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Burt’s Bees work today to further Bull City urban farms

A local personal hygiene product maker is donating a day of service in an effort that could boost Durham’s urban farming movement. 

Nearly 400 locally based Burt’s Bees employees are scheduled to work today at three sites controlled by the local nonprofit NEEM. The group’s founder and director, Jeff Ensminger, called the donation of labor “one of the coolest things I’ve seen a company do.” 

The activity will be taking place at NEEM’s headquarters, Rolls Garden, at 2001 Chapel Hill Road; on a 0.9-acre parcel at 1000 Hazel St.; and on an 8.3-acre parcel at 1500 Wabash St. Workers will build a greenhouse, paint a building, put in raised beds and do other work at the different sites. 

All three sites will be used to grow food. The location Ensminger calls Organoponico Hazel, using a Cuban term for urban farm, will be developed to sell produce. NEEM’s head hopes proceeds from that endeavor will enable him to hire local residents to cultivate the plots.

The other new NEEM location, Organoponico Wabash, will be developed as an agricultural research station in conjunction with North Carolina Central University, which the property is near. 

Beth Ritter is Burt’s Bees’ senior vice president of human resources. 

“We like what it’s about, that it’s about bringing great...food to more folks in Durham,” she said. “And maybe into some neighborhoods that might not normally have access to this.” 

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Burt’s Bees’ contributions will give NEEM a big lift, the nonprofit’s head said. 

“When we step away from these projects, they will be on the surface, on the outside, pretty much completed projects,” Ensminger said. “Hazel Street will be an inner-city farm at that location... An otherwise abandoned building with high grass [there] is going to become a vibrant, operational, functional farm that’s going to be producing food for folks in the community.” 

Both the Hazel Street and Wabash Avenue sites were unused property belonging to an Asheville dentist, William Chambers. 

Ensminger noticed the Hazel Street parcel while working on a nearby garden. Thinking that the land would be ideal for cultivation, Ensminger tracked down the owner. Chambers offered him use of it and of the Wabash Avenue property as well. 

The nonprofit head, who also a chef, said that there are several reasons to forge ahead with efforts like his. 

“If you’ve got a piece of property that lies fallow, why?” Ensminger asked. “That’s right off the top. [This] creates jobs for people in the community. We’ve got a lot of people in the community that don’t have jobs. 

“People in the process learn about sustainable concepts. So it’s also good for the environment,” he added. 

Ensminger believes NEEM may be able to hire as many as three full-time employees and three part-time workers. At least at first, grant money will need to be combined with farm proceeds to cover those salaries, he said. 

He became interested in making Wabash into a research station because most agricultural studies involve rural environments. Once the greenhouse is finished, the site should feature several different combinations of soils and shade. 

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Burt’s Bees will pay its employees for their work today on behalf of NEEM. It’s part of what the company calls its fourth annual Culture Day, which ties into the corporation’s commitment to give back to the communities in which it operates. 

Burt’s Bees and NEEM have been discussing today’s event for months. The organizations first got to know each other in 2009, but, Ritter said, Burt’s Bees didn’t feel at the time that NEEM was developed enough to be the focus of a Culture Day. 

When they got back in touch more recently, Burt’s Bees thought NEEM would be able to convert its workers’ contributions into lasting gains. 

“These were projects that we could see had a long duration,” Ritter said. “There was resources and a commitment behind them to stay vital for more than one year. It wasn’t going to be like a garden we created that was going to look beautiful this summer and not look beautiful three months from now.” 

“His approach to operate these gardens from a sustainable agriculture perspective, and building on some of the practices of the organoponicos in Cuba, and the vision of having a vibrant urban agriculture movement happen in Durham, was something that really resonated with us and...something that we should be part of as Burt’s Bees,” added Gabrielle Prohn, the manager of public relations for the company. 

A representative of one of NEEM’s other partners, North Carolina Central, also expressed enthusiasm about working with the nonprofit. 

“It’s going to provide a living laboratory which will complement teaching and research here at the university as well as expand economic development opportunities for our surrounding communities and beyond,” said Clarenda Stanley, a major gifts officer in NCCU’s institutional advancement office. “In addition to that, this project will provide a vast range of service opportunities for our students, particularly those in environmental science.” 

NEEM’s focus on sustainable agriculture ties into a recent initiative to reduce the university’s carbon footprint and bolster its credentials as a sound environmental steward, Stanley noted. 

In-kind donations of labor and expertise, rather than financial contributions, will comprise much of the university’s support of the research station, Stanley said. 



This rules.

If by chance you 400 BB's employes finish early I'd like to cordially invite every one of you to my house. I have a huge amount of weeding that could use some help.

American Anti-Tobacco

Donating a day of labor is pretty cool, but I know something else Burts Bees employees could do to improve the well-being of the community: STOP SMOKING OUTSIDE THEIR AMERICAN TOBACCO OFFICES!!! For those of us who live next door and have to cross the Old Bull River corridor to get to work, school, etc., their dirty habit makes for a rude start to the day. I've tried to contact someone through their website, but unless I'm writing about one of their products, they don't seem to want to hear from me!

who cares

@American Anti-Tobacco

I'm not a smoker, but really? come on. i take it you're new to this newfangled city living thing where you actually have other people around you


They are amazing! They've set up a big tent in our neighborhood and are working their butts off today!
Go Burt's Bees!

