Urban Farms and Community Gardens Blossom in the Triangle
Families can grow food for free in one of plots at Camden Street Learning Garden.
Photo courtesy of Camden Street Learning Garden
As families search for ways to eat healthy, buy local and save on groceries, it’s no surprise that community gardens and urban farms are blooming in the Triangle. Whether you’re looking for places to buy fresh produce or grow your own, here are a few gardens and farms that prove city-based agriculture is more than a passing trend.
With a 1-acre site in the heart of downtown, Raleigh City Farm was one of the first urban farms in the Triangle when it was founded in 2011.
“It’s so visible, and it’s close to downtown,” says Rebekah Beck, the farm’s general manager. “You can come see farming in different phases.” There are farmers producing off the land and dirt, hydroponic growers working in a greenhouse, and there’s also a food hub. The hub aggregates produce from different farms in the Piedmont for use in local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture program and at farmers markets.
The nonprofit farm works to “re-connect city-dwellers with food production,” so volunteering is encouraged. Every Wednesday from April through October, the farm hosts Wine+Weeds, a weekly weeding party from 6 to 7 p.m. Check the farm’s website for additional special events and programming. 800 N. Blount St., Raleigh; 919-322-9596
In January 2008, the Town of Cary bought 46 acres, part of which included the historic A.M. Howard Farm, built in the early 1910s.
“It’s rather unique for a local government to purchase a farm, but we have a strong commitment to historic preservation as well as preserved open space,” says Sarah Justice, environmental outreach program coordinator with the Town of Cary.
The 29-acre property, renamed Good Hope Farm, includes a homestead and several outbuildings, including two tobacco barns. The day-to-day operation of the farm is managed by the Piedmont Conservation Council through an eight-year lease, and the council is currently seeking farmers who want to sublease .5- to 2-acre plots.
This spring will mark the first growing season for the town.
“We are at the very beginning of the project, but we are seeking volunteers, and we do workshops as well,” Justice says.
For information about community outreach opportunities, visit the Town of Cary website and search for “Good Hope Farm." 1580 Morrisville Carpenter Road, Cary; 919-469-4061.
Cary’s 16-acre Carpenter Park, which opened in 2016, is across the street from Good Hope Farm and includes the typical family-friendly features you would expect from a park such as a playground, walking trails, a basketball court and a picnic area, but it’s also home to a community garden.
“The garden has 50 plots that are rented and tended by community members,” Justice says. In addition to the leased plots, about one-third of the garden has open beds reserved for educational opportunities, volunteering and group projects.
“There are ongoing opportunities for people to learn about gardening and also take home fruits and vegetables when they come and work,” Justice says. 4420 Louis Stephens Drive, Cary; 919-469-4061.
In 2012, Glen and Barbara Lang, and Jim and Debbie Loy bought a .99 acres on Holly Springs Road to build LL Urban Farms.
“The first thing we did was build a greenhouse for lettuce,” Glen Lang says. “Jim and I had never built anything, but we were able to learn by [looking at] YouTube videos, and so we built our first greenhouse that way,” Lang says. “And we call ourselves, affectionately, YouTube farmers.”
They taught themselves hydroponic farming, and product demand soon led to more greenhouses for lettuce and tomatoes. About half of this produce is sold to Whole Foods and is also available via home-delivery subscriptions for businesses such as The Produce Box and Papa Spuds. In 2014, the owners also added a barn and farm stand.
“We thought we were going to sell produce, but it turns out, people wanted more things,” Lang says. “We go down every Friday to the coast and pick up a couple hundred pounds of fresh seafood.”
In addition to seafood, the farm stand also sells pork, beef, eggs, honey, cheeses, milk, fresh fruit, produce, bread and more. Best of all, it’s all locally grown or made.
It’s not uncommon for school groups or home-schoolers to request tours to learn about hydroponic farming.
“The kids also love coming to see us because we have 20 chickens,” Lang says.
There are monthly tastings to allow patrons to try new products. Visit the LL Urban Farms website for more information about special events. 8225 Holly Springs Road, Raleigh; 919-234-7538.
In June 2014, the Camden Street Learning Garden was born in southeast Raleigh with the purchase of several vacant lots by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, a hunger-relief organization in the Triangle.
“Since then, we’ve transformed it into a space where there are community growing plots, and people can grow food for free,” says Katie Murray, urban agriculture programs manager for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Raleigh.
Through its Seed to Supper program, a six-week gardening course, the organization is working to educate and teach community members.
“For families that are experiencing some level of food insecurity, we provide them with the training and the tools and all the supplies they need to start their own garden on our site,” Murray says.
In addition to garden plots, the Camden garden site has a greenhouse, rain-harvesting system, indoor teaching kitchen, two beehives, a food forest with perennials such as fruit trees, and culinary and medicinal herbs.
In addition to adult programs, the Camden Street Learning Garden also offers after-school programs and opportunities to volunteer. 315 Camden St., Raleigh; 919-469-4301.
Myra Wright is the web editor for Carolina Parent and Piedmont Parent. She frequently writes about North Carolina travel destinations.