Urban farm aims to provide economical boost for east Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A nearly seven acre tract in east Charlotte has seen better days.  The buildings have become dilapidated.  The tennis courts overrun with weeds.

But WBTV has learned it is about to see better days again. "Well, my big, big vision is this is the first step of really building a food system that feeds Charlotte," Zack Wyatt, who is the executive director of the Carolina Farm Trust, said.

Carolina Farm Trust works to preserve and promote farmland.

The organization is partnering with Aldersgate, the east Charlotte retirement community, and together they are building an urban farm in the Windsor Park neighborhood of east Charlotte.

"So an urban farm is very different than a community garden.  That's what many people think it is.  An urban farm has to be an actual working farm with a farm manager,  Erin Barber, of Aldersgate, said.

Barber came up with the urban farm idea after seeing how successful they were elsewhere.

"I'm from Charlotte and I didn't know east Charlotte was in a food dessert," Barber said. "People didn't have access to produce. They didn't have access to grocery stores easily and I thought can Aldersgate be someone that can resolve that for us.  And an urban farm solves that."

The farm will be in the Windsor Park community, adjacent to Aldersgate's 231-acre campus.

There will be no livestock. Initially, the farm will grow basic crops to be sold locally. If all goes as planned, crops at the Urban Farm at Aldersgate will start coming in this fall.

Aldersgate is the area's largest employer and is heavily invested in revitalizing east Charlotte.

"We think this kind of project can be a real game changer. I see a vibrant east Charlotte," CEO Suzanne Pugh said.  "Requires partnerships, you know it requires commitment, you know beyond Aldersgate.  It requires commitment at the city level and at the county level and at the community level, at that grass roots level."

Beyond growing crops, the hope is the farm will become a community hub and will draw people from all socio and economic levels.

It will also be a learning lab and will partner with area schools and businesses. The farm will have kitchens and will provide cooking classes and more for the community.

Wyatt says that's key to making the farm work. "The community engagement part of this is very important," he said. "As much as this is going to be a production farm, the symbolism of it is almost more important because there's going to be a lot of social capital that we can build here."

Charlotte City Council member Dimple Ajmera lives in east Charlotte and says it's a "win-win" for everyone. "It's a win for our community, for urban farm. It's a win for Aldersgate.  It's a win for our city," Ajmera said.

To kick off the urban farm project, Carolina Farm Trust is hosting "A Night at the Museum" dinner at the Charlotte Museum of History on June 7. You can find out more details here.

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