Just a few years ago, the plot of land across from Northern High School and adjacent to Eno Valley Elementary was nothing but untamed woodlands and an unruly field of head-high grass. Today, that plot of land is the Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, thirty acres of field, stream, farm, and forest where students come to learn about environmental stewardship, sustainable farming, and health and nutrition. Hub farmers Reid Rosemond and Grant Ruhlman are extra busy this time of year, helping visiting students get their hands in the dirt and their feet on the trail.
How did Rosemond and Ruhlman end up being the official famers for Durham Public Schools? For one thing, they both have a passion for organic farming. They both also have years of experience in sustainability education, even before Hub Farm came to be. Rosemond spent the summer of 2012 living on the Sol Food Mobile Farm, a retrofitted school bus classroom, with three other adventurous friends. Together, they spent six months building community gardens and composting stations in food deserts across the country. Ruhlman spent years working with Sound to Sea, an environmental education program on the Outer Banks where students explore the five habitats of the barrier islands. Now, these two educators spend their days planting, harvesting, and planning lessons for their outdoor classroom.
The Hub Farm land was gifted to Durham Public Schools by the Carrington Family in the 1990’s, and was intended for use by the Northern High School Agricultural Program. After several years, the land fell into disuse and was largely forgotten. Then, in 2012, Rick Sheldahl of Durham Public Schools’ Career & Technical Education program got in touch with Katherine Gill of Tributary Land Design. Rick asked Katherine to draw up some plans for the space. They envisioned not just a farm, but an experiential education center for students. In 2013, Gill began planning in earnest, and in 2014, Rosemond and Ruhlman were hired to bring those plans to fruition.
In the first year, Rosemond and Ruhlman doubled the size of the garden and then doubled it again the next. They also built a chicken coop (home to several chickens and Hot Sauce, the wily Rooster) and constructed tool sheds from upcycled materials. In a few short years, they have turned the land into a thriving space where kids come to experience nature, learn about agriculture, and taste delicious food right from the earth.
Each season, the Hub farmers aim to feature as much plant variety as possible –garlic, sweet potato, cucumbers, squash, melons, and plenty of tomatoes. They also boast a plentiful herb garden where rosemary, lemon balm, thyme, basil, and oregano (to name a few) entice visitors with their sweet smells. Though the food from Hub Farm hasn’t made it into cafeterias just yet, none of the food grown here goes to waste. Rosemond and Ruhlman love asking their elementary school visitors to pick the herbs and smell them, or to pick the veggies and taste them. Wedges of sweet melon, bite-sized Sungold tomatoes, and sliced cucumber rounds make great treats for growing kids. Though most elementary-age students know that vegetables are supposed to be good for you, many of them don’t have a lot of experience with fresh food, and many have never seen food growing in a garden, much less munched on a carrot that was just plucked out of the ground. At Hub Farm, kids engage their senses and start making that essential connection between the earth and the food on their plates. That connection starts to make a lot more sense when your classroom is a vegetable garden, a stream, or a floating lab like the one built by NCSU’s School of Architecture on the Hub Farm pond in 2013.
Now, the Northern High School Agricultural students this land was intended for are back. They visit the farm weekly, helping with garden maintenance and projects like mushroom log inoculation. For these students, such activities aren’t just cool life experiences – they’re job skills. Rosemond and Ruhlman hope that more students – from elementary to high school – will be inspired by their visits to the Hub Farm and, like them, go on to create careers that aim to make our world healthier and more sustainable for future generations.
Speaking of the future, the Hub Farm has big plans. Durham’s Town and Country Garden Club generously donated the funds for a large greenhouse – Hub Farm’s first! The Hub also hopes to start a nursery propagating native, perennial pollinator plants. These plants will be used by Durham Public Schools landscaping crews to beautify public school campuses. These types of innovations – which are both environmentally beneficial and financially sensible for the school system – are at the heart of the Hub Farm, where Rosemond, Rhulman, and the entire Hub Farm community are planting seeds for a healthier and more sustainable future.
Happy Harvesting -- Kate.