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Community Gardening in NoDa

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gardenThere’s nothing like seeing plants start to grow out of ground that was frozen just a few weeks ago (really frozen this year). I love gardening, though I am not very good at it. To get some experience (and keep those plants alive), I’ve been gardening in community gardens in Charlotte since I moved here in 2010. I’ve weeded, harvested, planted, painted, scraped rust, turned compost, shoveled mulch, and any number of other activities -  without being the only person responsible for the plants. The plants thank me for not killing them.

Gardening is good for the health of people and the planet -- working in the garden provides numerous health benefits for gardeners and can provide a very local alternative to the food we can buy in the stores, which has often been shipped a long way or exposed to chemicals. In some cases, gardening can also connect us to our communities, as we work with our neighbors or grow food for them through the connections to Charlotte’s meals on wheels program, Friendship Trays.

If you’ve also caught the gardening bug, or just want a chance to try it out, there are several opportunities in the NoDa area where you can volunteer. Some of these gardens are Friendship Gardens (a network of 65 gardens in the Charlotte area that provides produce for Friendship Trays), but there are other gardens looking for volunteer help, too.

So put on some old clothes and closed-toe shoes, bring some water, and enjoy working outdoors for a few hours. At the very least, you’ll get some fresh air. 

Nearby Community Gardens and Details:

Empowerment Project: (Johnston Memorial Presbyterian Church at 729 E. 36th St.) The Empowerment Project is developing an urban community garden initiative on a lot of land generously donated by Johnston Memorial Presbyterian Church. This garden will be a meditative and educational place and will teach community members about organic, sustainable and healthy living featuring permaculture principles to build community. The Empowerment Project meets on Wednesdays at 10:30 in the church annex. Volunteers are welcome and needed for a series of summer and fall workshops, as well as garden grooming. Contact Sunya Folayan at  704-900-1703 for more information.

Supportive Housing Communities’ (SHC) McCreesh Place Community Garden: (2120 N. Davidson St.) This garden is a gathering space for volunteers from faith partners, civic organizations, youth groups and others wishing to support the organization through the stewardship of their time. The garden provides the residents at McCreesh Place with healthy, fresh vegetables and gives the residents an opportunity to work in the earth alongside caring individuals they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.  Partners such as St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the Rotary Club of Charlotte-South and UNC-Chapel Hill Charlotte Alumni Chapter have stepped forward to provide donations of dirt, mulch, plants and good old-fashioned, roll up your sleeves labor. SHC also partners with Friendship Gardens in sharing our harvest.  SHC recognizes that the benefits of maintaining a community garden increases a sense of community ownership and stewardship among the residents at McCreesh Place, while bringing together people from a variety of backgrounds to address social concerns.  The mission of Supportive Housing Communities is to provide affordable housing to end homelessness and human suffering.  SHC provides permanent supportive housing for men, women and families overcoming homelessness.  If you’re interested in volunteering at McCreesh Place or learning more about the community garden and other serve opportunities, email Linda Miller at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Friendship Gardens Little Sugar Creek Community Garden: (1321 N. Alexander Street - at 17th St.) This eco-friendly communal food-share garden believes that everyone should have access to fresh food regardless of income. Keeping strong to this belief, Little Sugar Creek has developed into a very successful collective gardening project that is open to any resident of Mecklenburg County. They are a very diverse group of growers working as a group to tend and harvest the garden. The un-harvested produce is collected weekly and shared with gardeners, neighbors, and Friendship Trays-- the local meals on wheels program for the Charlotte area. Smokers, please wear clothes without smoke in them for the garden’s health. The garden is open Saturdays 9a-1pm, and occasionally Fridays 1p-3pm. For more information and to confirm the schedule, email garden secretary Nadine Ford at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or garden manager Renee Garner at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Friendship Gardens Urban Farm:  (2586 Elkwood Circle) Join this urban farm on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month (March - October), 10am-noon, to help grow food for Friendship Trays, Charlotte's meals on wheels program. No RSVP needed, just show up ready to plant, harvest, water, weed, whatever work is needed ... and to enjoy the farm. All are welcome. Bring gloves and a water bottle. The farm is located at Garinger High School.

