Farm Where You Live, Even in the City: CRAFT United Piedmont at Raleigh City Farm

A year and a half ago, a vacant lot lay at the corner of N Blount St. and Franklin in downtown Raleigh. Now, Raleigh City Farm has transformed the piece of land into what they call a “Community Supported Farm,” and the area is seeing some economic revitalization happening around it. On Sunday, November 11th, the Collaborative Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), United Piedmont gathered at the farm to learn about their model: Agriculture with an urban strategy, production emphasis, community mission, and restaurant support.

CRAFT United Piedmont at Ever Laughter Farm: Sharing about Tool-Sharing and How to Grow Year-Round

No tools? No problem? Beginning farmers and the farm-curious came from Wilmington to Rougemont to learn about a tool-lending co-op that allows beginning, first-generation farmers to save money by sharing instead of purchasing pricey equipment. The tour this past Sunday, October 20th, was part of another monthly meeting of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), United Piedmont, coordinated by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. They gathered at Ever Laughter Farm in Hillsborough to learn about fall/winter season extension methods and a Sustainable Agriculture Tool-Lending Library cooperative to which the farm belongs.

Ever Laughter Farm is in their fifth year of production on their 7-acre property, where they have been farming since 2008. Farmer Will Cramer had previously studied sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College's Sustainable Agriculture program and farmed through apprenticeships as well as through the PLANT @ Breeze Farm's  Incubator program. In 2008, he joined forces with his now farming partner, Sam Hummel, who had recently moved to Hillsborough to start a farm but wasn’t ready to farm full-time. Now, they grow a wide variety of vegetables, raise chickens for eggs, and are also developing another 10 acre plot of land eight miles down the road from their current farm. They sell at both the Chapel Hill and the Durham farmers markets twice a week as well as to a few restaurants.


The CRAFT crowd, as always, came from a variety of background and parts of region, but all shared in interest in learning and growing food.  Participants were beginning farmers, part-time farmers, incubator farmers, apprentices on local farms, and even a resident at a co-housing community in Rougemont that wants to grow 80% of its food. One person had driven all the way from Wilmington for the afternoon to be a part of the learning environment. All were excited to learn from each other’s successes, mistakes, and experiments as they try to make a living farming or begin their own growing endeavors.

Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library

Ever Laughter Farm belongs to a cooperative called the Sustainable Agriculture Tool Lending Library. Started by George O’Neal of Lil Farm and his girlfriend, Kelly Owensby, in 2008, the co-op of 10 farmers buys and shares tools together. The Lending Library was initially funded by a cost-share grant from RAFI(Rural Advancement Foundation International)-USA’s Tobacco Community Reinvestment Fund, which assists farming communities transition out of tobacco and farmers develop new sources of income.

The co-op allows beginning, first-generation farmers to save money by sharing instead of purchasing pricy equipment outright that they might only need one day a month. Will and Sam started farming at Ever Laughter without a tractor. As they grew and a tractor eventually became necessary for them, belonging to the co-op allowed them to purchase a better tractor than they would have otherwise because they had the security of knowing that they would not also need to purchase lots of implements like a bush hog and a disc harrow to go with the tractor – those would be available through the Sustainable Ag Tool Lending Library. These types of tools save lots of work by hand, and lots of time.

The farmers use a Google calendar to manage scheduling – creating an event for when they need the tool and for how long. The tool then stays at that farm until the next farmer needs it. They capped the group at 10 members for a reason -- Will cautioned that having more than 10 members could make it harder to coordinate and to keep track of where all the tools are at any given time.They hold a yearly meeting to decide what their purchasing priorities are and make all the decisions for the year. Farmers also pay $200 yearly in dues, which mainly goes towards maintenance of the shared tools.

IMG_0453What other types of tools has the cooperative purchased?  An augur for post-hole digging, a vacuum sealer for on-farm meat processing, different types of hand seeders, a transplanter, a disc harrow, a tillage tool, a tiller, a small plastic mulch layer, a bush hog, a manure spreader, a trailer, a bedder, a  pressure washer, a wood splitter, and a leaf vacuum.

