University City

Garden guru returns to farming

David Goforth, right, leading sweet potato planting at Lomax Farm Incubator. Also shown, local farmer Joe Rowland.
David Goforth, right, leading sweet potato planting at Lomax Farm Incubator. Also shown, local farmer Joe Rowland. DON BOEKELHEIDE

David Goforth, Cabarrus County’s longtime horticulture extension agent, is stepping down from his job next month, following almost three decades of service. He leaves a bumper crop of accomplishments, including the establishment of an outstanding Master Gardener Volunteer program, increased support for countywide local food production, and a wealth of articles about local gardening and farming, in print and online.

A gifted teacher and writer, Goforth is honest, insightful and humorous. A farmer himself, growing vegetables, peaches and other crops in a rural corner of Cabarrus County, he is an expert on the hot topic of local foods.

Goforth has a number of suggestions for Charlotte-area gardeners:

▪  Never “top” trees.

“I’ve seen horror stories on that,” he says. “Any time you cut back large-diameter limbs of 5 to 6 inches, you can kill the tree. People think it is the right thing to do, but it isn’t.”

▪ Plant the right plant in the right place.

▪  Manage your soil by soil testing, adjusting pH, adding nutrients according to the soil test, adding organic matter and proper tillage.

▪  Plant the landscape so it shelters and feeds both wildlife and humans.

On manicured lawns, Goforth takes a balanced approach: “People get all torqued around the axle about lawns. I start with a question: ‘Why do you want a lawn?’ You can do a lot with a lawn that isn’t a monoculture. If you allow your lawn to include some henbit and dead nettle, or violets – violets are beautiful – it can encourage pollinators and help the environment.”

Goforth has created online classes, blogged at his “Gardening Guru Goforth” site, and written and edited for online publications, including Extension Gardener ( Goforth has also written grants, bringing Cabarrus County hundreds of thousands of dollars for local food projects.

These grants helped fund two of his proudest accomplishments: improving and expanding the Piedmont Farmers Markets and helping to establish the Lomax training program for new farmers.

“Urban farms and local foods have a role to play in any intelligent design of a food system,” Goforth said. “Right now, we get about 2-3 percent of our food from local sources. Bringing that up to 10 percent seems like a good goal and could improve the North Carolina economy by billions of dollars.”

At the same time, he cautioned, “Farmers earn about $10 an hour, and can’t do that yearround. Make sure you can tolerate that income level and have a passion for farming before you invest in becoming a farmer.”

Goforth’s master gardener training is so popular that people have been known to jump the county line to join Cabarrus County’s program. He counts creating his Master Gardener group as another of his top accomplishments. Goforth’s secret?

“I’m not sure.” he said. “My program died on the vine a couple of times over the years, and I had to start again. I learned from experience. A successful program depends on good volunteers. I recruited some excellent people, some with established friendships from working together at places like Phillip Morris.”

In addition to Master Gardeners and his work with local foods, Goforth is proudest of the Old Campground restoration project, where more than 250 volunteers under his direction cleaned up and mapped the historic cemetery.

Goforth plans to take time for his own farm and a long-deferred vacation after his retirement.

Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer. Have a story for Don? Email him at

Want to go?

Cabarrus Master Gardener Association president Scott Maxwell said his group will honor David Goforth on June 6 at Troutman’s Barbecue in Concord. For information, visit