Slices of Pie at the Heart of Social Change in Greensboro, Alabama

Slices of Pie at the Heart of Social Change in Greensboro, Alabama

Southern Living magazine March 2012Oh the power of food. One Greensboro, Ala. restaurant has seen a single slice of pie turn into remarkable social change.

I know Greensboro, Ala., as a town whose roads lead to Tuscaloosa, first as a student and now as a football fan. Located in the state’s Black Belt—so named for the fertility of its soil—cotton prospered here in the 19th century. Then, once it dried up and left, success seemed to follow it.

Today, catfish ponds dot either side of Greensboro’s two-lane roads, but there’s something exciting happening in this town that’s literally reinvented its economy. And it’s as simple as pie.

Greensboro’s Pie Lab restaurant has garnered national attention since its 2009 launch, earning coveted stamps of approval for the social change it’s fostered—not to mention its pie—from Southern Living and Garden & Gun magazines. Southern Living heralded the cafe’s apple pie as the region’s best.

But Pie Lab wasn’t supposed to last long. Originally intended as a pop-up experiment, the location was meant to serve as a gathering place for brainstorming bigger and better ideas for fostering economic change in the community.

It did, but Pie Lab is still going strong as a self-sustaining cafe that serves up more than a mean slice of pie. There are homemade biscuits for breakfast, savory pies and quiches for lunch and, of course, pies for dessert. (I’m putting its new Granny Smith apple pie with sharp white cheddar crust on my culinary bucket list.)

In and of itself, Pie Lab is a sweet story about how the simplest things can make a big difference. It’s where the locals gather. It’s building the community. It’s teaching young employees new skills and creating jobs. It’s giving Greensboro something to be proud of.

And if that weren’t enough, it’s doing even more. The social change that Pie Lab was supposed to create is happening, according to a feature in Southern Living’s March issue. Pecans! is just one offshoot of Pie Lab; it’s a project that targets high school dropouts to teach them business skills in the hopes of helping them return to school.

Participants make, market and sell sugared pecans, peanut brittle and pecan butter, and the proceeds help fund their college education. It’s been successful enough to send five program graduates off to pursue their studies.

HERObike is yet another spin-off of Pie Lab. Again reaching out to high school dropouts, the program teaches entrepreneurial and leadership skills through the unique manufacturing process of building custom bikes with locally harvested bamboo.

Just one of five places nationwide to use bamboo in custom bike construction, Greensboro is offering the 18 students enrolled in the program hands-on training to prepare them for better-paying manufacturing and technical positions.

Not bad when you consider it all started with a slice of pie.