With that last item, Ever Laugher Farm has collected large amount of organic material (leaves) for compost and mulch. The first year they used it, they tried driving into the town of Hillsborough to collect leaf piles that folks had raked up from their yards, but ending up spending too much on gas in the process. So the next year, they instead put up flyers around Kenion Rd (the road their farm is off of), and found that their neighbors were happy to have someone pick up their leaves instead of burning them or pushing them to the woodline – it’s a mutually beneficial relationship! From their leaf collecting efforts, Ever Laughter was able to fill a 100 ft bed 5ft tall, mixing the leaves with horse and chicken manure to create compost and enrich their soil , which is especially important in the beginning stages of farming and here in the Southeast, where heat and rain leach organic material out of soil quickly.

During the CRAFT event, participants got to look at and inquire about the usefulness of various tools, and even got to try one of them out! They helped bend pipes for a caterpillar tunnel (similar to a hoop house) that the farm uses to continue growing when the weather turns cooler. Watch this video to learn more about the Sustainable Agriculture Lending Library and its creation.

Fall/Winter Season Extension

Ever Laughter Farm aims to grow and sell produce year-round. We’re lucky enough to live in a climate that allows this to a large degree, but many crops still need protection from the elements during the colder months of the year.

To extend the growing season into the fall and winter months, Will and Sam say they first experimented with cheap methods, which didn’t work very well. They have since invested in better systems, but are still experimenting to determine the best methods for what they can afford. Heated greenhouses , for instance, work well to grow year-round, but require a lot of capital or really good credit to build, and the farmers would rather not burn lots of fossil fuels if they can avoid it.

So what’s the solution? They grow hardier crops that can withstand cooler temperatures, and use low tunnels and high “caterpillar” style  tunnels to insulate the rows from the cold.

Low tunnels fit over individual rows of crops – pieces of PVC pipe are stuck onto 1.5 ft pieces of rebar to form hoops over the rows. Next, they string rope or twine down the center of the row, looping it around each hoop at the top to create the spine of the tunnel. They then cover the hoops with greenhouse fabric and weight the ends of the fabric on the ground.

This keeps the crops a full 5-6 degrees warmer at night, meaning that even if the temperature drops below freezing, the plants will be protected.

The farm’s larger “Caterpillar” tunnels use the same basic idea, but fit over multiple rows and use greenhouse plastic instead of fabric as a cover.

The plastic cover provides extra heat that would be too much for the smaller rows with our variable weather – one warm winter day and the crops could fry. The plastic on the caterpillar tunnels can also be rolled and clamped up to allow air in during the day to avoid overheating.

When it's really cold out, Will also sometimes put low-tunnels on the rows inside the Caterpillar tunnels for double protection from the cold. The hoops on these tunnels are composed of top rail and footer material they get from chain link fence supply companies like Dickerson’s Fencing Supply in Durham.

But this event wasn't just a tour -- CRAFT participants got to do some hands-on learning, too!

After testing out the co-op's pipe bender, they helped Will finish putting up the hoops and covering them with plastic for a new caterpillar tunnel on the farm!

Covering the Caterpillar tunnel. Teamwork! Photo by Shosha Capps

Thanks to all who have attended the CRAFT tours this fall! We have our final tour for the 2013 season November 10th at Raleigh City Farm from 2pm-6pm. The tour will focus on agriculture with an urban strategy, production emphasis, community mission, and restaurant support. Attendees will also have the chance to participate in building modified hugelkultur beds! Find out more and register here!

Growing Oyster Mushrooms alongside Vegetables: CRAFT United Piedmont Tour at Granite Springs Farm

On Sunday, Sept. 29th the Collaborative Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), United Piedmont met at Granite Springs Farm in Pittsboro to learn from farmer Meredith Leight about growing oyster mushrooms.

Granite Springs Farm started in 2010 and currently run a 40 member CSA and sell the vegetables, eggs, and mushrooms that they grow at the Pittsboro Farmers Market, Chatham Mills Farmers Market, and several local restaurants, including a UNC sorority.

