Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh City Farm pulls people to soil

In the name of research for this column, I have had the opportunity to visit a variety of area farms – herb, pick-your-own, community-supported (CSA) and urban, to name just a few.

I have really enjoyed myself on every farm visit. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but something about being on a farm makes me happy. I always leave wishing I could live on a farm.

I guess the pull to be part of the land, part of growing food, affects a lot of us. That would explain why dozens of local residents volunteer their time at the Raleigh City Farm.

The farm, which was established last March by a group of civic-minded entrepreneurs on 1.3 acres of vacant land behind William Peace University, is a great example of what the local food movement is all about.

There is no barn. There is no farmhouse. Just a vacant, rented lot that has been turned into a 100 percent volunteer-run, not-for-profit, food-producing farm.

“The mission of Raleigh City Farm is to transform vacant spaces into nourishing farmland, and to educate and inspire others to do the same,” said Ryan Finch, volunteer coordinator and project manager.

The farm is managed by four volunteer board members and a core group of seven or eight volunteers whom Finch calls the “working group.”

But on any given Saturday morning, you might find as many as 30 volunteers helping out at the farm. Some have decided to replace their gym workout with some fresh air and the satisfaction that comes from digging in the dirt. Others come to meet new people or to pick up gardening tips from lead farmer Lisa Sluder.

In its first seven months, the farm has grown more than 2,000 pounds of produce. Most has been sold to restaurants or individuals, and the proceeds poured back into the farm. What couldn’t be sold was donated to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle or composted.

And that is only a fraction of what can be done on just this one corner.

“The first order of business is to get the farm to full production,” Finch said. “Right now we are only producing about one-third of what is possible.”

As they ramp up production, organizers are encouraging everyone in Raleigh to visit the farm –whether to pitch in with digging, planting and weeding, or just to get inspired to grow something themselves. Eventually they plan to offer formal workshops to help people with their own gardens.

From the beginning, community support has been strong. The initial funding for the farm came from a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects – people view ideas on kickstarter.com, and if they decide to back the project, they pledge a donation. If a project receives enough pledges to reach its goal, credit cards are charged and the project gets funded. But Kickstarter is all or nothing – if a project doesn’t reach its goal, the project gets nothing.

The Raleigh City Farm asked for seed funding of $10,000 to cover expenses such as renting the land, purchasing tools and getting water onto the property. Organizers were pleasantly surprised to receive $15,000 in initial funding.

It’s a great example of how crowd funding works: instead of asking one person for $10,000, you ask 1,000 people for $10.

Our motto is “every dollar builds the farm” Finch said.

If you are interested in making some new friends or feeling happy, consider stopping by the farm almost any Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and noon – or any time you are driving by and someone is there working. The farm is on the corner of Franklin and Blount Streets.

You can also get involved by volunteering your professional services. More information is available on the website, raleighcityfarm.com.