Beginning and seasoned farmers, backyard gardeners, and simply the "farm-curious" came from all parts of the Piedmont to learn about the latest techniques and innovations in sustainable farming, as Inter-Faith Food Shuttle kicked-off the first growing season of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) United Piedmont. The collaborative is an international model of regionally-organized farmer training rooted in the belief that farmers learn best from each other. Through CRAFT United Piedmont, inspiring leaders in our local farming community will host educational tours on their farms once a month from June to November. Each tour will focus on a special topic and will be followed by a community potluck. The Kick-off Farm Tour and Potluck was hosted on Sunday, June 2nd, by Joanna and Bill Lelekacs at Dancing Pines Farm in Efland and focused on Growing Summer Produce in Hoop Houses. Attending this inaugural event were over 30 beginning farmers as well as established farmers, farm interns, folks interesting in starting their own farms, backyard gardeners, farm-curious folks, and some just interested in learning more about local farms. They came to Efland from around the region – including Sanford, Louisburg, Durham, Raleigh, Pittsboro, Silk Hope, and Hillsborough.
Bill Lelekacs led a tour of the farm’s two hoop houses. These inexpensive, unheated (passive-solar) greenhouses are often used to extend the growing season, meaning that farmers can start producing earlier as well as keep on growing longer than they could without the hoop house’s protection. The Lelekacs grow produce year round inside these structures– including lettuce in December, so they can sell at farmers markets and to restaurants year-round. Hoop houses are also useful during the summer because they allow farmers to protect crops from rain and use only drip irrigation instead. Keeping the leaves dry on growing plants can help to control many pests and diseases associated with our warm, wet summers.
Joanna Lelekacs led a tour around the rest of their almost two-acre, chemical-free farm, explaining their focus on pollinators and giving participants a look at their fencing systems, pond for watering, small orchards, organic pest-prevention techniques, and the development of their post-harvest shed. Along the way, attendees asked questions and shared ideas about future projects, past experiences, trouble-shooting, and their favorite tools.
The event wrapped up with continued conversation over a wonderful potluck meal – full of what else but lots of farm-fresh veggies!
CRAFT United Piedmont is supported by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle through a USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer’s and Rancher’s Development Program grant. It's all part of strengthening the local food system to make sure everyone has access to good food and the income to be able to purchase it. Stay tuned for more CRAFT events each month this summer and fall at local farms!