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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Feeding Body, Soul and Community: Irregardless Cafe

AHA Partner in the Spotlight

A fixture on the Raleigh restaurant scene since 1975, Irregardless Café was green before green was cool. From serving locally sourced foods to installing thermal solar panels on the restaurant’s roof to now growing some of its own food for the restaurant and its community, this AHA partner is making a difference in the community.

Microgreens growing at Well Fed Community Garden.

Microgreens growing at Well Fed Community Garden.

In fact, if you order an item off the menu featuring micro greens, there’s a good chance they come from nearby Well Fed Community Garden (WFCG), a 1.5 acre property a few miles from the restaurant that Irregardless is developing with partners.  Anya Gordon, the marketing director for Irregardless and wife of chef and owner Arthur Gordon, said the restaurant purchased the land last summer. “We hope to have lots of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more,” Gordon said. “We invite the neighborhood to be part of this community garden and share in the harvest too!”

The Well Fed Community Garden is a work in progress. To date, the land has been cleared of trees, plowed and planted with a cover crop. The seedling greenhouse is nearing completion, seedlings for the spring crop are being planted now, and 21 blueberry bushes have been planted.

WFCG greenhouse

This greenhouse at the Well Fed Community Garden is nearly complete!

Currently, two graduates from the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle Young Farmer Training Program are living in the home and working the land, which had been part of a farm 50 years ago. Next month, N.C. State sustainable agriculture students will begin developing planting herbs and edible flowers in the front yard as part of their coursework, and Gordon said plans also include a 30’ x 96’ hoop house for winter vegetable cultivation.

“In the old days, people had to have gardens to ensure they had food to eat, and this was often hard work with uncertain harvests,” Gordon said. “Today, I believe that not needing to garden for sustenance is a mixed blessing. The daily work of maintaining a garden can also be spiritually nourishing to the gardener. I am always struck by how powerfully healing gardening is. Our hope is that WFCG will nourish the community in many ways.”

 Being Well: Talks on Wellness

“What we eat determines how we feel,” Gordon said. So, in part, this is why Irregardless began hosting its monthly “Being Well” talks (last Tuesday of each month 7-8 pm).  “Our bodies are sustained by the nutrients in our meals, and our restaurant and catering business know this is an important part of the culinary experience. And we feel that businesses like ours should play a role in educating the public,” Gordon continued. To this end, the restaurant brings in a variety of experts on health and nutrition for the free monthly talks.  On Jan. 29, the Irregardless will host Jared Cates of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) to talk about “The Farm Bill: How Federal Agricultural Policy Affects our Health.”

The 2008 Farm Bill set laws and funding that affect our nation’s nutrition, environmental health, emergency preparedness and community health. The bill expired last September, and the 2012 Farm Bill process has been a hotly debated issue. Cates will talk about the legislation’s widespread effects on our health and our environment.  Information about other upcoming talks and past discussions are on line at Irregardless’ web site. 

Community Involvement

Gordon also noted that she believes people want to spend their money with businesses that sIrregardless Cafeupport their well-being and values. At Irregardless, “respecting the environment and behaving sustainably is not an option—our planet and our future depend on our responsible behavior today,” Gordon said.

The restaurant is a member of the NC 10% Campain, which means the restaurant pledges to source at least 10% of its food from local food providers, and actually it goes well beyond that threshold, Gordon said. Plus last year, the restaurant installed 10 solar panels on its restaurant rooftop as part of a custom solar energy efficient system. For years, Irregardless has been a leader and award winner in green efforts, sourcing foods from local farmers and providers, recycling and other sustainable practices.

What’s more, Gordon serves on the board of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and her husband Arthur has volunteered weekly at CEFS’ small farm unit in Goldsboro. “It has changed his life.”  Connecting with our food producers has enriched our lives—by understanding the care and attention required to nurture healthy food, our meal preparation for the Café and Catering service is infused with meaning,” Gordon said.

CEFS develops and promotes food and farming systems that protect the environment, strengthen local communities and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond. In line with this work, AHA is hosting an event later this month, 10+10: Growers Meeting Buyers, where AHA, CEFS and CFSA are inviting 10 local farmers and 10 local businesses procuring foods (such as child care facilities, restaurants, private schools and grocery stores) to meet and discuss how they might work together to provide more locally grown foods in Wake County.  Irregardless Café is sponsoring dinner for the group and hosting the event in the restaurant.

“Our involvement with CEFS and now with AHA is a natural fit for us…we’re in the food business, and since we opened our doors we have worked to operate in a sustainable manner, supporting our community and environment,” Gordon said.

(Photos courtesy of Jenn Sanford-Johnson.)

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