community garden, they provided around 20,000 to 25,000 meals per year. The founder James Gardener was a full time teacher with Guilford County Schools before giving it up to run his organization full time.

Even though they were feeding thousands of families per year, Gardner wanted to make sure these families had healthy options too.

“We were trying to change the narrative in terms of how much healthy food we were putting into the community instead of just the canned goods,” Gardner said.

James got the land, which is located on Huffine Mill Road, and some money from anonymous donors to get the garden started in Dec. 2020, but but it didn’t take off right away.

“We got started with six beds that didn’t produce at all,” Gardner said.

He didn’t let the unsuccessful harvest discourage him. Instead of quitting the garden, he built 10 more beds. He later learned that there was an issue with the soil that was easily fixable. Once he made a few changes, vegetables started to grow. He added additional beds. There are upwards of 40 on the land today.

Gardner says he was able to make all of this possible with no gardening or farming experience. He watched Youtube videos to learn all he could about farming. Looking back, he says this may have always been his destiny. His last name is Gardner after all.

By 2021, the garden was producing 10 to 15 pounds of food per week. PDY&F distributed more than 100,000 meals that year. The garden had exponentially increased their food output. Volunteers began to come weekly to help him plant and harvest food.

Gardner was well on his way of seeing his vision come to fruition, but he also saw the garden as an opportunity to get more Black and brown people back in the habit of farming their own food. He thought if he could do it, so could others.

“One thing about the African American community is that gardening and this type of labor has been so taboo. A lot of the generations before us vowed never to let their children have to do this. But we’re at a point now where we actually have to do this,” Gardner said. “The price of eggs is out of the roof. Even a head of lettuce that I’m growing, that I’m experimenting with in my greenhouse…it’s $5 and $6 a piece.”

Gardner got more donations and was able to expand the garden. He got a greenhouse to make the growing a year round operation. He also got the chance to experiement with aquaponics and hydroponics: an indoor growing process that involves the use of fish and does not use any soil.

He wanted to show people that they could grow anywhere.

“What I wanted to do really was practice as many different styles of growing as I could, so if I came across someone who had an acre in their backyard, and they wanted to do some gardening, I could model what they could do at home. Or if they lived in an apartment and all they have is a patio…I’ve got grow bags. I’ve got tower gardens,” Gardner said.

As the garden became more successful, Gardner says he started to see more volunteers from different backgrounds coming to the garden to dedicate themselves to the same cause.

“If you live long enough, you’ll understand that Black people get hungry. White people get hungry. Gay people get hungry. Straight people get hungry. Children get hungry. Babies are hungry. It’s not necessarily a white Black thing,” Gardner said.

He realized that not only was the garden feeding people in need, it was bringing the community together. He had created a place where race, sexual orientaion and political parties didn’t matter; a place where people could meet, talk, and learn more about each other.

“It’s been beautiful to see a rainbow of people: Black, white, yellow, purple, orange, red, green, whatever your sexual orientation, ” Gardner said. “My underlining mission was not just growing food but also growing people.”

Gardner says PDY&F is on track to give 500,000 meals by the end of 2023. The organization is partners with Evangel Fellowship Church of God in Christ. If you or someone you know needs a meal, they are distributed every Thursday from the food pantry at Evangel Fellowship no questions asked. The church is located at 2207 E. Cone Blvd in Greensboro.

To keep up with community events in the garden or to learn days you can volunteer, visit the PDY&F social media pages.

Facebook/instagram: @pdyfcommunitygarden.