Better Alamance | Stories

twitter twitter twitter

Phil, Sustainable Alamance

Written by Karina Pope

Draughts and floods have not stopped Phil Bowers of Sustainable Alamance from planting his Urban Garden with ex-convicts in Downtown Burlington each and every year. This year, for the fifth year of planting, Bowers expects his newest project to be even more successful.

Bowers started Sustainable Alamance when he noticed the problems ex-convicts have in getting jobs in Burlington, N.C. after visiting a men's group meeting. Sustainable Alamance primarily focuses on making job connections, but the Urban Farm is helping to meet the need for food in the community.

The land had been unused and dried up for years and seemed to have no use for the urban community. Bowers saw this as an opportunity and sought out the landowner, who now lets him use almost 5 acres of land for free.

The goal of the Urban Farm, Bowers explains as he points down the road to a large empty patch of land, is to teach ex-convicts to grow their own food to help save money and eventually, to grow food to sell. Bowers emphasizes that rather than give those in poverty the things they need, he wants to give them the opportunities to obtain it on their own.

"Poverty is not a lack of money," says Bowers. "Poverty is not a lack of a job. Poverty is a lack of resources."

With this mantra in mind, Bowers provides opportunities for work to his clients, whether that is in his Urban Farm or at the Company Shops Market. He is working to do as many speeches in town as possible to explain the importance of this alternative way to help to others.

Burlington knew he had to help the Burlington community, so after returning from his visit, he left his job as the vice president of sales and started Sustainable Alamance.

Bowers had to put everything he had into Sustainable Alamance and was lucky enough to meet Ron Harris, a pastor who let him use his facility as a meeting place for Sustainable Alamance.

"It's the same as starting up any business," says Bowers. "We put 100 percent of everything we had into this."

Although Bowers gets donations from United Way, local churches and other individuals, he has no retirement fund and admits that he will be working on Sustainable Alamance for many years.

Bowers says he scrapes up enough donations to keep Sustainable Alamance going, but he admits that it is hard to get people to volunteer because he works with ex-convicts.

Lack of volunteers has not stopped Bowers from pursing his passions. He is always on the sidewalk outside his building, across from an auto repair store, conversing with impoverished community members and supporters of Sustainable Alamance, getting as involved with the community as he can.

"I don't do for people what they can do for themselves," says Bowers.

This is why Bowers continues to push his Urban Farm idea year after year. He admits that every year, nearly all of his clients are asking to work out on the farm in the comfortable April weather, but when August rolls around the recruitment process for the Urban Farm is much more difficult.

Despite difficulties, Bowers refuses to hand people things that they can attain on their own. The Urban Farm helps to ensure that Bowers isn't handing out food, but rather, teaching people in need how to grow it and use these skills to their benefit. Bowers vows to avoid "emergency responses to chronic situations."

Bowers stands in the dining area of the building used for Sustainable Alamance and looks up at a picture of a successful client on the wall.

"When you work with the poor," he says, "sometimes people get put in your path that are not there for you to fix, they are to teach you something."