Folks came from all over the greater triangle area for the tour and potluck event – from Pittsboro, Durham, Raleigh, Hillsborough, Silk Hope, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and some from as far away as Fayetteville! The crowd included new and beginning farmers, established farmers, farm interns, local restaurateurs, a horticultural therapist, and even folks looking to start their own farm-based non-profits or other growing businesses.  Some grew shiitake mushrooms, but wanted to learn about oyster mushroom. A few were interested in incorporating mushroom growing into their aquaponics operations.

Mushroom Beginnings

Granite Springs started growing oyster mushrooms with an $8000 grant from the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI)’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, which gives money to projects that are replicable by other farmers and focused in areas that have been adversely affected by the demise of the tobacco industry.  Granite Springs wanted to fit mushroom production into their existing vegetable operation. Their goal for the grant is to grow mushrooms in an already-existing farm building, making adjustments as needed to retrofit the space for mushrooms, and to stretch towards year-round production.

And indeed –that’s what the farm is doing. The mushrooms grow in cylindrical black plastic bags that hang from ceiling poles in their hoop house and greenhouse (Oyster mushrooms require an enclosed growing space due to pest problems – there’s a particular beetle that loves to chow down and infest them).



The farmers first learned about growing mushrooms from Tradd Cotter through a workshop at Mushroom Mountain. He’s also giving a pre-conference talk at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference this November if you’re interested in learning more from the experts first-hand!  Meredith also recommended the book Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Paul Stamets as a helpful resource.

She buys spawn from Mushroom Mountain as well – they clone wild spawn found growing locally that are well adapted to our climate. Part of the challenge in growing mushrooms is that each strain prefers different temperatures at different stages of development, but can generally tolerate from 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep the mushrooms cool enough in the summer, Granite Springs’ hoop houses have screens and sides that roll up to let in cooler air and they also regularly mist the growing mushrooms. .

In terms of light, mushrooms like 10-12 hours of exposure, so when the days get shorter they use florescent lights to substitute. Elongated stems and “funky” caps are usually signs of not enough light or of too much carbon dioxide.

Mushroom Production Processes

Mushrooms need a substrate material to grow on – and Granite Springs uses a mix of wheat straw, cotton seed hulls, and wheat bran. While oyster mushrooms are some of the easiest to grow and will grow on many waste-stream mediums, the carbon-nitrogen ratio in the substrate material is important.

The first step is to prep the substrate – shredding it small enough to pack very densely into the growing bags, and mixing the different materials together in the correct ratio. They first put the substrate into a welded basket – because then the substrate must be pasteurized to create as clean a slate as possible for the mushrooms to grow on.

Meredith explains the pasteurization process

Granite Springs pasteurizes their substrate in 55 gallon barrels filled 2/3 of the way full with water that has been heated to 170 degrees using propane tanks . They lower the substrate into the heated water, weigh the substrate down so it doesn’t float to the top, and then let it cook for two hours. The same water can be used for two batches but then needs to be replaced with fresh. .

But the process isn’t done yet – then they spread the substrate out on a sanitized tarp to let it cool and inoculate the substrate with the mushroom spawn by mixing it in with a rake before stuffing it into the big (5 to 6 feet tall) cylindrical plastic bags that the mushrooms will grow in.

Granite Springs is primarily a vegetable grower who is growing mushrooms to supplement their other crops. They usually dedicate 1 day a week to stuffing these bags and using this process they can stuff about 8 bags a day.

There are many ways to do this process, and Granite Springs is constantly tweaking it as they go. For example, other mushroom producers like Growing Power use lime to pasteurize the substrate instead of hot water.

For each batch of mushrooms they stuff in the grow bags, Meredith also creates a small, clear plastic “test bag” so that they can monitor how the mycelium is growing, whether it’s getting moldy, etc. Each bag is labeled with the type of mushroom, the date the bag was filled, and a batch letter.

Finally, they hang the bags and poke holes in them for the mushrooms to grow out of and to allow oxygen in. This process is best done in as sanitary an environment as possible – or in the environment they’ll be growing in – as the bags suck in air when the holes are punched.

