Community gardening kicks off in northern Chapel Hill

Staff writerApril 26, 2010 

Fan Huang, 15, a freshman at Chapel Hill High School, harvests spinach from a leased bed at Hope Gardens. "This is going to help everybody who can't afford to buy food," she says.

MARK SCHULTZ - MARK.SCHULTZ@NANDO.COM

— More than 125 people attended a ribbon cutting this weekend for HOPE Gardens, a different kind of community gardening space on Homestead Road in northern Chapel Hill.

About half the space is an urban farm. Volunteers and three part-time workers who are homeless, have been homeless or at risk of homelessness are already growing beans, lettuce and mustard in neat rows.

Money from sales on campus and to local restaurants will pay the workers an $80 weekly stipend and will be used to maintain and expand the garden.

Beside the farm portion of the site are two dozen raised beds. For $100 a year, anyone can grow vegetables or flowers or sponsor the plot, essentially giving it back to the garden.

The garden grew out of the UNC-Chapel Hill Campus Y's Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication (HOPE) organization. The Town of Chapel Hill owns the 14-acre site near the railroad tracks and is working with the students through the Parks and Recreation Department and its Active Living by Design advisory committee.

On Saturday, parks director Butch Kisiah recalled the day that organizers approached the town.

“They basically said they’d like to do a community garden,” Kisiah said. “I said, OK, this sort of sounds like a neat idea. And then this kid shows up and says, ‘We’re doing more than a community garden. We want to do a lot of things.’ ”

The kid was David Baron, who would take a year off from UNC, to get the garden going.

Inspired by his father’s starting a community garden through their Atlanta synagogue, the Morehead-Cain scholar also worked in Tanzania encouraging farmers to trade their pesticides for sustainable growing practices like those being used at HOPE Gardens.

On Saturday 15-year-old volunteer Fan Huang cut the ribbon, actually a string tied to two posts outside the garden, and the crowd flowed through the bamboo gate.

Carlo Robustelli, the director of Orange County operations for Durham Technical Community College, was working for then Mayor Kevin Foy when students brought the idea to the town. He leased a raised bed to stay connected to the project.

“It’s abysmal looking right now,” he joked Saturday.

Robustelli's grandparents grew up outside Naples, Italy and immigrated to the last metro stop outside New York City. Growing up, he’d grind, cook and can tomatoes, a practice he’d like to get back to.

“I think where we get out food, how we get our food, it matters,” he said.

Speaker Molly DeMarco, a post doctoral fellow at UNC and one of the afternoon’s speakers, agreed.

“Our food system is broken,” she said. “Our kids don’t know where our food comes from or who grows it. ... We’ve also lost touch with the nobility of gardening.”

mark.schultz@nando.com or 932-2003

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