This week we spoke to Alexandria Stone (Ali) who is the programs manager of Root Cause Farm in Fairview, NC. She their farm manager, Janice, answered some helpful questions for us below.
What is the name of your garden/organization and where are you located?
Root Cause Farm - Fairview, NC Buncombe County
Mission - Growing community solutions to hunger
Vision - We envision a just, equitable, resilient food system where all types of hunger are nourished
Can you tell us about the history / formation of your garden?
In 2008, a group of folks in the Fairview community noticed that the Fairview Food Pantry had a gap in availability of fresh produce. This is common for food pantries who often rely on donations from big box stores. This group of folks wanted to change that, so they began to brainstorm ways to provide fresh produce to this community. In 2009, this project began on a ½ acre of borrowed land growing fresh, organically grown produce for donation to food pantries, community lunches, share markets and job training and wellness programs that reach marginalized communities throughout the Asheville area. We now grow an average of 10 tons of organic produce on one acre each year for various community partners and focus our attention on being a community solution to hunger. Originally, the farm started as The Lord’s Acre, which paid homage to an initiative in this region in the 1930’s where farmers and gardeners shared up to one acre of what they grew with their local church, which then distributed it to those experiencing food insecurity. We held this name for 10 years, until 2019, when our board and staff realized our name should reflect our values of ensuring all folks feel safe, welcomed, and emboldened to radical honesty and resilient community building.
Tell us what a typical week looks like – what do you do? What do your members do?
We train a range of interns throughout the season in growing food and becoming food system leaders. Our weekly rhythm includes the typical food growing tasks (planting, prepping, weeding, watering, harvesting, management) as well as participation in the Food for Fairview market and our Share-Market. We typically host service groups throughout the year that are a very important volunteer support to our work.
Say someone wanted to start a new community garden. What is your advice on how they might begin?
We have a book to help guide people on this very topic! We recommend purchasing a pdf on our website that will mentor you in the process of starting a new community garden. We also offer tour guides and consultations with a sliding scale donation to our work. Some basic tips include to make sure you have at least 7 hours of full-sun, that you are near a water source, that you have some flat areas or a plan to work with the slope of the land, that you have accessed the how, what, and why including community need and interest, and that you have plenty of people who are interested and invested in seeing this project through.
We know available land for community gardens can be scarce, do you have suggestions for how interested folks can get matched up with available land?
One idea is linking up with anyone in your network who has land and wouldn’t mind sharing it or hosting a garden on their land. Bountiful Cities would be a great resource for folks searching for land or community garden collaboration within Buncombe Co and Asheville City Limits. Churches, colleges, schools, and prisons can also be a great resource for land use and collaboration.
What land is available may have pollutants in the soil left from past uses that haven’t been cleaned up – What do you think the best solution is for sites that have contaminated soil?
Raised beds are an excellent alternative to planting in ground. Though it is a bit more expensive, it’s a way to bring in uncontaminated soil and garden above ground. Avoiding root crops is suggested also. Otherwise, it is good to try to remediate the soil the best you can by using plants that bioaccumulate toxins and work to nourish and remediate the soil. These plants perform a function called phytoremediation and include sunflowers, mustards, and sorghum. Mushrooms also act as metal scavengers to decontaminate the soil.
Do you garden? What do you like to grow?
I garden as my job and I garden at home. I love to grow cabbages because I love to see the way they tighten up and wrap their beautiful leaves week by week. I also love growing peppers because they are fairly easy, produce all season, and are delicious! Lastly, I love growing herbs because I love cooking and walking out on my back porch and cutting some herbs for dinner is something special. - Janice, Farm Manager
(if yes) How and when did you become interested in growing plants?
I became interested in growing plants in college, when I began learning more about farming and where food comes from. I started showing up at our college garden to help where I could and then took a class called “Sustainable Agriculture.” I fell in love with growing in this magical bamboo encircled student garden. - Janice, Farm Manager
How does acting as the Garden Coordinator compliment (or not) your day job?
As the farm manager/garden coordinator I also assistant manage the West Asheville Tailgate Market, which has been a wonderful opportunity in connecting with other growers and asking them how they are managing certain crops, pests, and diseases. - Janice, Farm Manager
Do you have a favorite garden that you recommend for folks to visit who are interested in community gardens?
There are various types and styles of community gardens in WNC, many of which are a part of the WNC Gardens that Give Network - a group of folks growing food for donation. Depending on what you are looking for or are interested in, depends which garden we would recommend. Our community garden is a collective plot without individual plots like a typical community garden, which is similar to Dig In! Yancey Co. The Dr. John Wilson Community Garden in Black Mountain is a hybrid of our model and a traditional community garden, growing food for donation and supporting individual growers in their individual plots. Others we recommend are the Sand Hill Community Garden, the Burton St. Peace Garden, the Elder and Sage Community Garden, and the Feed Asheville West garden project.
If folks are interested in supporting your gardens, what are your needs and how can they help?
We can always use the helping hands of garden volunteers. During our growing season (April - October) we have opportunities for individuals to join us on Wednesday evenings and Thursday and Friday mornings. If people would like to volunteer or get connected with us, they can email email@example.com . We also always welcome donations through our website. Because we are a smaller and intentional growing operation our funding comes primarily from individuals who believe in our work.