The mycelium “run” throughout the bag until it is fully colonized, eating the substrate for nutrients. Then, when the bag is fully colonized, the mycelium realizes they need to replicate – or die! Good old evolutionary survival instincts at work. That’s when they begin fruiting – sending out super strong mushroom fruits through holes in the bags

Harvesting and Storage

The mushrooms need to be misted each day throughout the growing process to keep moist up until right before harvesting. If they are wet when they are harvested the mushrooms can turn to mush, so the timing of the misting schedule is very important

The mushrooms should be harvested before they start to drop their spores (you’ll be able to tell because they change shape). A warning: when mushrooms release their spores into the air, it can be harmful for those with asthma or other lung issues – so it’s important to set up careful air exchanges in growing spaces, as well.

Harvesting usually involves just pulling and twisting the mushroom lightly, but some are stronger than others: Meredith recounted a tale of a time when she pulled with all her might and couldn’t get the mushroom stem to break off!

After harvesting, the mushrooms should then ideally be stored at 35 degrees. Meredith uses a CoolBot, which overrides an AC system allowing it to maintain a cooler temperature (actually usually 39-40 degrees) without freezing over.

Granite Springs stores the mushrooms in labeled paper bags and will keep 4-5 days before sale – but fresh is best, which is why mushrooms are a great local product to sell to local restaurants! The quality will be much better than anything shipped in from the Northwest.  You can also store the mushrooms in cardboard boxes covered with film and with holes punched in them – they need to breathe and not gather moisture, so they don’t like wax boxes!

After harvest, the spent substrate can be composted!  The already once waste-stream material can become yet again useful in another cycle. Granite Springs will soon be borrowing the vermicomposter from Piedmont Biofarm and is determining the best ratio of green matter needed to compliment the straw material.

Marketing  Mushrooms

Why grow mushrooms? In addition to being super tasty, the economics are great for farmers. According to Meredith, it costs about $15 per column to grow, and each column yields about 10 lbs of mushrooms. Meredith then sells the mushrooms at $12/lb (blue oyster) and $16/lb (gold, pin, and phoenix oysters). She sells between 35 and 40 pints of mushroom per week.

At markets, she’ll bring a grill and offer samples for customers – and with one taste, they’re hooked. Then she’ll launch into the nutritional and health benefits of mushrooms. Did you know oyster mushrooms are colon and breast cancer tumor inhibitors? They’re also high in Vitamin C, are a great non-animal source of Vitamin D,  can lower cholesterol, and contain two times the amount of protein as an egg by weight. Oyster mushrooms are also amazing filters. They can break down toxins and clean up a multitude of petroleum spills through a process called mycoremediation.

Looking into the Future

Granite Springs Farm is also in the process of starting an intentional agrarian community on their land.  They’re holding open meetings every 3rd Monday of the month with a potluck and discussion topic if you’re interested in learning more!

They also hold many workshops and other events on the farm – check out their website or Facebook page to stay in the loop!

You can register now for the next CRAFT United Piedmont tour happening October 20th at Everlaughter Farm in Hillsborough. The special topic will be tool-sharing and fall/winter season extension!

Seed Saving and Season Extension: Farmers Share Ideas, Learn Together at Piedmont Biofarm

IFS_beet-hunger_d03September is Hunger Action Month. Check out one way we're BEETing HUNGER. The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) United Piedmont strengthens the local food system and local network of sustainable farmers -- a key component of a healthy, hunger-free future for our community!   On August 25th, over 30 beginning and established farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, farm interns, and farm-interested folks gathered at Piedmont Biofarm for CRAFT United Piedmont’s 3rd tour of the 2013 season. CRAFT United Piedmont is a farmer-to-farmer collaborative learning project where farmers and apprentices can learn from each other and build a stronger farming community.

At Piedmont Biofarm, Farmer Doug Jones and his production team grow a dazzling diversity of vegetables year-round, all while enriching soil fertility.  The farm is especially known for its wide array of peppers and sweet potatoes. Along with on-farm seed-saving techniques and growing cool-weather crops through the summer, the farm is committed to sustainable production through a variety of other projects.  The CRAFT-UP tour showcased the farm's cultivation of climate-specific varieties of vegetables by selective breeding. In recognition of his dedication to creative and responsible land use, Doug Jones was named 2009 Farmer of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.


Doug farmed for 27 years in northern New York state, and after moving to North Carolina, managed the student farm at Central Carolina Community College for 4 years. He decided to start Peidmont Biofarm to focus more on research and teaching.

