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Farming and the Local Food Series: The Beginning of a Long Hot Summer

It’s summer again in the South, which means early mornings and long, hot days. It also means eating the delicious array of local summer vegetables that are now in full force—tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cauliflower, basil, potatoes (my favorite), garlic, onions, and the list goes on. It’s my second season farming in the Piedmont area of North Carolina and it’s still inspiring to me all that can be grown in our mild, temperate climate. It’s also overwhelming all that it takes to keep up an annual vegetable market farm and garden.

Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a full-time, 80-plus hour a week farmer, but the idea of using my body this heavily for the rest of my working life doesn’t seem very sustainable or healthy to me. This new twist of thought has been heavily influenced by a Permaculture Design Course I’m taking in Greensboro, NC. The whole idea behind permaculture (permanent agriculture) is to flip our linear thought-system on its head and learn to think like nature. This means creating beautiful, thoughtful, and productive food systems that provide for our communities (human, plant, and other animals). It’s a lot easier said than done, and requires a tremendous amount of forethought, thrift, and time to establish a working permaculture system. One of the greatest parts of the course has been visiting existing permaculture sites, which is about two-thirds inspiring and one-third completely overwhelming. In comparison to a more conventional farm production, which is around 20% upfront work (planning, design, and install) and 80% upkeep, a permaculture site is around 80% upfront work and 20% upkeep.

For me, using permaculture seems to be a more sustainable way to provide food for myself and community. This is what my partner and I are working on at our home, but it’s not really that realistic at our farm site a few blocks away—the main reason being we don’t own the land and our lease is for only three years. Land ownership—or at least having a secure, long-term land agreement—is crucial for installing a permaculture system. But, it also presents one of the major dilemmas for farming in the city—development is inevitable, and the land that we’re farming on now is in an increasingly more desirable part of downtown.  I still think the importance of gardening in the city is worth all of our hard work (it’s been educational, if not yet profitable). The social ecology created by the farm is certainly one of the most rewarding parts of the job. The goal, however, is to create a livelihood for my partner and I and also be able to hire underemployed people from within the community and to sell this food to our neighbors.

It’s difficult to tell at this point in our experiment if we can achieve this model of providing jobs and creating access to healthy food on a for-profit level. Despite all of the gray area, it has been fun and certainly an educational experience. Check with me in a few years to see what I say about farming in the city then!

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 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: June 24, 2013, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , ,

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