Our History

2009

  • Laurel Varnado & Laura Fieselman meet at year-long Environmental Leadership Program 
  • Erin Bergstrom’s passion for social justice and a decentralized food system grows
  • Josh Whiton starts small community garden, inspired in part by his family’s struggles with diabetes

2010

  • February – Four co-founders meet regularly over Sunday brunch to define vision.  Driving home from a leadership retreat, Laurel & Laura decide to assemble an energetic team
  • May – First official Board of Directors meeting
  • Fall – RCF meets Hobby Properties, with the help of The Triangle Land Conservancy

2011

  • February – RCF files Articles of Incorporation with the state
  • March – IRS approves application for Employee Identification Number
  • Spring – RCF hosts information meetings with Mordecai & Oakwood neighbors
  • October – City Council officially passes rezoning request to allow agriculture on site
  • November – First food truck roundup; RCF partners with The Abundance Foundation as a fiscal sponsor

2012

  • January – RCF signs lease with Hobby Properties; Hope Elementary hosts RCF community charrette
  • February – Blue Lotus Yoga holds successful fundraising event; Community members sprout seeds in their homes; Josh Whiton is appointed CEO; Kristine Ashwood is appointed Project Manager
  • Spring – Community joins in filming, strategy sessions, and spreads the word for Kickstarter; Community helps with site cleanup, dirt delivery, first plantings; Ryan Finch volunteers as a volunteer coordinator and Lisa Sluder volunteers as as a lead gardner
  • Summer – A dedicated group of volunteers meet regularly and implement farm work and fundraising; Christopher Rumbley is recruited to join the board of directors; co-founders Laura, Erin, and Jonathan end their term of service.
  • Fall – Rob Jones is recruited to join the board of directors as co-founder Laurel ends her term of service.  Co-founder, Josh Whiton remains to provide continuity of co-founder vision.
  • November – Dan Gridley oversaw planting of barley on the site, which would go on to become one of Raleigh’s most locally brewed beers ever.
  • Winter – Board works with Hobby Properties and City of Raleigh stormwater department to cost-share on a rainwater harvesting system; Board of Directors hires first part-time general manager, Ryan Finch; Board of Directors and GM contract first RCF Farmer, Lisa Sluder.

2013

  • January – Vertical Garden Trellis installed, funded by community volunteer Elvin Birth
  • March: 501c3 approved, account and fiscal sponsorship with Abundance Foundation is closed out.
  • Spring – Phase 1 of rainwater harvesting systems are installed, along with electrical panel and shed.
  • Summer – Board begins exploring a social enterprise model emphasizing support of member new farm entrepreneurs; Christopher Rumbley hired as first CEO; 1st Fruit Tree Fundraiser
  • Wine & Weeds is founded and becomes the foundation for a communications/event/fundraising committee
  • Fall – Capital Club 16 host the first Farm Dinner at RCF; RCF recruits Farm Entrepreneur partners for 2014; Chris Rumbley meets Chase Werner and discusses farm enterprise incubation at Raleigh City Farm.
  • Winter – 1st farm entrepreneur partner Keith Chestnut, sells Christmas Trees and with a % of sales going to RCF for co-marketing; RCF seeks variance from board of adjustment to implement greenhouse construction

2014

  • January – Farmery moves onsite, providing a location for offseason operations and farmstand sales.
  • February – Farm entrepreneur membership and Food Hub model take root. RCF co-markets Understory Farms’ mushrooms, Sean Barker and Endless Sun Produce sign agreements to become onsite farm entrepreneur members.
  • Lisa Barrie, Lisa Finaldi and Kevin Brice are recruited to join the Board of Directors.
  • Spring – Rain Gardens developed (in collaboration with Naked Fruits & Dragon Fly Pondworks). Endless Sun Produce breaks ground on Hydroponic Greenhouse.
  • Pollinator Habitat developed (funded by Burts Bees, in collaboration with Naked Fruits and Greenscape).
  • RCF organizes and hosts a Farmers’ Market at City Market
  • Strategic planning with Trish Healy results in new mission focusing on farm entrepreneurs
  • Summer –  Farmery Moves offsite and GM (Ryan Finch) makes a career move
  • Summer/Fall: Farmstage / Wash station is built (ready for Farm Aid & Farm Dinner)
  • September – Farm Aid hosts its first public event at Raleigh City Farm, a ‘Hoedown’. (with funding from Jandy Ammons and canopy contribution from Sean Barker).
  • October – Scott Crawford is the chef for Annual Harvest Dinner
  • Winter – 1st shed moved and 2nd shed built

