Raleigh, N.C. — Many know Arthur and Anya Gordon as the owners of Irregardless Café, Raleigh’s first vegetarian farm-to-fork restaurant.
However, few know that in the spring of 2012, the husband-and-wife team enlisted a few friends and purchased a one-and-a half-acre parcel of land with a modest brick house in the hopes of turning it into a community garden. With the help of NC State professor and permaculture landscape architect Will Hooker, his associate Laura Willer, the garden’s first manager Jenn Sanford-Johnson and its current manager Morgan Malone, the land located at 1321 Athens Drive in Raleigh has become The Well Fed Community Garden (WFCG).
The garden’s name was inspired by the unexpected discovery of an old well on the property, which reminded the Gordons of the biblical passage “re-digging our father’s wells” (a metaphor for reconnecting to the source of life), as well as of the food and wellness that the garden would provide for the neighborhood. They have since restored the well and connected it to a new irrigation system so that it once again supplies water to the property.
The WFCG is a sustainable, organic, urban-intensive (maximizes the land by harvesting one crop and quickly planting another in its place) farm that applies mulch, compost from Irregardless Café’s kitchen scraps and coffee grinds, mineral supplements and cover crops to develop healthy soil. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. Instead, they opt for such methods as crop rotation, favorable insects, micro-organisms and companion plantings. While up to 80 percent of the produce grown in the garden is purchased by Irregardless, the remaining 20 (or more) percent is given to volunteers, schools, churches and families in need.
The garden strives to strengthen community and be a model of sustainable urban agriculture. Anya, a member of both the Raleigh Environmental Advisory Board and The Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Advisory Board, elaborates on the garden’s mission, “Urban agriculture supports all aspects of a healthy, vibrant community and ensures an affordable, healthy diet of fruits and vegetables.”
To that end, in addition to growing organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, teas, pecans and flowers, as well as producing honey and eggs, the WFCG offers monthly workshops, weekly volunteer workdays and garden tours, presenting opportunities to learn, engage in physical activity, enjoy the outdoors, meet new people and earn a share of the bounty.
The hope is to develop a deeper sense of community, self and place. “We want to reconnect people with their food and remind them of the rhythm of nature," said Anya. "After all, we are a part of nature. By knowing what happens in the soil, we get to know ourselves.”
Try a workshop or volunteer
The WFCG’s interactive experiences promote healthy lifestyles and educate participants in organic agriculture by providing them with the skills needed to step into an agricultural career, start their own community garden or make better use of their backyard planters.
While workshops take place on the fourth Saturday of each month, volunteer workday opportunities are available every Thursday from 9:30 am until noon. Furthermore, “work parties” are held on the third Saturday of each month from 9:30 a.m. until noon and culminate in volunteers sharing a potluck lunch in the garden. These experiences are great for garden clubs, elementary, middle, and high school classes, college students and anyone else interested in gardening, composting, organics or simply getting their hands dirty.
"Wine & Weeds" and cooking classes
For those 21 and older, every Thursday evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the WFCG hosts less intense, more social “Wine and Weeds” events,which involve some light weeding and conclude with a complimentary glass of wine.
Looking toward the future, the WFCG hopes to offer farm dinners and cooking classes, as well as utilize its new outdoor pizza oven. The garden will also be part of this year’s Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, which will take place September 17 and 18, and Raleigh’s 2017 Tour d’Coop.
For more information or to sign up for the WFCG newsletter, go to irregardless.com/garden/volunteering.
To schedule a group event or ask a question, just e-mail email@example.com.
Brian Adornetto is a food writer, culinary instructor and formally trained chef.