Inter-Faith Food Shuttle teams with Growing Power for urban agriculture workshop

sbarr@newsobserver.comMay 3, 2014 

— The crowd gathered on Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s urban farm Saturday didn’t shy away when pungent blue barrels of old broccoli, oranges and greens were deposited before them.

In fact, they took one step closer.

The dozens of grow-your-own enthusiasts scribbled in notebooks and snapped photos as urban agriculture expert Will Allen shared his tips for composting on the farm at the corner of Hoke Street and Garner Road in Southeast Raleigh.

“What do we need now?” he asked, as volunteers shoveled layers of wood chips and ripe food waste into bins.

“Nitrogen!” the crowd called back. In went the food waste.

“And now?”

“Carbon!” There went the wood chips.

Allen, the founder of Milwaukee-based Growing Power, started the national nonprofit organization in the 1990s as a way to help people in all communities – regardless of their economic circumstances – access healthy, high-quality, affordable food. The group teaches urban agriculture planting and growing workshops, and produces and distributes food in the Midwest.

Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, which has been working to end hunger in the Triangle for 25 years, is a regional training partner for the group.

During the weekend workshop led by Growing Power, about 60 participants learned about composting, growing mushrooms, building the curved metal and plastic structures known as hoop houses that shelter plants and starting aquaponics systems, which are based on the relationship between aquatic animals and plants grown in water.

The participants included backyard hobbyists looking to stretch their skills, entrepreneurs eager to scale up their operations and community gardeners looking for ways to help more people.

Mia Genis and her husband, Howard Jacobson, tend a community garden in their North Durham neighborhood. Before leaving for the workshop, Genis got a call from a neighbor looking for greens and brought them right over.

But the couple want to make a difference for people beyond their immediate neighbors. As they plant, they dream about what could come next: making sure people in prison have access to fresh produce or delivering to homeless shelters.

“The more we do, the more we want to do. The more we learn, the more we want to learn,” she said.

Joni Torres, a community garden manager, came from Greenville, N.C., for the workshop. She said hands-on work will help her translate ideas into real projects at the “Making Pitt Fit” garden.

“It was nice to see it all done right in front of us,” she said. “To read about it in a book and to do it are completely different things.”

More than a meal

For Inter-Faith, the urban farm is the latest in its efforts to bring healthy food to communities in a sustainable way.

The goal for Inter-Faith is not only to provide meals but to build skills that can translate into jobs. It’s about systemic change for the entire area in a way that draws a community together.

“Food is universal. People come together around food,” said Cindy Sink, an Inter-Faith spokeswoman.

The 3-acre farm in Southeast Raleigh includes a community garden as well as a training garden that yielded its first produce last year.

In two weeks, Inter-Faith will launch its urban agriculture internship program with six interns who will tend their own plots for six months. The nonprofit group also has plans for a produce stand on the farm by the end of May.

Inter-Faith is one of a number of organizations along a stretch of Blount and Person Streets working on local food issues, including City Market and Raleigh City Farm.

Allen said that successful urban and local food efforts require knowledge and careful planning, as well as a deep commitment from the community.

“It’s not about money. It’s about the passion to keep it going,” he said.

Barr: 919-836-4952; Twitter: @barrmsarah

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