Irregardless Cafe owner seeks OK for Southwest Raleigh produce garden

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2013 

— The owners of downtown’s Irregardless Cafe will find out Monday whether they can move ahead with an organic garden in Southwest Raleigh that would feed the restaurant.

The Raleigh Board of Adjustment will review a variance request for the garden on Athens Drive during its 1 p.m. meeting. The variance would allow Arthur Gordon and his wife to run a large garden in a neighborhood and have a greenhouse and parking. If the request is denied, the Gordons say they will have to tear down the greenhouse, which is already growing seedlings.

The Irregardless has long championed the use of local produce on its menu. The Well Fed Community Garden would allow its chefs to make their dishes even more local.

The model is simple: Students working on their agriculture degrees will live in the house and tend to the garden, harvesting the produce for the Irregardless.

“The ultimate goal is to create a model that I bet other farmers would be happy to buy into,” Gordon said. “Local, freshly picked food tastes infinitely better than this stuff that comes from California.”

Gordon found a house that was in disrepair but had a large lot and bought it shortly before a foreclosure. “We’ve taken a blight out of the neighborhood and made it a wholesome property,” he said. “I’m hoping maybe we can make this work for other dilapidated properties.”

Neighbors concerned

Gordon and his wife held an open house for neighbors last month, hoping to answer questions about their plan for the site. But the invitation drew fire on a neighborhood email listserv, with some questioning whether it would lead to other business operations or even be a legal use of a residential lot.

“We need to be cognizant of proper usage of the homes and land around us,” one person wrote. “Were the other neighbors aware of this and do they approve?”

Because it’s a new model, Gordon said he expected some criticism.

“I feel like I have enough credibility and credentials to be the lightning rod for this,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can create the conversation in a positive way.”

But the Well Fed Community Garden differs from the city’s definition of “community garden” and operations such as the Raleigh City Farm. Those will generally provide their harvest to participants in the farming efforts or sell produce as a nonprofit; the city’s new development code will make it easier to start such gardens in neighborhoods.

A few neighbors questioned whether Gordon’s facility should have the community label. Gordon said he’ll open the garden to anyone who wants to help out, and they’d get any produce left over after the restaurant takes what it needs.

“We want it to be, in a sense, open to the neighborhood,” he said. “You could come over and learn how to farm.”

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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