The Seigle Farm. (600 Seigle Ave. at 10th St.) Seigle Farm is a ministry of Seigle Avenue Presbyterian Church. This is our third year of planting as we received a grant to clear the brush on unused land at the church and build 23 raised beds. The last 2 summers we sold our crops to The Harvest Moon Grille and distributed free veggies out to the community after church. This year, we will be opening a small farm stand at the corner of 10th and Seigle and our plan is to provide very cheap fresh veggies to neighbors and anyone who visits our farm stand. Farm Stand hours will be Saturday mornings when we start to harvest crops and WednesdaVolunteer hours from May through October are Saturdays 9am-noon and Wednesdays 6-7:30pm. Contact  Martine Wurst, 704-661-1848 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , for more information.

Eighth Street Garden. (740 E. 9th St.) A partnership between St. Peters Episcopal Church and Trinity Episcopal School, the Eighth Street Garden is part of the Friendship Garden network and therefore is dedicated to raising produce for Friendship Trays, the meals on wheels program for the Charlotte.  The produce is also used by Friendship Gardens in their program Friendship Gardens TO GO, a mobile market at the CATS Transit center which provides local and fresh produce options in an uptown location.  The garden is also an outdoor classroom for Trinity Episcopal School.  We welcome anyone that would like to help grow food for those in need. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to receive information about volunteer dates, often Wednesday and Saturday from 2-4pm.

Funky Geezer: ‘America’s Got Talent’

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NoDa’s Funky Geezer kicks off new season of ‘America’s Got Talent’

Charlotte Observer, May 23, 2014, By Courtney Devores
Read the full story here.'

Nearly every afternoon, Woody Williams drives to the Smelly Cat Coffeehouse, gets a cup of coffee and takes his daily walk around the neighborhood.

The entire North Davidson neighborhood knows Williams in his custom-painted shirts, driver’s cap, and custom wood-paneled car. They know him as the Funky Geezer, a local musician who has lived a few minutes from the heart of NoDa for most of the past 60 years.

Tuesday, America will know the Funky Geezer, too. He’ll be the old man wearing the leather bicentennial American flag jacket, toodling around with the tricked-out walker, playing the world’s fastest keyboard, and racing celebrity judge Howie Mandel on Tuesday night’s season premiere of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

Even if he doesn’t win, the trip to the auditions at New Jersey Performing Arts Center this winter was an adventure. He received a standing ovation from celebrity judge Howard Stern, started a theoretical band called Nick Plus 1 with host Nick Cannon, and danced with Newark Mayor Luis Quintana’s wife at a private party.

Williams hadn’t flown since he was in the Army more than 40 years ago: “We flew into a thunderstorm in Atlanta, and I swore I’d never fly again,” he says, taking a drag off a Pall Mall outside the Smelly Cat. He changed his mind after acing a preliminary audition in Greensboro – and ended up taking a trip that required him to travel through nasty winter weather. (“If I died, they could put on my headstone that I died on the way to ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ” he says, jokingly.)

NoDa rallied around Williams to make the trip possible, raising a few thousand dollars for local musician DJ Rankin to accompany Williams and help lug his 80-pound keyboard. Numerous people also signed the shirt Williams wears on the show. That way, he could take the whole neighborhood with him, he says.

A lifetime in NoDa

Williams has been part of the neighborhood since long before anyone thought to tag it NoDa. At age 18 – around 1968 or 1969, he estimates – he ran the projector at the old Astor Theater (now Neighborhood Theater), which showed adult films.

“I was afraid to go downstairs with all those dirty old men,” he jokes. He made $1.35 an hour working at nearby Highland Park Mill before getting drafted. A friend snuck his guitar into the barracks during boot camp, and Williams later had it shipped to Germany, where he was stationed. He was never without music for long.

Later, in Charlotte, he worked as a graphic artist, painting signs for clients like NASCAR and drawing editorial cartoons for magazines. He lived in the mountains, where he came up with “a code of ethics” and renounced drugs. He worked for Ford, Wells Fargo, and a graphics company he retired from 15 years ago.

