Local farmers will begin sowing seeds this spring for their first batches of fruits and vegetables on part of a 29-acre, town-owned property off Morrisville Carpenter Road.
The town preserved this land, known as A.M. Howard Farm, in 2007 so it could one day be developed a working farm – and could pay homage to the land’s and the town’s agricultural history. The Cary Town Council took some of the first steps to make that happen at a Thursday, Aug. 25, meeting.
The council unanimously approved an 8-year lease with the Piedmont Conservation Council, a nonprofit that promotes conservation and sustainable communities, for the purpose of subleasing 1/2- to 2-acre plots to newly trained farmers. Council members also approved appropriating about $57,000, in part for water line installation, for this effort.
PCC would pay a $750 security deposit and $1,500 annually for use of the land, according to the lease. The group intends to develop the working farm this fall, said Doug McRainey, the town’s parks, recreation and cultural resources director.
“While there are a number of farm training programs within North Carolina, once trained in agriculture, local farmers often struggle to find affordable farmland,” he said. “This model would support the farmers by supplying them the small plots of land, shared use of farm equipment, logistical support, education for farming techniques and access to local markets.”
There are about 119 of this type of community farm nationwide, but McRainey said the A.M. Howard Farm is distinctive “with its combined mission of historic preservation, community education and local farming.”
The farm, which was built in the early 1910s, was named for the owner who bought the property in the early 1930s.
The council also discussed renaming the new town facility. Staff offered these suggestions: Cary Farm Park, Historic Carpenter Farm Park, A.M. Howard Farm or A.M. Howard Farm Park.
Several council members supported keeping A.M. Howard Farm as the name but were swayed by councilwoman Jennifer Robinson, who wanted to learn more about the land’s history before making a decision since the farm was developed before the Howards purchased it.
Robinson, who has supported the effort to develop a working farm on this land for many years, said it is an innovative way to create a community asset and honor the area’s history.
“I was seeing a lot of land disappear in this part of Cary for development, and so I just thought it would be really appropriate for us to try to save a parcel of land and to be able to capture the heritage of our community,” she said.
Councilwoman Lori Bush also brought up the connection between the working farm and the recently completed Carpenter Park across the street.
“I think there’s a really interesting synergy to Carpenter Park across the street, which was always planned to have that plains-like farmland feel, which has, shockingly, community gardens,” she said. “I think the opportunity here is just too good to pass up.”
The 29-acre property includes a one-story home and 12 outbuildings, including two tobacco curing barns. A future phase of the project could involve renovating the main homestead and outbuildings for the purpose of educational and community outreach efforts.
“The second phase would be opening it up a little more to the public,” McRainey said. “The farm also has the potential to educate children and adults through volunteer events, workshops and field trips. I think PCC intends on definitely having programming to promote farming and educate the youth on exactly what it takes to farm and bring food from the farm to the table.”
There isn’t a timeline or funds set aside for a future phase.
“My original intent of having this farm was to have a place for kids to come and pick strawberries or pumpkins or blueberries,” Robinson said. “They would be able to visit and see historic tractors and farm equipment and learn about the practice of farming that occurred here in Cary. ... So I think with this, we have an opportunity to use the land and still retain the ability to achieve that someday in the future.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon