It was a cool, January day when Nate Cerbelli walked by the patch of land just north of 12th Street in Uptown. “I’d just had lunch with a friend, who was telling me about [the locally-grown food movement],” says Cerbelli, 59, of that afternoon this past winter. “I walked past the homeless shelter and saw three lots for sale.” That’s when it hit him: Create an urban farm that provides produce to the community but, more importantly, provides jobs for the homeless. “We’re trying to give people an opportunity to pursue whatever they were doing before they became homeless,” says Cerbelli, who founded North End Opportunity Farm, which sells its harvests to Jim Noble’s King’s Kitchen, Atherton Farmer’s Market, and the Hilton Charlotte. Cerbelli is one of a few around Charlotte utilizing urban farming—an area of land in an urban setting that would not typically be dedicated to producing food—as a means of helping the community. Winthrop University graduate Lindsay LaPlante founded the Charlotte Urban Farm Project in 2011, which provides employment for area refugees, many of whom arrive with agricultural skills. The goal in the end: find paying work as farmers. While for Robin Emmons, it was seeing food deserts—areas of a city with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet—throughout urban neighborhoods in Charlotte that prompted her to establish Sow Much Good.
Emmons’ nonprofit began simply: the avid gardener added an extra bed or two in her backyard to grow fresh, organic produce, which she donated. From there, Sow Much Good grew into the 150-plus volunteer organization it is today. “I really thought about the injustice of [not having access to fresh fruit and vegetables],” says Emmons. “Food is a basic, human right. It shouldn’t be a commodity-based system where those who have the most money can access the best parts of the food chain.” Sow Much Good, which has since grown to 9-plus acres throughout Charlotte, uses pop-up tents to sell its harvests in urban neighborhoods while nearly 3.5 acres at the corner of Peachtree and Sunset roads is about to become a permanent farmer’s market. The future of urban farming is clearly booming, but Nate Cerbelli hopes there’s an end in sight. “We’ll keep running [our farm] until we run out of land,” he says, “or homeless people.”