Linda Martin

Good Job Burt's Bees! Other companies should take your lead. Maybe, Ms. American Anit-Tobacco could make use of time in a more possitive way and join your service day. We all have habits we would like to rid our selves of, I wonder if you have thought of what yours might be....

Local Citizen

Excellent job Burt's Bees! It's great to see people giving back in the community! On a side note, I find it funny that someone who is very Anti-Tobacco happens to live at the American Tobacco Campus. Considering the distance between those two buildings I hardly believe anyone outside smoking really poses any issue to you. Perhaps if you took a less than passive-aggressive route in voicing your opinion (i.e: not on a website or forum) you would get better results?

Durham resident

I drove by this group hard at work yesterday. VERY impressive!! It's so great to see a company take a day to get involved in the community.


Sorry to rain on the parade, but can someone fact check NEEM's Non-Profit status, please? I am all for community gardening and giving back, but I can't find any reference to this organization being what they claim to be. I respect BCR as an information source, but I have some serious missgivings about NEEM and it's status as a legitimate non-profit (as opposed to a profit-generating enterprise). If BCR is wrong, I would like to see a retraction.

Matt Dudek

@Dubious... from http://neemtree.org/about/

"NEEM.org is a start up 501(c)3 (pending) non-profit corporation"

501(c)3s can make money, they just can't make too much money. And the 501(c)3 approval process is time consuming, so the fact their application is pending isn't surprising.

I've met some of the folks at NEEM and think the work they're doing in my neighborhood (Cleveland-Holloway) is great.

John Davis

American Anti-Tobacco when does your day start.. I will try to be out there smoking just to put a frown on your face. Have you ever considered there is more pollution from the freeway than all of the smokers put together.


I also want to rain on the parade, because this free labor should have went to an organization that is building relationships door to door, is People of Color led ( because it is in an African American community), and are empowering the community beyond charity. NEEM is only out for themselves, and the sad part about it, is this happens over and over in this city nowdays. And is a leading keyhole into gentrification (Yes the "G" word) It is up to the funders and folks that have resources to do a better job of researching the organization they are supporting. Shame on Burt's Bee's and shame on NEEM for taking the labor, publicity, and for being self-serving.

John Martin

I agree with Frank Hyman about one thing: the most ridiculous comments on BCR frequently come from anonymous posters. You win the booby prize today, GENTRIFICATION, for a comment that is simultaneously illiterate, nonsensical, and defamatory.


@John Martin Obviously you are white (John Martin), have little analysis around systemic oppression, over-educated, did not grow up in Durham, are not from a low-income class background.How many did I get right John:)
I love it how these priviliged, silver spoons think they they can own anything, and privatize anything that once public. And think that we should listen to them because they have a degree(pedigree). Yeah well I will take the booby prize and I will take it as a red-flag of your neo-liberalism. Please do your history homework on what gentrification looks like in Durham since the 1970s -onward. Then respond. Because everything ain't all green or what it seems.

John Martin


Thanks for confirming in your second comment what I said about your first comment. I'm sure I'm "over-educated," particularly by comparison with you, but so are most people in Durham. Considering its source, I'll take the accusation of being a "neo-liberal" as a compliment, as should everyone who gets defamed by the neo-Fascists at El Kilombo.

And what did you say your name is?

Matt Dudek

@Gentrification. I think you bring up real issues with the changes going on in Durham, but I think you have NEEM pegged wrong.

They are working with Sweet Ivory CDC which all of my contact with people there have been with People of Color. Also, NEEM is reaching out door-to-door in the community and will be employing two people from the neighborhood to work there, and will be selling produce at reduced rates to people close to the garden while selling other produce to people outside the neighborhood to help subsidize the work going on there.

To be sure, there are serious issues of privilege, and there is definitely system racism still plaguing Durham. And as middle class white man with oodles of privilege I'm sure that I am unaware of a lot of these issues.

However, there are a lot of people working to do good here and I don't think anyone wants to leave anyone else behind. I have had my mind changed on a lot of these issues by people who took the time to explain them to me, and didn't just yell at me.

And @John Martin. I think "Gentrification" has brought issues which are going to become increasingly important to understand and consider as millions of dollars get poured into Southside/Rolling Hills and in NECD. I don't think they apply to NEEM, but they are real issues.

Local Citizen

Here's a better question since everyone appears to want to chime in... what have you done for your community? Just because Burt's chose a route you would not have personally gone with, somehow makes this wrong? No shame to Burt's or NEEM, shame to those who are all talk and no action. If half of the people reading this very article pitched in, Durham would not be as bad as it's been in the past. It disgusts me that people want to complain about other people's hard work to improve a city. ANY FORM of improvement is welcome, it does not have to be from your "approved" source. Get a life. This is what is dragging this country down little by little. I'm ashamed to call myself an American when lumped in with the lot of you. Oh, and way to play the race card yet again. Bet nobody saw that coming.

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