Stomping on dried kale plants to save the seeds

He currently has about 150 breeding lines of peppers he’s working on, focusing on breeding varieties that have all the flavor of hot peppers like habaneros, but without the heat. That way, people can eat more of them, benefiting more from the nutrition packed inside these brightly colored veggies. He also works to breed peppers that have the flavors of heirloom varieties, but the more reliable performance of hybrids. A breeding line becomes a “variety” when the line has stabilized and is ready for sale to seed companies.

Doug hopes to encourage more local seed saving, as currently most of popular organic seed companies are located in the Northeast.

Season Extension and Growing Cooler Weather Crops during Summer

Starting cooler-weather crops during summer gives farmers the advantage of having fall veggies for sale earlier than others in the market, and the veggies only sweeten as they mature into the cooler weather. However, as Doug described, each cooler-weather crop has an “Achilles heel” in warm weather, and Piedmont Biofarm works to identify those weak spots and overcome them on a crop-by-crop basis.

One of the main challenges for starting cooler-weather crops in summer is the danger of the summer heat and sun drying the soil out. If the soil is too dry, crusting on the surface can also be an issue, making it difficult for plants to germinate and break through the surface. To combat this, Piedmont Biofarm waters every day when it’s hot. Water can help cool the soil, but must be applied with care, as too much water can be a problem as well, causing fungal growth and damping off.


IMG_4458At Piedmont Biofarm, they utilize natural shade and create additional with shade with fabric to help keep the soil cooler and moist to start cooler-weather crops like lettuce and cilantro during the summer. These plants can’t take more than an 85 degree soil temperature without going dormant and need cooler temps to germinate.

Another challenge for starting cooler weather crops during summer lies in the insect population of warmer weather. Mustard greens, for example, are fast germinating, but their Achilles heel is susceptibility to insect attacks. To remedy this, Doug uses insect-barrier grade row covers to keep flea beetles off.

Row covers can also act as insect control in more ways that one – not only can they act as barriers, keeping insects out, but the plastic row covers can “solarize” insect populations, killing larvae on plant and in soil with the heat generated beneath them. This practice of insect management keeps the pests from spreading to other areas of the farm, and it utilized after a row has been mostly harvested. Piedmont Biofarm often uses plastic row covers to solarize old bean crops.


IMG_4460Plastic row covers can protect fall crops later into the season, offering both frost protection and more heat during the day to encourage faster growth, but in our sometimes erratic North Carolina climate, on a warmer fall day, crops can fry beneath them without ventilation.

Doug is a self-proclaimed addict of the 10-day weather forecast and watches it closely to plan his planting and for when to cover or uncover crops. The hardiness of a plant can be softened by milder weather, but a mild shock can strengthen the plant’s defenses to subsequent frosts and low temperatures.

Shared Ideas, Shared Spaces

One of the great things about CRAFT is how groups like this can spark ideas for collaboration amongst local farmers – like a shared storage and/or curing facility to smaller farmers growing sweet potatoes in the region, one idea that was generated during the tour.

Sweet potatoes can’t take soil or storage below 50 degrees, and must be cured after harvest at around 85-90 degrees. They’re grown on much larger farms that concentrate on the crop in the eastern part of the state, but finding a good place to store and cure the tubers can be an issue for smaller scale, diversified growers.

Did you know sweet potato greens may help prevent prostate cancer? These plants are eaten primarily for the greens and vines in other cultures, rather than for the tuber, and Doug sells some of the greens he grows to a study that is tracking the effect of adding sweet potato greens to the diet of prostate cancer survivors.

More Research and Experimentation: Maximizing Genetics, Space, and Yield

Doug also likes to experiment with and utilize polycultures on his farm, especially during the winter to save space when growing under high and low tunnels. He plants quick maturing plants like radishes and turnips in between slow-maturing plants like senposai (an Asian collard green) that will need more space later to take advantage of the space and time.

He practices succession planting with crops like edamame that have shorter growing times, so the farm can have them available for harvest and sale for longer.

Currently, he is also experimenting with a type of corn from Peru to see if this later season variety that thrives with shorter days but produces large seeds and huge ears for dry corn can thrive here in North Carolina and be ready for harvest before the first frost.

One additional unique feature at Piedmont Biofarm is the presence of large solar panels.

Another experiment in double-cropping, Doug is exploring how solar panels can still be used on agricultural lands without taking it out of production. Carefully determining the shifting shadows and shade created by the panels, he plants underneath them accordingly, as one would utilize sun in cold weather and shade in hot weather. Proving solar panels can co-exist with agriculture could encourage more people to install them.

Want to see more of Piedmont Biofarm or learn more about his peppers or seed-saving operations? Check out the Pittsboro Pepper Festival on Oct. 6th, a tour of his farm as part of the CFSA Sustainable Agriculture conference in November, or seed-saving workshops through the Abundance Foundation.

Want to attend the next CRAFT United Piedmont Farm Tour and Potluck?  Learn about retrofitting a produce space for growing mushrooms, led by farmer Meredith Leight at Granite Springs Farm in Pittsboro. Learn more and register here.

You can help BEET HUNGER and support our agricultural training programs by donating today, or help sustain them year-round by becoming a monthly Ground-Level Giver! Or want to get your hands in the dirt, connect to where your food comes from, and help grow wholesome produce? Volunteer on our Teaching Farm!

CRAFT Group Learns Hydroponics at LL Urban Farms

Two local couples, Jim and Debbie Loy and Glen and Barb Lang, had never grown anything prior to Oct 29, 2012. But after a two-day hydroponics workshop and just a few months of work, they’re now producing 1000 heads of Bibb lettuce per week in a 1500 square foot greenhouse they built last summer.  The families’ joint venture, LL Urban Farms, hosted about 20 farmers, gardeners, educators, restaurant managers, gardening store workers, and other farm-curious folks on Sunday, July 21st, to learn about hydroponics, as part of Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s idea exchange program, the CRAFT United Piedmont (CRAFT = Collaborative Alliance for Farmer Training). IMG_4371In addition to Bibb lettuce, LL Urban Farms also grows grafted heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants through an outdoor hydroponic system, and sells  locally grown vegetables (both organic and conventional), fruits, cheese, seafood, and other farmers market staples at their farm stand on Holly Springs Road. LL Urban Farms grows their produce without any pesticides or herbicides. Oh, and they expect the farm could profit $100,000 off of an acre a year, combining retail and wholesale profits!

LL Urban Farms is in a prime location – technically outside of Raleigh city limits, but still in an urban environment and located on busy Holly Springs Road, right across the street from Fairview Nursery – bringing in plenty of traffic and customers to their farm stand, which is open Wed-Fri 11-6 and 11-5 on the weekends. The county vs. city zoning also allows them more flexibility with their farm stand and signage.

 What is hydroponics?

IMG_4359Hydroponics is a technique of growing plants without soil, using a liquid nutrient solution that reaches the plant roots generally by either flowing through an inert substrate in which the plant is placed (often some sort of sand or gravel mix) or by being pumped through tubes that hold plant roots. LL Urban Farms starts the seedlings in a system of pipes that circulate water, with a rock wool cube immersed in the water. LL Urban Farms grows tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers outdoors in “bato buckets” (which have a special notch at the bottom to fit over a drain pipe), filled with a mixture of  perlite, vermiculite, and gravel, designed to hook up to a pipe that cycles the water from the pump and then back to the well – a 300 a gallon tank at LL Urban Farms.

The perlite keeps the material aerated, and the vermiculite lets the water filter through the buckets so the plants can absorb the water and nutrients. The gravel in these buckets help prevent algae growth. The water contains a 1% solution of salt fertilizer, and the buckets are “flushed” each night with a rinse of pure water to prevent build-up in the buckets. Some other hydroponic growers in the area use fish emulsion instead, which is organic but requires more guesswork to suit each plant’s needs.

The tomatoes they grow are heirloom varieties – including German Johnson, Cherokee Purple, and Brandywines – known for their flavors – but these are grafted onto more disease-resistance and higher yielding Multifort root stock.

Butterhead Living Lettuce grows inside their 1500 sq. ft. greenhouse, where a computer system measures the pH and fertilizer level in the water as well as the electroconductivity.

