The mission of the Well Fed Community Garden is listed on the Irregardless Café website: “To provide an opportunity for community members to learn how to grow their own food, to reinforce the community’s ties to the environment; and to increase food access and food security within our community.” Some of the community benefits include reclamation of an abandoned plot in the Athens Drive neighborhood of Raleigh, making the space beautiful and useful for both residents and the Café; reduction of waste by using leaves that the city collects and dumps at the garden for compost; reuse of daily restaurant food scraps for composting; and providing a healthy activity for community members to take advantage of the natural environment.
Jenn, the Garden Manager, gave me a tour of their one-and-a-half acre plot of land off Athens Drive. Well Fed Community Garden is named for the old well the owners found when they first purchased the land and started to plan the renovation. The plot of land includes half an acre of land in the front yard, half an acre of land in the back, and a house, which Jenn and her family live in while farming the land. Jenn believes that living on-site makes taking care of the garden much easier, especially when raising chickens, or the “ladies” as she lovingly calls them. We visited the Well Fed Community Garden in April 2014 and got to see the following first hand:
-Thirty apple trees have been planted on a Belgian fence-style espalier. The fence in the front yard will eventually become a living fence
-A sizable pollinator garden in the front yard to sustain two beehives, as well as feed pollinators (like birds, bees, butterflies) in the surrounding area.
-The garden contains blueberry trees, strawberries plants, microgreens, herbs (thyme, sage, and oregano), baby romaine lettuce, cut flowers, and one-hundred-fifty blackberry bushes, native to North Carolina.
-Eight chickens that produce about six eggs per day that the farm manager and interns eat and share with the garden’s neighbors.
-Efficient use of space; baby pak choi and leeks are grown together in order to make use of this small space. Leeks and pak choi do well together since pak choi has a shorter growing season and can be harvested, while the leeks take their sweet time (up to a year) to mature.
-Teepee with chairs for relaxing and taking in the view of the pollinator garden.
-Greenhouse for starting plants from seed in soil blocks. Jenn uses soil blocks because this cuts down on transplant shock.
Here is my interview with Jenn:
Question: How did the garden get started?
Jenn: Arthur and Anya Gordan, owners of Irregardless Café, purchased the plot of land in March of 2012. This land was previously owned and farmed by the Jones family, who received the land as freed slaves. The Gordans worked with North Carolina State professor Will Hooker and Laura Willer to design the sustainable permaculture garden plan, with fields for growing organic vegetables, berry production, fruit and nut trees, flowers, herbs, teas, and green and hoop houses for winter cultivation. We started getting the soil ready to be a garden in the fall of 2012. We obtained a permit from the City of Raleigh in October of 2013. The Well Fed Community Garden is Raleigh’s first community garden to obtain a permit under the new Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). A UDO is basically an all-inclusive overview of how a city wants to be developed. Now the City of Raleigh allows community gardens, check out their website for more information.
Question: What is a demonstration garden? How is your garden different from other types of community gardens?
Jenn: A demonstration garden is not what you think of as a typical community garden. We don’t lease raised beds for a fee to individuals to grow their own food. We are a teaching garden, educating the community so they understand and appreciate that our food does not grow on a shelf in a supermarket.
Question: How does the garden work with the Irregardless Café?
Jenn: The garden is a special case since it is a for-profit community garden. Most gardens are non-profit organizations, or just a conglomeration of community members working together. We sell most of our food to the Irregardless Café and donate the rest to volunteers and those in the community. This garden is awesome because it paves the way for other restaurants and businesses in our area to start their own community gardens, in order to feed their customers the freshest, most local ingredients, while giving back to the community in the form of food, service, land beautification, etc. eighty percent of what we grow/harvest here on site is sold to the Irregardless. Twenty percent of the garden’s production is given away to volunteers and community members.
Question: Has the community gotten involved? About how many people do you normally see volunteering?
Jenn: The community is starting to get involved. There is a church that ran their own garden across the street from us near the Athens Drive High School but school construction took over the land they were using and they weren’t sure what they were going to do. We have given them twenty raised-bed gardens to work with on our land so they can grow their own food or sell food to the community.
If you are interested in volunteering, the garden has set hours for volunteers to work.
A version of this story was originally published by Amanda Baley on Foodie Mama Talks.