Throughout that time, he was always doing something creative. He carries a folder of the Photoshopped images he posts daily on Facebook and – in stark contrast – intricately detailed pencil-drawn portraits of neighborhood residents. He talks of turning his back room into an art studio.

“Art made me what I am today. Custom shirts, the Woody car – everything is a canvas to me,” he says, quietly. “If I could paint on the sky I would.”

‘An unpredictable firecracker’

He’s played in several bands over the decades and did a long-running solo electronic project called Jimy Jamz before taking on the Funky Geezer persona.

“I had to wait on Funky Geezer to get here,” says Williams, who began posting Geezer songs on YouTube five years ago. “You can’t do Funky Geezer when you’re young.”

Williams says people guess he’s anywhere from 60 to 90 (he won’t divulge his age), but many of his songs have some age on them as well. He unearthed several from old cassette recordings he’d made 40 years ago. His songs range from funny and mildly risqué (“Grandma’s Feelin’ Frisky”) to poignant. He began sharing his songs at Monday Open Mic Night at Evening Muse; Joe Kuhlmann, who owns the venue, calls him “a true Charlotte treasure.”

“Woody brings an enthusiasm and honest lust for life and music that I would expect from many half his age, but almost never see,” says Kuhlman. “He’s an unpredictable firecracker … you almost don’t realize how talented he is.”

Part of that talent is his comedic timing, which he’s lent to Charlotte late-night talk show “Crazy Late with Johnny Millwater.”

“One of the elements of ‘Crazy Late’ was a character spotlight where many of our actors had to create characters,” says Debbie Millwater. “Woody showed up as himself. He would write his own pieces and, coupled with his authentic nature, he delivered endearing performances every time. My favorite was ‘Longevity Tips with the Funky Geezer.’ ”

Helping a homeless camp

Williams has a serious side, too: He has been working with a camp of elderly homeless people near his home for 12 years, delivering food, clothes, camping gear, sleeping bags and kerosene and giving them haircuts.

“They used to help me around the house, and I’d pay them a bit. So I found out some of their camps,” he says. “They’re all over 60. One died last year of liver cancer. One is in hospice now. … Two of the girls got hit by a train. It’s rough. I’m just helping one camp so they’re not dying out there in the woods.”

So if Williams happened to win “America’s Got Talent,” you get the feeling he wouldn’t just spend his prize money on polishing and marketing his forthcoming album.

But win or lose (and now he’s being silly again), Williams is going to milk his time on the show for all it’s worth.

“The best thing I see about it is I beat Howie Mandel in that foot race. I should get my shoes ready and call them Air Geezers,” he deadpans. “Or I’ll do a walker workout video for people in rest homes.”

Fashionable Delights Found at Concrete & Lace Boutique

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Women typically wear vintage clothing to express their individuality, and now the Queen City has a new selection to choose from. Housed in the kitchy warehouse known as Area 15, located at the intersection of 15th Street and North Davidson Street, sits the city’s newest recycled fashion boutique: Concrete & Lace.

The brainchild of owners Rachel Michele and Kim Irene, Concrete & Lace offers highly affordable (think under $10), personally picked pieces, not only from decades past but current labels as well. Inspired by their own love of all things fashion, the duo opened their boutique with the hopes of sharing their great finds with the public. They also extend their services for personal shopping. This growing business is driven by their core values of sustainability, affordability and course by their by their own sense of distinct individuality.

Whether it is funky or classic pieces you might have in mind, Concrete & Lace carries and amazing assortment of everyday-wearable vintage tops, bottoms, dresses and ac-cessories. The boutique also features local jewelry line Girl Power, as well as Kelly Busher’s tee-shirt line Live Free and Dye, which stems from his own graphics and screen-printing company.

With the NoDa Alley Rally (the newest food truck sensation) scheduled regularly for the rest of the season from 5pm to 8pm on Thursdays, Concrete & Lace will be the ideal place to browse for unique finds, all while grabbing a bite or drink with friends. The rally benefits community organizations such as the Free Store, Optimist Park and Community Gardens, with the extra bonus of being pet-friendly. The business hours of the boutique vary, so be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.

- by Katherine Culclasure