In his prior career, Glen Lang served at the Mayor of Cary, but also spent many years in the technology field. He loves the math involved in farming systems, and loves the efficiency and precision of the $3000 computer system they use.The farmers could adjust the pH and electro-conductivity by hand, but it would require 6-8 checks/day, so the farm invested in the computer system. A swimming pool pump re-circulates the water running through the pipes using a nutrient film technique, providing a continuous flow of nutrients for the plants.

Why grow hydroponically?

  • Although it may sound water-intensive at first mention, growing lettuce with hydroponics actually uses just 10% of the water it would to grow that lettuce in the field, where much of it drains into the ground or evaporates. In the hydroponic system, most of the water re-circulates.
  • Growing without soil also helps avoid many diseases that are soil-based.
  • Glen says produce like lettuce is easy to grow with hydroponics – and produces a much higher yield than when it is grown as a field crop.
  • Growing in greenhouses provides a controlled environment, eliminating many weather concerns, and making it easier to grow without pesticides or herbicides.
  • As an added bonus, because the plants are grown on raised tables in rows of pipes, there’s no bending down to reach them, and because they’re not grown in soil, there’s no weeding!

Who does LL Urban Farms sell to?

They sell to individuals in the community at their farm stand, area restaurants including Maru,  Battistella, and Fiction Kitchen, as well as Harris teeter, Whole Foods Cary, and the mobile farmers market LoMo Market. They sell to and for Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) – creating a market for their organic produce at the farm stand along with fish from Locals Seafood, and beef, chicken, and pork from Queen B Farms in Mebane and Rainbow Meadow Farms in Green County, NC. It’s all about getting more produce dollars directly into local farmers’ hands. They also grow lettuce year-round by using a chiller on the water during the hot summer months. This allows them to meet market demand and sell to places like Whole Foods with a need for steadier supply of specific produce. The farm also has 3 bee hives both for the honey and the pollination benefits.


  • Crop King, where Glenn Lang and Jim Loy took a two-day hydroponics workshop:

134 West Drive, Lodi, Ohio 44254 USA

Phone: (330) 302-4203

  • AM Hydro, where they purchased the greenhouse equipment:

General Information on hydroponics and grafting tomatoes:


Next Up:

Join us for the CRAFT-United Piedmont Event on August 25th from 3-7pm at Piedmont Biofarm in Pittsboro. The special topic will be On-Farm Seed-Saving and Growing Cooler-Weather Plants During Summer led by farmer Doug Jones. Find more event info and register here:

Weekend Workshops: Grow Your Own

Join us for two upcoming agricultural workshops this weekend!

  • On Saturday, July 20th from 9:30-11:30 at our Hoke Street Training Center, learn to grow microgreens with IFFS Urban Ag Educator Maurice Small and the IFFS Urban Ag team! You've heard of baby spinach - microgreens are even younger, harvested at less than two weeks old. At this young stage, the greens pack up to 4-6 times more nutrients than mature greens. During this fun and educational morning, you'll learn how grow, prepare, and enjoy these nutritious greens!
  • On Sunday, July 21st,  join us for C.R.A.F.T. United Piedmont's second farm tour and potluck of the 2013 season,  3-7pm at LL Urban Farms in Raleigh.  The special topic will be Indoor and Outdoor Hydroponics.

Click here to learn more and sign up. For an idea of what to expect, check out this blog post from the June tour, held at Dancing Pines Farm in Efland. Every tour is as unique as the farm that hosts it, but you can expect an informal, behind-the-scenes, collaborative learning experience that is driven by the questions and interests of participants, rather than by a pre-determined curriculum. All experience levels welcome. Come ready to learn and share!

The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) is an international model of regionally-organized farmer training rooted in the belief that farmers learn best from each other. Through CRAFT United Piedmont, local farmers 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.

CRAFT membership and all events are free through 2013. Please RSVP to each event.

IFFS's CRAFT: Bringing Farmers Together to Learn and Grow

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.

 Bill showed the group how the sides can be rolled up or down to allow ventilation or to keep the heat inside.


Dancing Pines tomatoes CRAFT

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!

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!