By Sarah Flores
What will it take for the business community to take meaningful steps towards sustainability? To make the changes needed in our culture of disposability and convenience, we should look to local leaders taking concrete actions to ensure positive change. One business that is a model for what can be accomplished is Greensboro’s favorite bakery, Maxie B’s. Written up in Southern Living, and recognized as one of the best bakeries in the state, the team at Maxie B’s is committed to more than just sweet treats for their loyal customer base.
The company ethics statement on their website is as follows: “We place the highest priority on making the best choices for our planet, customers, and staff. We carefully choose pure, fresh, local, and organic ingredients. We select ‘green’ packaging that is often made from corn rather than plastic, and is made here in the USA. We use safe, non-toxic cleaning products. We are avid recyclers, and we compost our paper, food, and floral waste rather than putting it in a landfill. Doing things the right way is the only way we know how!”
Using Natural Products Led to Planting Natives
Robin Davis, the founder, is thoughtful about how her place of business is connected to the natural world. Some of the changes that the bakery has made over the years include encouraging customers to bring back their reusable containers, switching to compostable utensils, and even donating portions of their sales to environmental nonprofits. As she learned more about the importance of planting natives, a new project idea that fit into the bakery’s mission was sparked.
Recently, I was able to sit down with Robin to learn more about the native plant garden and wildlife habitat she has established in the parking lot and sidewalk in front of her bakery.
Part of a Strip Mall Became A Wellspring for Native Plants
One of the many satisfied Maxie B’s ‘customers’. Video courtesy of the staff at Maxie B’s Bakery and by Craig Maxwell, video editor
Maxie B’s is located in a strip mall on one of Greensboro’s most traveled roadways.There is concrete covering the ground in all directions, and the green spaces are limited to the generic landscaping plants that surround most chain retail and food establishments. Robin wanted her space to show the public something different. Christina Larson from Guildford Garden Center evaluated the available space in front of the bakery and helped Robin select plants to replace the non-natives. Together, Robin and Christina made use of every available inch, planting an impressive variety of native plants, and edible perennials. The existing shrubbery was replaced with a viburnum, Viburnum nudum ‘Brandywine’, several varieties of ferns, goatsbeard, green and gold, and spicebush. Plants were put in the ground, as well as in large containers. In the awning above the windows, willow branches were installed as a nesting place for the birds drawn to the space, as well as water sources that are filled by the staff each morning.
An Opportunity was Seized
The staff and visitors were able to observe multiple nests of birds
that fledged from the safe space created in the covered awning. Finches and sparrows were the primary birds spotted, but as plant diversity is more established, additional species are sure to be drawn to the sidewalk. The most unexpected visitor was a baby opossum that found its way to the garden from the surrounding wooded areas and liked to hang out under the awning.
Hungry customers in search of sweets weren’t the only ones who flocked to the curbside last summer. Proving the saying, “If you plant it, they will come!”, much pollinator activity was observed. One morning, a young staff member sent in a photo of a Monarch butterfly on the swamp milkweed plant with the caption “ some bug life from the patio to greet you this morning.” Monarch caterpillars were seen feasting on the milkweed, as well as Eastern Swallowtail caterpillars on the parsley.
Nature Gives Customers a Way to Relax
As the summer passed, the plants grew quickly in the blazing sun that scorched the parking lot. Staff made sure to keep the beds watered, and were enthusiastic about the project. One of Robin’s favorite results of bringing nature into the parking area were the benefits to her customers and staff. In a time when everyone was feeling stressed and anxious, the little slice of nature gave a much needed positive focus and way to relax. As children waited for their cupcake or cookie, they could peer into the plants and even pluck an organically grown strawberry to snack on. When the herbs were harvested, the staff would bundle what was not needed in the kitchen and set them out to be shared with customers.
Working with the NC Native Plant Society Triad Chapter, Robin planned the first Native Plant Fest in October 2021 to raise public awareness about the importance of planting natives. Members of the chapter were on hand to answer questions and educate visitors. Robin donated 300 landscape plugs that were sourced from Dutch Buffalo Farms in Pittsboro. Visitors were able to take home a starter pack of three different plants: Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), smooth oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides), and Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum), along with the NCNPS brochure, NC Piedmont Landscaping – A Native Plant Guide brochure that described them. Robin gave garden tours, and guests were able to view caterpillars feasting on the milkweed plants. Everyone who sees the garden can leave knowing that no matter how much space is available to them, they can transform it into something special with care and the right plants.
The garden was left alone over winter to provide a place for the insect life to hibernate until spring. Ever devoted to the mission of her project, Robin is waiting to clean up the beds until the prescribed seven consecutive days of temperatures consistently above 50 degrees, protecting the life resting within the plant material. Observing the garden in early March, you could see green sprouts shooting up at the base of the plants, ready to thrive once more.
A Slice of Nature
Some ideas for the future of the garden include more signage to educate visitors, and perhaps an “I spy” handout for guests to identify plants and wildlife in the garden. Seeds and plants that are thriving in the garden will also be shared with staff and customers. Hopefully, other local business owners will stop by Maxie B’s and be inspired to include sustainable practices, and possibly create their own little slice of nature in a sea of asphalt.
Sarah Flores lives in Greensboro, NC with her husband, two daughters, and golden retriever. With a degree in hospitality management from the University of South Carolina, she worked in the food and beverage industry and as an event planner. More recently, a passion for farm to table food and foraging led her to advocate for native plants.