A life plan community in Charlotte, North Carolina will soon be home to a large urban farm, which will support dining, resident engagement and community outreach efforts.
The roughly 500-resident community, Aldersgate, plans to work with the Carolina Farm Trust on a 6.7-acre farm that would include an aquaponics garden, an outdoor classroom, fruit trees, beehives, and a “hoop house” for planting staple crops such as tomatoes, kale, spinach and cucumbers.
The approximately $3 million project, dubbed “The Urban Farm at Aldersgate,” is planned to arrive in phases, with first planting slated to begin this October. Aldersgate is donating the land—a former swim club that sits next to its 231-acre campus—and leasing it to Carolina Farm Trust for $1 annually over the next decade. The farm trust will manage and operate the farm while reporting to the life plan community’s board of directors.
Though not urban in the big-city sense—Aldersgate is nestled within a lush, wooded enclave on the eastern side of the Charlotte metropolitan area—the community’s campus resembles a small village.
Carolina Farm Trust is working with designer Insight Architecture and general contractor G.L. Wilson to build out the project.
The main idea is for the new farm to serve as a food, education and engagement hub for the community and its neighbors, according to Suzanne Pugh, Aldergate’s president and CEO.
“We saw not only an opportunity to serve the larger community with fresh food, which everybody deserves … but also a great way for our elders to be engaged in a different way,” Pugh told Senior Housing News.
While the residents at Aldersgate will have opportunities to get their hands dirty on the farm, they’ll also be able to volunteer in other ways, such as crewing farm stands during farmers markets or working with local students in a learning lab.
“This is about helping our elders stay engaged or re-engage at this point in their lives,” Pugh said. “It’s about giving back, and it’s also about the energy and self-worth that comes with engagement.”
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Aldersgate also plans to work some of the farm’s fresh produce onto residents’ plates—a move that could benefit both the residents’ diets and the life plan community’s occupancy rate.
“Not everybody has the opportunity to provide this engagement and this culinary offering,” Pugh said. “We definitely think there’s a marketing distinction we can draw from this.”
Opening the ‘fortress’
The scope of Aldergate’s project goes beyond simply serving the life plan community’s residents. It also includes giving back to members of its east Charlotte neighborhood, where many locals are low-income or live in food-insecure homes.
“When we started looking at expanding our life plan community seven years ago, we had a very candid conversation among board and leadership recognizing that, historically, we had fortressed ourselves off from the community around us,” Pugh explained. “We said, if we’re going to do this in east Charlotte, then it’s time for us to commit to being a really integrated neighbor.”
So, about two years ago, the life plan community started inviting neighbors to take part in “story circles” and share their thoughts. Thus far, that effort has reverberated throughout Aldersgate.
“It has been an entire transformation in the fabric of our organization,” Pugh said.
To help give back, the new urban farm will accept both EBT and SNAP benefits, and grow and sell a “culturally relevant” range of fruits and vegetables found in many different types of cuisine.
The farm will also eventually provide weekly community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes of produce, eggs and meat.
“Fresh food shouldn’t be just a privilege that comes with social status or economic status, it should be something that everybody can access,” Pugh said.
Written by Tim Regan