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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Urban Farming in Durham, North Carolina

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Darko Urban Farm, located in downtown Durham, North Carolina. The farm is comprised of Rochelle and her partner Will, their incredibly diverse front and backyard, and their newly acquired “back forty.” It’s lovely for me to see what a backyard-turned-farm looks like and to see how productive such a small area can be. Their main vegetable garden is contained within a fence—mostly to safeguard precious garden tools—and is complete with four ducks and a beautiful kiwi trellis. The vegetable garden space is currently under a sea of cover crops—clover, rye, and catnip (the farm cat loves this one)—and there’s a healthy crop of asparagus too. Behind the vegetable garden and adjacent to a neighborhood lunch place, Big Daddy’s, is the farm’s brand-new fruit orchard.  Installed with the help of Bountiful Backyards, a local business that helps people create edible gardens, there are now Asian pears, a medlar tree (according to Rochelle, “is like an apple, but doesn’t require as many chill days as an apple tree,” a persimmon, cherries, figs and a variety of other fruits that do well here in North Carolina.

As I try to imagine a farming life that doesn’t require a forty minute commute each way, an urban farm like Darko, seems like a good possibility. The farm is also located in a “food desert” (by my definition, an area that lacks access to healthy, affordable food), where the nearest place to buy something to eat is either Big Daddy’s or McDonald’s. While there’s been talk of a food co-op opening up next door to the farm—which would greatly increase the quality and variety of food available (and ideally provide food that is affordable to the surrounding communities)—nothing has happened yet. A recent update on this: The co-op won’t be opening up across the street because they couldn’t find adequate financing for a brand-new building. Instead, the co-op is looking for an existing building in downtown.

Darko Urban Farm had a CSA (community supported agriculture) for its first two seasons, but for a few reasons won’t be offering one for its third season. Both Rochelle and Will are lawyers, and according to Rochelle, coordinating how and when CSA members should pick up food was challenging as well as disappointing when food they grew went to waste. However, they are continuing to expand their urban landholdings and provide food for themselves and the community on a small-scale.

In a couple of weeks, the farm is planning on planting tomato plants. Hopefully I’ll be able to join and update you on the progress of the farm (if not, the farm has a great blog where you can catch up). I left feeling extremely inspired and ready to plant an edible backyard of my own (well, someday—I don’t think my current landlord would be too excited about it now).

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 8, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , ,

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