Can one’s love of horticulture and community fight hunger? For one Meredith graduate, Ellen Kirby, ’67, who double majored in history and religion, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
Kirby, who has worked in the field of horticulture for more than 14 years, currently serves as director of the Betty and Jim Holmes Food Bank Garden in Winston Salem, N.C.
“The world of community gardening provided an opportunity for me to channel every life experience into engaging and satisfying work,” said Kirby.
The Food Bank Garden is a nonprofit that operates a three-acre garden that grows produce for Second Harvest Food Bank.
“Our garden is run by all volunteers. Last year we had 300 volunteers with over 3,000 hours of volunteerism,” said Kirby. Since she joined the organization, Kirby estimates the organization has produced about 30 tons of food for those in need.
“Since arriving I have brought a decision making structure to the garden, acquired an IRS nonprofit status, developed a leadership training program, and recruited 20 new groups.”
Being in the nonprofit sector was always an interest of Kirby, who wanted to work in a career that would benefit the community. That passion drove Kirby to earn her master’s degree before attending Union Theological Seminary.
“I was interested in working for the church in the area of social justice and I loved history and politics,” said Kirby, who worked with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in New York City for 24 years.
While living in New York, Kirby developed an interest in horticulture. For 25 years, she served as a volunteer and volunteer coordinator for a community gardening space in her Brooklyn neighborhood. This volunteer work led to a new passion and a career change.
Kirby started working at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden developing its program in urban composting and community horticulture. She spent 15 years as the director of community horticulture.
“The community support for this new program was phenomenal. Incredible, tireless, and inspiring people in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, along with colleagues in various New York City-based organizations provided support, encouragement, and energetic participation.”
After a satisfying career in horticulture, Kirby retired from her work and returned to her home state of North Carolina.