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Farming and the Local Food Scene: My first month at Maple Spring Gardens

Ever since I graduated University of North Carolina (now two years ago), I’ve been wanting to work on a small, sustainable farm in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. For a few great reasons (going with my partner to live and work in Guatemala and learning Spanish) it hasn’t been geographically feasible until now. For the past month, I’ve been working full-time at Maple Spring Gardens—a forty-acre vegetable farm located in Cedar Grove, NC. I work from Tuesday to Friday out on the farm, and then help sell their produce at the Durham Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Already, I’ve learned a lot about running a farm and growing vegetables. The man behind the farm, Ken Dawson, has figured out an incredibly efficient system for every aspect of growing vegetables and he is excited and eager to share with the farm crew the extensive knowledge he’s garnered over the past 35 plus years.

The farm crew is comprised of seven bright and passionate farming people in their mid-20s. Five of last year’s crew members are back on the farm and are great about teaching me the ropes of whatever new task we’re working on. One of the reasons I wanted to work at this farm was because I knew it was a place where people who were serious about starting their own farms were working. Throughout the day, there’s a constant stream of chatter—mostly around food and farming and what people are planting in their gardens at home. Not only are we working with our hands, we’re also learning from others about how they chose this profession that requires such hard physical and mental labor.

It’s the combination of farmer Ken, who is so thoughtful about sharing information and stories from his lifetime, and the farm crew that really makes the farm a place of active learning. As it’s only my first farming season, I’ve got a lot to learn, but it feels manageable and fun where I am right now. I’m trying to keep notes of when different crops are seeded, harvested, and planted to have a general frame of reference of the story of crops in this area. It was an unseasonably warm April, but has been an incredibly spring-like May. June through August seem more manageable with the farm’s pond and knowing that we’ll be working earlier hours to keep out of the fierce southern sun. I feel incredibly fortunate to have this experience to start out learning from someone who has been very successful farming in the Piedmont area. I look forward to updating you on what I’m learning on the farm.

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working full-time at a small, organic farm outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina called Maple Spring Gardens. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Posted on: May 29, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , ,

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