by Capital Area Food Network Farm Advocacy Circle
Just a 10 minute drive from downtown Raleigh, you can find an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life at the Well Fed Community Garden, just one of the farms on the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, Sept. 23-24 from 1-5 PM. Driving down Athens Drive, you immediately notice the pollinator garden bursting with herbs, flowers, and fruit trees. As you pull into the driveway and find your way to the backyard, you notice that this is no ordinary suburban lot.
This 1.5 acre parcel of land with a red brick home, was purchased by the owners of the Irregardless Café, with 4 other families in March 2012. Their goal was to use the acreage to provide fresh local food to supply Irregardless’ kitchen, as well as the community. With the help of many passionate, creative, and hardworking people, the garden has grown into a beautiful example of urban agriculture.
Shortly after the property’s purchase, the new owners surveyed the overgrown yard and were surprised to discover an old well, a remnant of its earlier farming days. The well has been re-dug and a modern irrigation system waters the entire garden. The Garden’s name speaks to the ‘wellness’ that the Garden is bringing to the community and how it reconnects us to the true source of life.
Farmer Interview – Morgan Malone
Farm manager Morgan Malone and resident farm dog Bella Pepper
Morgan first started working at the garden part-time as a summer intern with previous farm manager, Jenn Stanford Johnson. While working at the garden, Morgan fell in love with the close connection to the nature environment that she found at Well Fed, as well as the vibrant community of volunteers, students, and staff. As Jenn moved on to her new adventure at Chickadee farms (also featured on this year’s farm tour), Morgan joined the garden team full-time as farm manager.
How did you get into farming?
Morgan – Growing community through urban agriculture is where I find passion in what I do. I fell in love with farming and community based agriculture while I was in college at NC State. I learned that there was more to growing food than just seed and fertilizer. I started studying crop science but also working with community gardens and small farms. The community and people involved were very passionate and I loved being a part of that energy. To me, that’s happiness, plants growing and people coming together. It is how the world works, and being involved with that is really exciting.
What are your favorite crops to grow?
Morgan – The garden is full of a great diversity of crops. I love growing something that is new for people, crops that most people have never seen grown before. I love when someone first discovers that the eight foot tall, red stalked plant with striking white flowers is red okra, or the look on their face when they have tasted their first sungold cherry tomato fresh off the vine. Along with the great diversity of crops in the field, we also grow hydroponic lettuce almost year round in our high tunnel greenhouse. This is a very popular product because the leaves stay tender through most of the harsh summer months that normally turn lettuce bitter.
What do you love about farming? What are the challenges?
Morgan – There is so much I love about farming. I love how I learn something new every day and how there is rarely a dull moment on the farm. I love all the amazing people who I get to meet and work with, whether it is a student bringing new ideas, a volunteer with an interesting perspective, or just a neighbor passing by. We have such a wonderfully diverse community of passionate people involved with the farm.
In the past year and a half I have also had to face many challenges. A big one for me is time management. There is always so much to do it can be hard to step back and just enjoy the work that has already been done.
What advice would you offer new farmer?
Morgan – Farming is a very rewarding job; however it is a lot of work and can be a bit stressful. So much of what we do is dependent on uncontrollable factors, such as the weather. Especially as a new farmer, there can be a lot of pressure to not make mistakes. However, mistakes will happen; don’t let them get you down. Learn what you can and continue to move forward. There are so many wonderful resources and farmers who are happy to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Lastly, there will be many long, hard, hot days that will be challenging to get through, so never lose sight of your passion, farming should make you happy.
What are people going to love seeing on your farm?
Morgan – Once you walk into the garden you will immediately greeting by Bella Pepper the farm pup and our noisy laying hens, aka the “ladies.” As you continue through the farm you will find there is so much to explore in the garden.
Using permaculture as a base for design, the garden has lots of exciting features, including seasonal and extended vegetable cultivation, blueberry bushes, black berry brambles, fruit trees, cooking and medicinal herbs, edible flowers, teas, mushroom cultivation, honey bees, and much more. This garden design promotes organic agriculture methods, which minimally disturb the Earth’s natural balance.
When visiting the farm, guest also love to walk through our pollinator garden and see all of the different flowers, herbs, and fruits that we have. Just spending a few minutes wandering through the herb garden or peering into the mountain mint cluster you will notice the wide variety of insects that find food and habitat in the garden. There is an incredible amount of diversity including many native species.
I also recommend that people wander back to the mushroom logs and vermicompost, and check out the hydroponic greenhouse.
What future plans do you have for the garden?
Morgan – I strive to make the garden a place that people can come not only to enjoy gardening and local food, but as a place where people can learn and share knowledge, find peace among the plants, and explore their creativity through art, mediation, and working with the soil.
The Community Garden is funded by the Irregardless’ guarantee to purchase up to eighty percent of the produce grown by the garden. The remaining twenty + percent of the produce is distributed to the volunteers and is given back to the community.