2015

  • Maintained a high production Urban Farm with Saturday Farm Stand, thereby helping to increase availability of fresh, sustainable, local produce here in Raleigh along with a connection to its producers.
  • Operated a successful Food Hub by consistently co-marketing the products of our member farm entrepreneurs while adding value, increasing demand and garnering competitive price points.
  • Provided close to 60 {Farmshare} CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members with the freshest, locally sourced produce, encouraging them to eat seasonally & sponsoring recipe demos at pick-ups.
  • Celebrated our 3rd bEARTHday with all our nearest and dearest, offering workshops throughout the day, farm tours & an evening celebration complete with music, local food & local beer.
  • Executed two very successful Farm Dinners (one in the spring at Old Miburnie Farm & the other in the fall at Raleigh City Farm). A truly one-of-a-kind experience for our supporters.
  • Awarded three new farm entrepreneurs with Growth Fund Grants for their capital improvement projects at our Farmstock event, featuring local music acts, comedy skits, local gumbo & local beer.
  • Engaged Volunteers in weekly Wine+Weeds on Wednesdays events as well as periodic workshops.
  • Hired a part-time General Manager & continued to strengthen Partnerships with community partners: Eschelon Experiences, Logan Trading Company, New Belgium & Piedmont Picnic Project to name a few.

2016

  • Launched a new mobile responsively designed website.
  • Hosted two very successful fundraising events, Bearthday & Harvest Dinner, which netted a combined total of $37,000!
  • Continued meaningful partnerships with some fabulous community-focused collaborators, foundations & corporate sponsors, like Piedmont Picnic Project, Compost Now, Greenscape, Oakwood Garden Club, Logan’s One Stop Garden Shop, and more.
  • Strategically built out our Board of Directors to meet the demands of a growing nonprofit.
  • Revised agreements with three on-site farm entrepreneurs who are invested and committed to advancing sustainable agriculture practices here in Raleigh while supplying local (responsibly-grown) produce to both chefs/restaurants and community members.
  • Activated the community space with the help of our program partners, Piedmont Picnic Project & Yoga Instructor Katie Breen, to provide expansive learning and growth opportunities for our Raleigh community.
  • Hosted more than 30 guided farm tours and volunteer work days which engaged well over 500 volunteers and community members.
  • Began the process of strategic planning  with Executive Service Corps of the Triangle (ESC).

Founding Faces

LauraF

Laura Fieselman

JoshW

Josh Whiton

Laurel V

Laurel Varnado Passera

Jonathan M

Jonathan Morgan

Erin B

Erin Bergstrom

ORIGIN STORY

“Vision: Place where anyone can come learn about farming.” That’s what Laura Fieselman scribbled in a notebook on a January 2010 afternoon in the car as she and Laurel Varnado Passera journeyed across the southern Appalachian mountains. “Events; community space; kids;” she wrote as they talked, “fit with Raleigh’s sustainability plan.” The two Raleigh residents were en route home after a weekend together in Tennessee.

The Environmental Leadership Program had brought Fieselman and Passera together for the retreat in Tennessee and they’d spent the time deepening their thinking about leadership. Fired up by the trainer’s definition of a leader as “anyone who convenes new conversations that matter,” Fieselman and Passera pulled three additional friends into their conversations about urban farming: Josh Whiton, founder of transit location software company TransLoc; Erin Bergstrom, social justice advocate working with Passage Home at the time; and Jonathan Morgan, a builder and philosopher. Fieselman was managing Meredith College’s sustainability program and Passera working on renewable energy issues at NC State University. With these professional backgrounds, the five Raleigh residents were poised to found Raleigh City Farm.

The co-founders spent nearly a year, and filled several additional notebooks with scribbles, hammering out the vision and shape for Raleigh City Farm. Over Sunday brunches they talked rooftop, raised bed, and vertical farming; explored for-profit and non-profit models; weighed farm management options; and researched educational and incubator farms across the country. The vision for the project coalesced around a downtown project that maximized underutilized land and operated as a social enterprise. The co-founders envisioned a productive farm of vegetables, fruit trees, and berry bushes that challenged the imagination on what is possible in the city.

With Fieselman at the helm as the first president, Raleigh City Farm incorporated as a 501c3 non-for- profit corporation. Working with a team of advocates, the details began to come together. In collaboration with John Holmes and Hobby Properties, the farm found a home on 1.3 acres at the corner of Blount and Franklin Streets in the Person Street Business District. Neighbor and lawyer Andrew Petesch, together with the City of Raleigh, helped rezone the acreage to support an urban farm. Designers Erin Sterling Lewis and Erin White helped with layout of the space. Graphic designer Brandi Gull envisioned the logo and Catherine Fieselman developed the tagline “dig where you live.” Neighbors and community members became powerful advocates for the project with contributions in many forms, from homemade ice cream parties (thank you, Duane Beck!) to fundraising and organizational support (thank you, Kristine Ashwood, Lisa Finaldi, and Lisa Grele Barrie!) to starting seeds and amending soil (thank you, Lisa Sluder and Ariel Greenwood!).

Many of these same people stood ready with shovels when it came time to dig Raleigh City Farm’s first rows in March 2012. With $25,000 in hand from initial donations, and a transition to Whiton as the farm’s president/CEO with Ryan Finch corralling the day-to- day operations, Raleigh City Farm broke ground. And the project has been exploring community space and social enterprise, serving people, and learning about farming ever since!