Interactive Resource Center (IRC)

Interactive Resource Center (IRC) in Downtown Greensboro
Written by: David Mudd

David and volunteers planting trees.
David and volunteers planting trees.

When Greensboro’s Interactive Resource Center, a daytime service hub for people experiencing homelessness, moved into its 22,000 square-foot headquarters on Murrow Boulevard east of downtown a few years ago, the property offered little welcoming green space.

The former glass installation plant is bounded on three sides by a deep parking lot. A gravel-lined railroad bed defines the property’s western boundary. The parking lot was fringed by narrow stands of weed-choked grass and bare ground.

One super-volunteer, Kathe Latham, made a sustained push to make the best of those surroundings. Working with any of the IRC’s daily guests who cared to participate, as well as volunteer groups from local churches, schools and universities, Kathy sparked a gardening campaign that has transformed the played-put patches of earth into orchards, vineyards, and raised beds for annual vegetable and herb production. A tranquil, shady peace garden has replaced a stand of gravel and weeds between the building and the rail bed.

Determined to make the changes she spearheaded more productive and sustainable, and hoping to learn techniques for reducing the hours of maintenance she and others were providing, Kathe signed up for Charlie Headington’s 2013 Permaculture Design Course.

Charlie had already done some consulting and volunteer work for Kathe on the expanding gardening/landscaping project at the IRC. Kathe’s enrollment in his 7-month course strengthened that working relationship. It also helped Kathe and the IRC tap into a new source of volunteers who knew a thing or two about gardening: her permaculture design course classmates.

Some of those classmates–Kathe included–became some of the founding members of the Greensboro Permaculture Guild later that year. And from the start, the IRC’s gardening project has been a centerpiece of the guild’s monthly communal work days.

David, Hank and a UNCG student plant fruit trees.
David, Hank and a UNCG student plant fruit trees.

GPG has planted fruit trees on the long, sloping, east-facing plot above Murrow Boulevard and expanded the growing space on that slope with sheet-mulching followed by plantings of annual vegetables, fruits, and perennial flowers. The guild also installed a drip-irrigation system along those east-facing beds, and has met regularly over two seasons now to keep garden beds fertilized, productive, and weed-free.

The IRC property is now a verdant and welcoming place, even during the hottest days of the growing season. Its gardens, trees, flowers and vines offer shade, relaxation, as well as continuing opportunities for guests and volunteers to participate, and to learn about gardening and permaculture. The food produced there, in ever-increasing yields, is shared freely with the center’s guests and neighbors in need.

The story of its relatively speedy transformation from neglected, unproductive land to a fertile oasis serves as example and inspiration for potential edible landscapes all over downtown Greensboro and beyond, helping those in need.

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