By Jarely Parada
CARY, N.C. — What comes to mind when you think of a farm?
One local farm is going against the long-established interpretation of agricultural practices. Located only 2.7 miles from the Parkside Town Commons shopping center in west Cary, Good Hope Farm is redefining farming in a modern era.
Good Hope Farm’s aim is to create a partnership program with the Town of Cary that preserves farmland, opens opportunities to future generations of farmers and engages the community around agriculture and healthy food.
The 29-acre farm was was developed and opened in collaboration with the Town of Cary and four nonprofit organizations: Piedmont Conservation Council, The Conservation Fund, North Carolina Community Development Initiative and Conservation Trust for North Carolina.
Piedmont Conservation Council board member Alex Ashton said he came up with the idea for a cultivator farm about five years ago.
This is differentiated in that it is kind of like a farm with your big-boy pants on. It is less focused on the very beginning farmers teaching and how to farm but providing the infrastructure and space for a farmer with some experience to come in and expand their business, grow their business and be able to develop it and learn more. I was planning on having this up and running by 2018, so this is happening and a year earlier than we expected.
Town of Cary Environmental Outreach Program Coordinator Sarah Justice said every workday is successful to her. Sarah brought her son to this month’s workday named “build a field fence.” Her son Solomon Justice Shreve said he gets to use the math he learns at school and gains an understanding of the equipment used daily on farms.
I think it is an invaluable experience for my child to connect to his agricultural family roots. We come from farmers going back many generations in my family, and he is the first generation to not grow up on a farm. Understanding where your food comes from and the labor of love that it takes to produce food is another great lesson.
Sarah said she learns something every time she goes to the farm, adding that she is grateful for the many ways in which their partner nonprofit organizations, like the N.C. Community Development Initiative, have supported this project.
“We could not have gotten to this point so quickly without their generosity, vision, and expertise,” Sarah said.
Some of the things Sarah wants to continue seeing include having programs out in the buildings for the community that relate to agriculture, history and nutrition.
“Whether that’s potentially having a commercial kitchen out here to teach people how to can or just using one of the barns and keeping it as is, the way it would have looked 100 years ago,” Sarah said, adding that “growing at the farm will be in full swing by September and continue through the fall.”
Sarah added that at this point, because a lot of the workdays are skilled work and takes specific tools, keeping them small and full of people who know what they are doing is better for them.
“If we had 20 extra teenagers out here we’d probably be doing possibly more harm than good,” Sarah said.
“The primary purpose of the program right now is to support the farmers and their agribusiness,” she said. “We want to make sure there is a happy balance between citizen use for education, experience and recreation, and farmer-use and their business.”
Father and son John and Jeff Heller lease and farm on a one-acre plot on the property.
“We all work together, get to know each other and help each other out,” John Heller said, adding that every day spent farming is a “good day.”
Jeff Heller said his family has been in the area since 2012. He added once you are in North Carolina long enough you want to start caring for the land.
“We just kind of got really interested in [the program], and we saw this come available.
Jeff Heller said. “We live in Cary, and so we thought we would give it a shot.”
However, another farmer said he wishes for a change in the program.
“I have a feeling a lot of people that are on here, this is their first time doing this,” the farmer said. “And with that being combined with people saying that this is not a teaching farm, I do wish that there was a little bit of that [learning] component.”
Erin Crouse, program manager for the farm project, said they plan to have educational workshops open to the farmers in the community. She said there is much collective learning still going just between the farmers, adding workdays are successful and “make progress on everything.”
Erin notes that for its efforts with Good Hope Farm the Town of Cary recently received the 2017 NC Land Trusts Local Government of The Year award.
Out of everyone in the state, [Cary] has been the best in the past year. I think what is very different compared to a lot of other conservation-based projects is that the town is a partner in this and is very hands on, dedicating tons of staff time and then the financial support, too.
Erin said she sees this as a model for replication and she would like to see this be replicated on a smaller scale on smaller municipalities across the state.
“We’ll get to stages where we can withstand more people in the very near future and where people can come buy and eat our food. It’s just we’re still in the process of permitting and securing structures. I would say we are almost 90 percent done with this phase.” Sarah said.
Good Hope Farm is currently seeking farm tools including a gas-powered chainsaw, weed eaters, lumber, an AC unit and a hand washing sink and also farmers who are interested in leasing a plot at the farm.
“We want this to be a model of sustainable agriculture, and for people to understand where their food comes from.”