University City

Food meets community on garden, farm tours in Charlotte region

Whether you prefer to grow your own or have the farmer grow it for you, two upcoming self-guided tours offer a fun, up-close look at the fast-growing local foods movement in the Charlotte region.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 3, community gardens and a new urban farming project will be featured in the fourth annual Can You Dig It community garden tour.

The tour is self-guided, and sites are close enough that you can take the whole tour by bicycle. It’s organized and sponsored by the Mecklenburg County Fruit and Vegetable Coalition, a project of the county’s Health Department.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 17-18, the Know Your Farms annual Spring Farm Tour rambles a bit farther afield. It will feature 15 farms near Charlotte, including several in the Concord and Harrisburg areas near UNC Charlotte. The farm tour is sponsored by Know Your Farms, an organization working to support local food production.

The community garden tour May 3 will visit the Oakhurst Community Garden, 8th Street Community Garden, Little Sugar Creek Community Garden and Garinger High School’s new Urban Farm.

No two community gardens are alike, and each stop on the tour has a different story to tell. Each stop on the community garden tour is scheduling a specific period of about 45 minutes for guided tours and demonstrations.

Oakhurst Community Garden, off Monroe Road behind Oakdale Elementary School, began as a community-initiated project and has been revived and expanded recently with help from the coalition. It serves as a community gathering spot as well as a place to grow healthy food.

The 8th Street Community Garden, near Trinity Episcopal School uptown, is a cooperative project of the school and St. Stephens Episcopal Church. Long noted for its openness to garden trends such as permaculture, the garden is now exploring soil mineral balancing to grow “nutrient dense” food.

The Little Sugar Creek Community Garden is hosted on Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation property along the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, between the NoDa neighborhood and uptown just off Davidson Street. Mecklenburg County’s Recycling and Home Composting Program has played an active role in the garden since it began a decade ago, and the site has been used for educational events and demonstrations.

The Garinger High School Urban Farm, the final stop on the tour, is a nonprofit school garden and urban farm that hopes to engage volunteers and students in gardening education and growing food for people in need.

Also participating in the Garinger project is 100 Gardens, a Charlotte-based nonprofit specializing in aquaculture, a food production system that integrates fish production with growing crops.

The story of the Garinger program reflects changing public attitudes toward local food security and the importance of urban agriculture. In the 1990s, Garinger’s popular horticulture program was drastically reduced, and the school’s orchard of mature fruit trees was cut to the ground under orders from a zealous administrator seeking to “modernize” the school.

Over the past several years, however, the school’s abandoned greenhouse has been restored through volunteer efforts, and the Urban Farm is now bringing horticulture and agriculture back to students and the community.

The community garden tour will conclude with a Garden Gathering at Garinger High noon-1 p.m., hosted by the Mecklenburg County Health Department. Food will be available, and tour participants are encouraged to bring picnics, chairs and blankets. A green teacher training event will follow in the afternoon.

The Farm Tour on May 17-18 will offer insights into another facet of Charlotte’s food system: the local family farmers who grow for markets and restaurants.

The 15 farms on the tour are scattered throughout the region, from south of Waxhaw to north of Mooresville. They include everything from alpaca herds to an “incubator” program to help new organic farmers get started.

Besides being able to visit the farms and see first-hand how food is grown, tour participants can enjoy activities including hayrides, petting zoos and cooking demonstrations.

Partners for the farm tour are the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Piedmont Grown and the 10% Campaign.