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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Starting Sweet Beet City Farm, an Urban Farm in Durham, North Carolina

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened in these past four months. At the end of February, my partner and I signed a lease on 8 vacant lots, totaling 1.3 acres in downtown Durham, North Carolina. Since then, with the help of many, many people, we’ve moved 72 cubic yards of soil and compost to form the beds at the farm, grown most of our transplants from seed, planted the beds, and are hoping to begin selling our produce in about a month. We collaborated with the city on a project called “Build a Better Block,” and in turn they helped us build a farm stand, tables and benches, painted our fence, and introduced us to many of the neighbors surrounding the farm.

The Mayor comes to Sweet Beet City Farm (City councilman Steve Schewel, myself, Emily-Kate, and Mayor Bill Bell)

The Mayor comes to Sweet Beet City Farm (City councilman Steve Schewel, myself, Emily-Kate, and Mayor Bill Bell)

Farming in the city is pretty incredible for many reasons. Here are just a few:

1) Everyone who walks by asks what we’re growing. Some even share stories of remembering their grandmother/mother/father/grandfather growing various vegetables.

2) We’re able to be very connected to our community (farming and otherwise). Our plot is located near one of the major thoroughfares through Durham, so when we’re out there, we interact with many people walking or driving by.

3) Our transportation costs are cheap. We’re close to restaurants, other people, and traffic

The con side so far has only been working through the innards of local government regulations. After meeting Will Allen of Growing Power, the mayor of Durham, Bill Bell, was inspired by the positive social changes created by urban agriculture, as well as the economic successes of Allen’s operation. Bell charged the Durham city government to help make something similar happen in Durham. As aspiring urban farmers, this was very inspiring to us, but in reality has meant very little to us in terms of  allowing us create a viable farm in the city. There was a recent amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance that made commercial crop production legal within city limits, which for us, means that we can legally grow food to sell. However, since we are a farm (no matter how small!), we need basic farm infrastructure such as hoop houses (unheated greenhouses, which we would build with PVC/metal poles, 2x4s, and plastic), a storage shed, wash stand, produce display table and stand, and refrigeration for our produce. It is incredibly difficult and expensive to build all of these necessary farm infrastructure pieces following the current city government regulations.

We are doing what we can to make urban agriculture a success, and for us what that means is providing jobs for ourselves and our community. Hopefully, we can continue to work with Durham’s city government to make this possible.

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 on a small farm in Rougemont, North Carolina called Four Leaf Farms, while also starting an urban farm in downtown Durham, NC. 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 7, 2013, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , , ,

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