Creating an Urban Farm: a two-part Q&A with Farm Manager Fred Baldwin

Part I—Moving a farm, how and why?

The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle teaching farm is moving…but not too far—just across Dover Farm Rd! Farm Manager Fred Baldwin sat down with us to discuss the big move, when the farm will start producing and how it all fits into the mission of hunger relief.

The farm has begun its big move; can you tell us what the biggest differences will be?

The most notable difference is going to be the size. We are going from 7 acres total, with 3.5 under cultivation to 10 acres in total, with 7 under cultivation. We had to move because the former farm is being developed for single-family homes and townhomes.

But it’s worked out for us. This will begin as a 10-acre – and eventually grow to around a 30-acre urban production farm.

Will this location be permanent, especially as Raleigh grows outward?

We believe that this is our forever home. Right now, we are on a 10-year lease. The owner intends to place this property into conservancy for two uses – approximately half of the property will be an urban farm and the other half will be open parkland. This will be a 10-acre to 30-acre farm right in the middle of one of the fastest growing cities in the country.

What exactly is the mission of the farm?

There are three key elements of the farm’s mission. The first is to raise community awareness of the relationship between growing food locally, sustainably, using organic methods, and local food insecurity. The next thing we look to do is grow high quality produce year-round for distribution in our mobile markets that provide free produce to food insecure folks, and partner agencies within the counties we serve. In fact, 50% of the land under cultivation grows food for distribution to folks in need. The last part of our mission is education. We want to offer agriculture techniques and skills to farm volunteers, visitors and our refugee farmer families, as well as raise awareness in our community about local food insecurity and the value of sustainable and organic farming methods on local farms.

What makes this farm sustainable? 

At any given time, roughly two acres will be under cover crop. The cover crop is selectively chosen to add value back to the soil. Soil is like any living creature; it needs nourishment and a chance to rest. Sustainability is also transforming crop waste into compost. Compost and mulch keep weeds down and add organic matter back into the soil.

We work with the land versus simply working the land.

What are the next steps to get the farm ready for production?

Next is building infrastructure. We’ve got to put in an irrigation system. We’ll be using a drip irrigation system so we have to build the plumbing through the seven acres we are going to plant.

Simultaneously, we will start to build our multi-purpose building. It will serve as our storage space, the space where we will do all of our harvest cleaning and packing, our refrigeration, bathrooms, and an office. Local developer H.H. Hunt donated $30,000 to help us. Building the building will be with their expertise and our grunt work – a lot like an old-fashioned barn raising.