In late 2011, educators and community members in Durham, N.C., began brainstorming about how to best put 30 acres of unused Durham Public School System land to work. Sandwiched between Eno Valley Elementary School and Carrington Middle School on the city’s north side, it didn’t seem like another school campus was the best use of space. Instead, with much planning and research, Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm launched in October 2012.
Today, the Hub Farm is an outdoor studio and lab for teachers and students where academic and health-oriented initiatives are tested and modeled. These include food that’s grown and shared through DPS’s Seed-to-Belly curriculum, various academic concepts taught in an applied setting, career-opportunity modeling and a lot more. To keep the Hub Farm running, there are currently two part-time farmers, a part-time project manager and a full-time Americorps service member on staff, plus the input, effort and guidance of many teachers, administrators and community members.
While it’s not uncommon for schools to have small garden programs, a school system with a 30-acre suburban farm is something different. UrbanFarmOnline.com visited the Hub Farm to learn about how their operation works.
How did the Hub Farm begin?
Katherine Gill, Project Manager: The Hub Farm started as a seed from a few key people. Heidi Carter, president of the Board of Education, has long advocated for health initiatives within the school system and visited the Great Kids Farm in Baltimore. She was inspired to see something like the Great Kids Farm happen within the Durham Public School System. Meanwhile, a PTA president, Sheldon Lennon, approached the school system about ideas of what could be done with the 30 acres of land behind Eno Valley Elementary School. Rick Sheldahl, the director of DPS Career and Technical Education was asked, too, and he immediately saw potential for using the site. A core group of people who had all expressed interest in healthy-food and healthy-student initiatives was formed.
I had been asking various engaged DPS parents, as well as Heidi Carter, about projects going on relating to the use of outdoor environments, school gardens and engaging students in hands-on learning. As a landscape architect, I got involved with this energetic group to help facilitate a series of community design charrettes and to formalize these ideas into a master plan.
My role has continued as the project developer, manager and designer. The continued commitment, support and initiative of Rick Sheldahl, who has spearheaded and funded the initiative through DPS Career and Technical Education—as well as a great staff and a number of other incredibly passionate teachers, administrators, advisory-team members and community partners—has allowed the Hub Farm to grow and build its capacity over the last three and half years.
What opportunities are there for Durham Public School students to become involved with the Hub Farm, either in school or through extracurricular activities?
Melissa Keeney, AmeriCorps Project GEOS Service Member: The Hub Farm provides experiential-learning opportunities to complement classroom learning at all age levels. Field trips are one channel for serving students at the Hub Farm. During these field trips, students of all ages are learning math, literacy, social science, health and physical education by exploring gardening, ponds, forest and creek ecologies. The three surrounding schools—Eno Valley Elementary, Carrington Middle and Northern High School—have the opportunity to use the Hub Farm on a regular basis, which over time, will allow the Hub Farm to more effectively provide long-term academic outcomes. High-school students at Northern High School can take on longer-term, hands-on projects in almost all subject matters.
Students are welcome to come to the farm anytime before or after school to volunteer or just hang out, which they do almost every day! During the summer, we host DPS summer-camp groups and other various students groups throughout the Durham area. We also offer internships during the school year and summer to high-school students; we had five summer interns in 2015. Students can also volunteer at our monthly workdays, which occur on the first Saturday of each month and are open to anyone in the community.
If I’m a Durham-area resident, what can I do to help the Hub Farm?
MK: We are always in need of some extra hands to help out around the farm. We welcome individual volunteers throughout the work week, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Tuesdays. We also welcome all volunteers to come lend a hand at our monthly workdays, which occur on the first Saturday of each month. In-kind and monetary donations are greatly appreciated and are an essential part of keeping our farm growing.
I understand the Hub Farm is applying for nonprofit status. What will that change in designation do for the organization?
KG: The purpose of the nonprofit, Friends of the Hub Farm, is to raise money and other resources to participate in and support the educational mission of the DPS Hub Farm. The DPS Hub Farm will continue to be a critical initiative within DPS with the added benefit of having a nonprofit that advocates for and develops funding and partnership opportunities that will support the mission of the Hub Farm.
The Hub Farm is now 3 years old. What vision do you have for the next three years?
KG: Over the next three years, we want the majority of Durham Public School students to experience the Hub Farm, either through a field trip or through programming and educational opportunities that Hub Farm staff can bring to individual schools. Our capacity should grow so that we are able to strive for long-term academic and health successes and more thoroughly provide access to healthy food and holistic learning opportunities for every student in the school system.
The Hub Farm hopes to work more closely with a number of other nonprofit organizations that align with our mission and to continue to build the Hub Farm’s capacity to serve more students at the Hub Farm and other schools throughout the system. We hope the Hub Farm will continue to facilitate positive healthy and academic innovations and opportunities for students, teachers, administration and community members throughout Durham County.
For updates on field trips, farm projects, events and workdays, and to find out how you can get involved with Hub Farm, sign-up for their monthly newsletter. You can also subscribe through a week produce box through the farm’s community-supported-agriculture program. Email Hub Farm at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information and to sign up.