On a one-acre plot of land on the corner of Franklin and Blount Streets, Raleigh City Farm (RCF) is teaching the community that food can be grown anywhere – even on a vacant lot in downtown Raleigh.
RCF, founded in 2011, is a nonprofit urban farm. Through teaching programs, onsite volunteer work and local produce sales, RCF is bringing the city and local farmers together to learn about entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture and the value of local food.
The idea for RCF came from five Raleigh residents who were passionate about local food, sustainability and bringing urban gardening to the city. Lots of talks ensued – where to plant the garden, what to grow, how to finance operations. But the group agreed that the focus of the farm would always be to involve the community in supporting local food and farmers.
“In an urban setting, you’re not around the standard farming you see in rural settings. There’s a disconnect between farming and how we get our food,” said Rebekah Beck General Manager for RCF. “It’s so important for our neighbors to know how soil health, farming methods and growing seasons work together. When people understand, they can advocate for local food and see how it helps their health and the environment.”
Today, RCF supplies new farmers with growing space and resources to start their first farms.
“Our main goal is to support the next generation of farmers,” said Beck. “Some of the biggest barriers to entering farming are access to capital and land. As a nonprofit, we can provide tools and a small-scale place for beginner farmers to grow their business at lower cost.”
Principal Farmer James Edward and Endless Sun Farms both grow a variety of food on the land and sell the produce to local chefs, restaurants, and the community. Endless Sun Farms has also recently built new greenhouses onsite at RCF to start growing hemp.
The farm is host to a variety of community programs. The Piedmont Picnic Project offers onsite workshops on pickling, foraging, gardening, pollinators and more. There’s also yoga throughout the year and an annual Harvest Dinner that features a local chef turning RCF produce into a one-of-a-kind meal.
“There’s something for everyone here,” said Beck. “People can experience something new and learn about compost, wild foods, beekeeping and soil health.”
Keeping RCF looking its very best wouldn’t be possible without volunteers. The farm gets emails nearly every day from people and groups looking for ways to get involved. In 2017, RCF had more than 1,000 volunteers that supported the mission in some way.
“There are always weeds to be pulled a mulch to spread,” said Beck. “There are opportunities for everyone – we want to connect with every age and every ability. We hope parents bring their kids, and we welcome everyone that wants to make our garden a better place.”
Party Like It’s Your Bearthday!
This month, RCF celebrates its sixth year at the annual Bearthday Celebration. In honor of Earth Day, the Bearthday Celebration offers another opportunity for the downtown community to explore the farm, meet farmers and learn about sustainable agriculture.
This year’s celebration will be especially significant. RCF, Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) will break ground on a new Community Pavilion. Sponsored in part by Blue Cross NC, the Community Pavilion will serve as a gathering space for neighbors, guests and farmers throughout the year.
“Our farm has always needed a ‘welcome mat’ – a place where people can enter and engage with the space,” said Beck. “We hope this pavilion becomes a place where people can learn something new, connect with others who share their interests and take our city further in its pursuit of local, sustainable food.”
The Community Pavilion will host educational workshops, meetings, volunteer training and more. Beck also expects farmers to use the space as a Farmers’ Market to sell their produce to the community.
“Our goal is that the Pavilion inspires new partnerships, and continues to keep the community interested in supporting our local farmers,” she says. “If we’re all invested in this mission, there’s great potential for more urban farming across our city and the Triangle.”
The Bearthday Celebration is planned for Saturday, April 21 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. It is free and open to the public.
Blue Cross NC’s sponsorship of the RCF Community Pavilion is part of a series of charitable donations aligned with the mission of Thrive NC presented by Blue Cross NC. Blue Cross NC is donating $250,000 along with all ticket proceeds from Thrive NC to nonprofit organizations across the state.
Thrive NC is a two-day event, scheduled for May 10-11 in downtown Raleigh. Thrive NC will feature a food festival with contributions from top chefs and restaurants, live music and community service. A collaborative summit will kick off the event with meaningful conversations to address food system challenges in North Carolina.