As people search for ways to eat healthy, buy local and save on groceries, it’s no surprise that community gardens and urban farms are booming across the country. If you’re looking for places to buy fresh produce during your visit to the Raleigh-Durham region, here are a few gardens and farms that prove city-based agriculture is more than a passing trend.
Raleigh City Farm
Raleigh City Farm, which sits on a 1-acre site in the heart of downtown, 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,” said 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 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 held from 6-7 pm. 800 N. Blount St., Raleigh; 919-322-9596.
Good Hope Farm
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,” said Sarah Justice, Town of Cary environmental outreach program coordinator.
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 the very beginning of the project, but we are seeking volunteers, and we do workshops as well,” said Justice.
For information about community outreach opportunities, visit the Town of Cary website. 1580 Morrisville Carpenter Road, Cary; 919-469-4061; townofcary.com (search for “Good Hope Farm”).
Carpenter Park Community Garden
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 playground, walking trails, basketball court and picnic area, but it’s also home to a community garden.
“The garden has 50 plots that are rented and tended by community members,” said Justice. "There are ongoing opportunities for people to learn about gardening and also take home fruits and vegetables when they come and work."
In addition to the leased plots, about one-third of the garden has open beds reserved for educational opportunities, volunteering and group projects. 4420 Louis Stephens Drive, Cary; 919-469-4061
LL Urban Farms
In 2012, Glen and Barbara Lang along with Jim and Debbie Loy bought a .99-acre property on Holly Springs Road to build LL Urban Farms.
“The first thing we did was build a greenhouse for lettuce,” said Glen Lang. “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 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 in home-delivery subscriptions to businesses such as The Produce Box and Papa Spuds. In 2014, they also added a barn and farm stand.
“We thought we were going to sell produce, but it turns out, people wanted more things,” said Lang. “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,” said Lang.
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
Camden Street Learning Garden
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,” said Katie Murray, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Raleigh urban agriculture programs manager.
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,” said Murray.
In addition to garden plots, the Camden garden site has a greenhouse, rain-harvesting system, indoor teaching kitchen, two bee hives, a food forest with perennials such as fruit trees, and culinary and medicinal herbs. Camden Street Learning Garden offers programs for adults and after-school groups, in addition to volunteer opportunities. 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.