Reading time: 1.5 minutes
Takeaway: In one of Greensboro’s friendliest neighborhoods, Stephen Johnson is rekindling the idea of sustaining yourself and your corner of the world on food produced in your backyard. You can find him on Saturday mornings at the Corner Market on the corner of Elam and Walker Avenues, near Bestway.
“I did what Englishmen do when they have a plot of land at hand; I started a garden.” That’s how Stephen Johnson’s and Marnie Thompson’s unassuming home on Elam Avenue became host to one of, perhaps THE, biggest little farm in the city of Greensboro. After ten long years of pulling vines, clearing brush and a propitious winter storm that felled a Bradford Pear, the property became more than just a yard; it became the beginning of a local food chain.
At eight years old, Stephen had a stand of corn in the sandy soil of his backyard in Perth, Australia; one substantial enough to provide a bounty of sweet ears to his whole family. Not surprisingly, after this early success, he’s been growing ever since. Surrounded in Perth by Greek and Italian families with expansive kitchen gardens, their backyard produced year-round, and included peaches, passion fruit and grapes.
Finishing his PhD in educational psychology was the original impetus for coming to Greensboro, but it was an irresistible woman, Marnie, who brought him back after a year in Northern Ireland post-graduation. Both Stephen and Marnie are passionate about building local, resilient, communities.
On their near acre of land on an ordinary neighborhood street, not too far from UNCG and Friendly Center, a flock of a half-dozen hens happily cluck in their backyard Taj Macoop, bees buzz on the other side of a stream, and large hoop house covers a bounty of herbs. In the soil right now, beets are crowning, strawberries are a bright red and innumerable herbs are flush with new growth.
Stephen brings his produce and plants to the next block each Saturday where they are available from 8am to 12 noon at the corner of Walker and Elam Avenue Farmer’s Market. (Through a series of happy coincidences, he also helps to manage the market.) Local restaurants down the street like Sticks and Stones, Lindley Park Filling Station, Emma Key’s and Fishbones, include his veggies and herbs in their dishes.
But for Stephen and Marnie, it isn’t just about growing food to sell or even to share. Stephen has the same concern many of us do, that something may disrupt our precarious food network. Unlike the generations before us, Victory Gardens are a quaint novelty, not something that actually produces a significant source of our food. Bringing back that sort of resilience is the ultimate goal of Elam Gardens; therefore the true signs of success are the numerous relatives, neighbors and friends who come over to pitch in to grow on this little oasis of sunshine in Greensboro.
Where to find them:
The Corner Market
Saturdays, 8-12 (all year)
Corner of Elam and Walker Avenues in the Sticks and Stones Parking Lot
What they’ve got:
Herbs (fresh and dried)