Raleigh City Farm: Cultivating Community and a New Generation of Farmers
“It still surprises me that a place where you can get your hands dirty and enjoy the fruits of your labor literally attracts people from all walks of life,” said Kevin Brice in talking about Raleigh City Farm. Brice serves on the Board of Directors for this urban farm at the corner of Franklin and Blount Streets, and is also board treasurer. “That’s been the most rewarding–to see the way people are attracted to getting their hands dirty and wanting to see how their labor and energy results in healthy food.”
Raleigh City Farm has built a following among nearby residents and those in the community at large who value locally grown foods, connecting with each other and social entrepreneurship.
The Farm’s Roots
Raleigh City Farm is just coming up on its third year, but it has made a significant impact in a short time. Brice shared that when he attended AHA’s second Dig In! conference all about community gardening and urban agriculture, he met Josh Whiton there and began talking. “Josh was this young entrepreneur who was inspired by the work of Will Allen and his organization Growing Power out of Milwaukee.”
Whiton saw the opportunity to intensively farm an urban site that would be both a benefit to the community as a provider of local food and as a site to build community. He had the idea and a group of volunteers but no land to farm. “At the time, I was with Triangle Land Conservancy, and I lived just a few blocks from this empty parcel of land that had been bought by a local real estate developer. After talking with Josh, I talked to one of my board members. He liked Josh’s idea and knew the landowner and was able to connect them.” That connection and building that relationship led to the farm moving forward. Whiton rotated off the farm’s Board of Directors within the last year, but his legacy lives on with CEO Chris Rumbley as the driving force at Raleigh City Farm today.
Growing Farmers and Demand for Local Food
September 2014, Raleigh City Farm
Beyond building community, Raleigh City Farm is an incubator for new and young farmers and a part of the growing local food system in downtown Raleigh. “I really credit Raleigh City Farm’s success in the past year to Chris. Through his intelligence, ideas and hard work, the farm has gone through a bit of an evolution in that you have this farm incubation dynamic going and you have a revitalized urban site that is really busy and really engaged with its surrounding community,” Brice said.
Most of the farmers in Wake County are over 60, and in most cases, their sons and daughters are getting a college education and will not be returning to the farm. “So the question is who is going to be the next generation of farmers and farm businessmen and women?” Brice said. “Chris is doing a great job of not only growing an urban farm but growing a community of farm entrepreneurs, and a market for them to sell their local foods,” Brice continued.
“Raleigh City Farm, in my mind, is not only a location but it’s a brand that promotes the next generation of farmers, and I think that’s really important,” Brice said. “It’s helping young farmers develop a market for locally grown sustainable farms.”
The farmers sell their produce to a network of 30 restaurants in downtown Raleigh. “You can go to a restaurant like 18 Seaboard or Poole’s Diner, and they are proudly promoting that they purchase from Raleigh City Farm. Talk about an ultra-local product that restaurant goers are now able to enjoy,” Brice said.
“The choices we make as consumers can have incredible impact. Say we make 20 choices in a week about where will get our food. If we change just one of those choices and buy local, just change our behavior by one increment, that will have an impact that snowballs over time. It doesn’t have to be everything local and organic, but taking one step at a time, the impact would be profound, especially for local farmers and markets,” Brice said.
City Market and The Farmstand
This past summer Raleigh City Farm opened a farmers’ market at historic City Market, 100 years after that market first started, as another way to support farm entrepreneurs and provide access to local produce. The market closed for the season at the end of September, but Rumbley plans to reopen in the spring.
In the meantime, the Farmstand is open on Saturdays at 800 N. Blount St. from 9 am -1 pm. The farmers can be found at various farmers’ markets around the area, and of course, you can enjoy the fuits of their labor at area restaurants. Learn more about Raleigh City Farm at www.raleighcityfarm.com.