HOPE Garden: Where homeless and neighbors grow together

David Baron — a UNC-Chapel Hill undergrad studying biology, ecology and social entrepreneurship – understands the importance of fresh whole food for human and environmental health. But it bothers him that not everyone has access to locally raised fruits and vegetables.

So last year he founded HOPE Garden, combining community garden plots with a small-scale urban farm and job training program for homeless people.

The project, part of UNC’s Campus Y Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication (HOPE) project, will rent about 25 individual, 4×8-foot raised-bed plots to local residents for $100 annually. At the same time, the garden will provide transitional employment, skill-building, income and food for homeless people tending common space in nine adjacent 60-foot beds.

“We combined an urban farm with a community garden to bring the community in to help socialize the homeless and give them a support network,” Baron said. He explained that he and project volunteers would work with homeless individuals they know are ready for employment training.

The 5,000-plus square-foot garden is enclosed by deer fencing on publicly owned land at 2200 Homestead Road. Farmers have access to free public transportation via Chapel Hill Transit. The homeless gardeners will be able to sell produce at the local farmer’s markets and donate the rest of their harvest to a local homeless shelter and kitchen.

Baron received a $10,000 grant for the garden from philanthropist Kathryn Davis (Projects for Peace). He’s taking time off from his undergraduate studies this fall to develop the gardens with volunteers, including students from UNC and local public schools as well as homeless people. They have been working together to grow collards, kale, lettuce and turnip greens.

Saturday a group of volunteers showed up to plant mulberry trees and blueberry bushes, with guidance from expert garden installers and educators associated with Bountiful Backyards.

Last summer, Baron had an internship with Growing Power, run by urban farming guru and McArthur “Genius” Fellow Will Allen. Baron trained at Allen’s famous Milwaukee farm, helped run the project’s other farm in downtown Chicago and sold produce at local farmer’s markets there. Before that he apprenticed on a farm in Tanzania.

UNC’s APPLES Service Learning program is giving students academic credit for participating in HOPE Garden. Other partners are the Town of Chapel Hill, N.C. State University, Active Living by Design program , the NC Botanical Gardens, and several local nurseries and garden businesses.

Anyone interested in particpating in HOPE Garden can reach Baron at baronsdavid@gmail.com

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