Wake Living - Spring 2017

Urban Gardens: Building Community And Fellowship One Tomato At A Time

Alice Osborn 2017-02-22 03:17:49

Growing our own vegetables can be tricky and a little scary—for those of us who have parents who garden, we learned from errors and earned our successes, but what if you’ve never gardened before? Who can help you choose the perfect sunny spot and start a basic raised bed? If you live in the city or in an apartment with no front yard to speak of, where can you grow your own lettuce and radishes? Find an urban or community garden! Here rookies are paired with master gardeners from the Wake County Master Gardeners NC State Extension volunteer program. The garden itself may offer educational programs, or there’s a culture of fellow community gardeners helping beginners avoid mistakes. Community gardens flourish wherever there’s enough gardeners-in-training who want to know where their food comes from, who want to save money at the grocery store, and who want to preserve natural resources—studies show that greenhouse gas emissions are much lower from produce grown in small gardens than produce bought in grocery stores. All urban gardens share an element of community through the relationship between the garden and the surrounding neighborhood and city; gardens offer green space and sometimes host events from yoga classes to wine tastings to live music to even weddings. Then within the garden itself there’s the shared community—people from different walks of life, faiths, ages and political leanings learn to get along while pulling up weeds or asking about pests. Don Boekelheide, the chair of the North Carolina Community Garden Partners, says, “One of the most empowering things is growing your own good food—it’s so much fresher, the soil is better—you’re making a difference. Tomatoes don’t know research has been done on them—they’re going to do want they’re going to do. You’re constantly learning in agriculture. As the old cliché says, community gardens are about a lot more than homegrown tomatoes (but they’re also all about homegrown tomatoes). Community gardens are certainly a time-honored local food strategy that’s earned a seat at the larger local foods/urban agriculture table.” THE WELL FED COMMUNITY GARDEN Anya Gordon agrees: “Not only is urban agriculture good for our bodies, it creates community.” Originally from Canada, Gordon grew up with a European mother who cooked most of the day, and now she is the co-founder of the Well Fed Community Garden off Athens Drive, three miles from Raleigh’s Irregardless Café and Catering that she also co-owns with her husband, Chef Arthur Gordon. She says, “Gardens offer folks a place to meet each other and be in community. It is said that community gardens are 90 percent community and 10 percent gardening.” Started in 2013, Gordon adds that the Well Fed Community Garden “reconnects our patrons to food, to the growing cycle and brings them fresh organic produce. Once people see and experience the growing cycle it will change their behavior. They’ll be more likely to eat vegetables and fruits each day—all vital components of a healthy diet. Locally grown fresh produce provides more nutrients and it tastes better.” Owned by Irregardless, the Well Fed Community Garden is a demonstration garden with a house on the property where the garden manager lives along with two apprentices. Eighty percent of Well Fed’s produce goes back to the restaurant, while the remainder goes to 50 volunteers and to a church allotment. Food demonstrations, community dinners, employee wellness days, cooking demos, school groups from Athens Drive High School, university tours, and the ever popular Wine and Weeds Thursday night event brings people together around healthy eating and healthy choices. This weeding event encourages physical exercise, another important part of a healthy lifestyle. “Tending crops ties us into the seasonality of produce and syncs us with the rhythms of nature, which in reality we are part of,” says Gordon. RALEIGH CITY FARM Growing food is good for the local economy by employing people and by keeping the buying dollars local too. Raleigh City Farm does just that. A nonprofit urban farm founded in 2011 on a formerly vacant one-acre lot in downtown Raleigh off of Person Street, its mission is to transform forgotten spaces and steer future farm entrepreneurs to make a profit. Raleigh City Farm is also a billboard for farming in general and helps show those in the community how to replicate this kind of urban gardening/farming in their own homes to add value and sustainability. Rebekah Beck, the general manager, says, “Raleigh City Farm helps young farm entrepreneurs learn on a small scale, on our plot of land, with the hope that in two or three years’ time they can branch out after learning the business aspects of being a farmer and then they can scale up from there.” James Edwards is the principal farmer who pays Raleigh City Farm to rent the land. Originally from North Carolina, Edwards is a New York-trained vocalist and chef trained in the culinary arts. He sells what he produces through his weekly Saturday FarmStand (9 a.m.-noon) and through Farmers’ Collective, which is a food hub operating out of Raleigh City Farm, led by Chris Rumbley and his team who offer an opportunity to both Raleigh residents and local chefs to skip the grocery store and buy directly from a variety of small local farms in the Piedmont region. These farms benefit by gaining greater access to customers. At the weekly produce pick-up, Edwards shows his customers how to use the fresh produce in their cooking. His goal this year is to get more people interested in eating local food, have them find out what’s in season and how to incorporate unfamiliar produce in their cooking. CAMDEN STREET LEARNING GARDEN The presence of agriculture in urban environments positively affects each individual’s health and the community’s well-being, and this certainly holds true at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Camden Street Learning Garden. Managed by Katie Murray, the Raleigh Urban Agriculture Programs Manager, the Garden has a dual mission of addressing the food deserts in this South Raleigh community and helping those who lack the income to purchase food. Here at the Garden neighbors have their own plots with their own names on wooden signs posted on the beds of collards, snap peas, spinach and lettuce. The on-site kitchen teaches nutritional values and how to prepare the fruits and vegetables grown right outside the door. The Garden also offers a very popular Seed-to-Supper free fiveweek training program in partnership with Logan Trading Company and Wake County Master Gardeners NC State Extension to help new gardeners gain the confidence they need to grow their own food on a limited budget. The gardeners learn the need to have a reliable water source, plenty of sun and good soil and/or compost. Murray says, “Another area of importance is to teach gardening, wellness, cooking, and sustainability to school groups. We also teach about rain harvesting, the monarch butterflies, perennials/ annuals, composting, vermicomposting (using earthworms for composting) and beekeeping. We want our garden to be the premier destination for food education in Wake County.” One of the most empowering things to do is to grow your own good food—it’s so much fresher and healthier than buying your produce at the grocery store. While early farm families in North Carolina had to grow their own vegetables in order to meet basic needs, they understood the value in working the land and respected what their land could produce. When trains came into cities and cut off citizens from knowing exactly where their food came from, the food culture changed. Especially after the Depression, canned and packaged sustenance became more valued than buying fruit and vegetables in season and knowing how to properly cook them. However, all across Wake County and North Carolina we’re seeing a resurgence in community gardens to help erase food deserts and hunger. Gardening is the real way to bring diverse people together and where the art of conversation survives. Alice Osborn is the Editor of Wake Living magazine.

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