Raleigh City Farm hopes to nurture a generation committed to sustainable agriculture.
by Carol Wills
Photography by The Indie Image
What would you expect to see on a one-acre lot at the corner of Blount and Franklin Streets in downtown Raleigh? Surely not a farmer with a hoe tending a beautiful urban farm, but that’s precisely what you’ll find thanks to dedicated farm partners and volunteers who are providing the community with fresh produce.
The idea of an urban farm first occurred to Laurel Fieselman and Laura Varnado Passera in January 2010, as they were passing through the southern Appalachian Mountains on their way home from an Environmental Leadership Program in Tennessee. Back in Raleigh, as their vision began to take shape, three other Raleigh residents joined in the planning: Josh Whiton, founder of transit location software company Transloc; Erin Bergstrom, a social justice advocate; and Jonathan Morgan, builder and philosopher.
At that time, Fieselman was managing Meredith College’s sustainability program and Passera was working on renewable energy issues at N.C. State University.
Together, the five co-founders researched everything from educational and incubator farms across the country to various for-profit and non-profit models. They envisioned a productive farm of vegetables, fruit trees, and berry bushes. Their vision began to materialize and, in March 2012, they—along with friends, neighbors, and community members—met to dig the first rows of what would become Raleigh City Farm.
This year the garden will celebrate its six-year anniversary, and it has flourished! From their initial intent to create a place where anyone can learn about farming, they have moved on to their current mission statement: to grow the next generation of farmers by connecting the community to sustainable agriculture.
Raleigh City Farm expresses values in entrepreneurship, local food, community, sustainability, and wellbeing, while it encourages and supports innovation in urban agriculture. It aspires to grow the next generation of farmers by connecting the surrounding community to sustainable agriculture. In addition, plants growing around the perimeter of the farm provide beauty, storm water management, and resources for wildlife. The buffer attracts insects and birds that pollinate crops and prey on pests that reduce production. Herbs growing throughout the buffer are useful as food and medicine.
Currently, the farm is building a community pavilion, which was designed by Raleigh-based architecture firm LS3P, to provide shade and cover for people attending workshops or farmers selling produce. Local farmer Matthew Spitzer of Endless Sun Farms, who operates a greenhouse at the farm along with his friend and business partner, Chase Werner, likes that the pavilion will not only provide shade, but also a space for gardening classes and even yoga.
The farm’s general manager, Rebekah Beck, invites everyone who is interested to become a part of Raleigh City Farm’s vision by signing up for a workshop, taking a tour, attending a special event, or volunteering to help maintain the site. In working to keep the farm going, you will learn about sustainable farming—and have fun doing it. You can learn about permaculture, soil health, or planting seeds in the raised beds built by our community partners and volunteers. You might like to collect compost, help weed and prep beds, lay down mulch, or try your hand at many other tasks that volunteers do.
“Our food system in this country is broken,” Beck observes. “We are showcasing a solution to this problem. Namely, a connection to our food sources and those doing the hard work of growing food in sustainable ways that preserve the overall health and wellbeing of all of us, our environment, and our natural resources. … We want our surrounding community to feel a connection to the space—to feel welcome onsite and empowered to support the next generation of farmers in this vibrant and growing city.”
Raleigh City Farm continues to have significant partnerships with other community organizations like the Piedmont Picnic Project, Compost Now, Greenscape, Oakwood Garden Club, and Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop.
The farm is located at 800 North Blount Street and is open to the public during daylight hours seven days a week. RaleighCityFarm.org.