North Raleigh News

Raleigh gives OK for Irregardless Cafe’s community garden to continue

Baby lettuce grows in a caterpillar tunnel at Well Fed Community Garden in southwest Raleigh.
Baby lettuce grows in a caterpillar tunnel at Well Fed Community Garden in southwest Raleigh.

A community garden in southwest Raleigh will continue to grow food for Irregardless Café and local families after winning final city approval in December.

Irregardless owners Anya and Arthur Gordon received a special-use permit for the Well Fed Community Garden on Athens Drive in October 2013. But the city’s board of adjustment set conditions on the approval, including the percentage of the harvest that had to be donated to the community, composting rules and volunteer requirements.

The board asked the Gordons to report back in a year to see if the 1.7-acre garden had succeeded. They returned with their report in December and got the green light to continue operation.

Irregardless is committed to purchasing 80 percent of the produce grown in the garden. The remaining 20 percent is donated to volunteers and community groups.

The report showed the community garden had produced 3,305 pounds of produce in the past year, including 537 pounds that were donated to the community through volunteers and the Athens Drive High School free farmers market.

The downtown restaurant has long been a trend-setter on the Raleigh dining scene, offering vegetarian cuisine and banning smoking before other restaurants.

Anya Gordon said projects like the community garden are important for creating a food system that promotes equitable access to healthy food and inclusive, inviting community spaces.

“Agriculture is a very powerful force in the healing of urban spaces,” she said.

Eighty people have volunteered at the garden during the past 13 months for a total of 479 hours. The garden’s interns contribute an additional 1,200 hours annually.

The Gordons first asked the city for permission to operate the garden in the spring of 2013 but were turned down because the city’s code at the time did not cover large-scale gardening in residential neighborhoods.

By the fall, the city had implemented a new development code that considered a wider range of urban agriculture uses.

Because of the zoning on their property, the Gordons had to apply for the special-use permit. In some cases, a community garden would automatically be allowed.

Andy Petesch, a Raleigh-based lawyer for the Gordons who works frequently on urban agriculture issues, said the process worked as intended, which could be encouraging for the next person with a new idea about gardening or farming in the city.

“It gives someone who has an innovative idea the chance to test their ideas while being sensitive to the community,” he said.