Log in Newsletter

The Greening of the Sandhills

All around the region people are learning to live off the land

By Melvin E. Lewis

"Oh the times, they are a' changin'" — Bob Dylan

From Rockingham to Raeford, Lauringburg to Lillington and Sanford to Southern Pines, people are embracing the farm and green movements and adopting lifestyles that take them closer to the earth.

Need proof? May 12 is Urban Farm Day in the Sandhills. In seven Moore County sites, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting at Southern Pines Elementary School, people will venture to homes and gardens to see what North Carolina fingers, cuttings and imaginations have created in the Pinehurst and Southern Pines area. At the Fayetteville Community Garden near the Grannis Field and Fayetteville Regional Airport, beekeepers, master gardeners and goat, chicken and rabbit raisers will tell children and adults stories about their favorite animals and insects. They will allow little ones and their parents to pet hairy four legged mammals, birds and piglets that many normally only see in zoos. Beekeepers are known to put honey bees on their fingers and let them walk around.

As Bob Dylan sang almost forty years ago: the world high and low is changing and everyone must pay attention. The sustainable and green movements are gaining momentum and forming partnerships in the Sandhills. Kelly Blandford Bah, Executive Director of Sustainable Sandhills, said some of her organization’s goals are to “be part of the green movement.” As well as, “creating a sustainable community and making the community as healthy as possible. We promote and provide programs for local food,” she said.

Sustainable Sandhills, an organization which promotes sustainability in an eight-county area, hosts a regional Sustainability Conference, as does North Carolina State University with its Solar Center and Solar House. Sustainable Sandhills also evaluates businesses for sustainability and sponsors a Green Energy Coordinator for the Cumberland County Schools System. Annually, the energy coordinator monitors the school systems’ energy consumption and writes grants to increase the program’s effectiveness.

The Cape Fear Botanical Gardens and the Cumberland County Library have partnered to provide classes by Roger Mercer, a noted grower and columnist. At his recent day lilies seminar, people who joined the Friends of the Library and or the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens received day lilies plants. Mercer has grown thousands of day lilies for the Mid-Atlantic States gardeners, nurseries and created numerous variations. He also writes a weekly column on gardening in The Fayetteville Observer.

Regional orchid, camellia and other gardening clubs are hosting presentations at the newly constructed facilities at the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens. The Abundance Foundation in Pittsboro is hosting a Renewable Energy and Local Food Summer Camp for youth ages ten to fifteen. Several times a month they provide energy tours for schools and adults on Fridays and Sundays. Demonstrations include double cropping, herbal medicine and biodiesel production. In their complex there are worm farms for red wiggler worm composting and the various stages and benefits of vermiculture. Food scraps, and other organic materials are recycled and turned into soil and nutrients. The liquids from worm castings are considered valuable and rich fertilizer.

People Movements

A Grange movement has started and meets once a month at the Museum of the Cape Fear. It is a fraternal organization for North American farmers and hobbyists that encourages farm families and urban gardeners to band together for their common economic and political well-being. Free classes and discussions range from organic gardening to preserving foods. The informal meetings encourage networking and sharing resources. One gardener provided a horse owner with a container and received ten gallons of horse manure for his garden. A bee keeper has placed a hive in an area where several members garden to help pollinate the gardens.

Lake Rim Park will host a Family Night Out event on June 8, the last day of the public school year, to encourage use of its park facilities. The next morning volunteers, including a Boy Scout troop, will clean around the lake as kayakers, canoeists, and small electrical craft operators carry out tires, gym shoes, and bait boxes. Lake Rim Park rangers also regularly teach classes on water safety and kayaking and sponsor trips to white water rapids, the Fort Fisher area, the Neuse and the Black Rivers.

Dirty Hands, Clean Hearts

The North Carolina State University and A&T State University Cooperative Extension Services at Hoke County sponsor monthly classes about gardening techniques including recently, “A Square Foot Gardening” where home owners and interested people with 20 feet by 20 feet or 4 feet by 4 feet plots can maximize the yield, till the soil and produce fresh vegetables year round. The class demonstrated what can be done with simple tools and common supplies in front of the Turlington Schools, an alternative middle and high school in Raeford.

Cumberland County has a new group of intern Master Gardeners who learn each week about horticulture and how to address the needs of sandy soil and problems ranging from drainage, to weeds where you don’t want them. The Master Gardeners Volunteers in North Carolina operate a free hotline in many counties, in Fayetteville 910.321.6882 they are open from 9 a.m. — 12 p.m. and 1 — 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays. One example is the “Pots for Seventy First High School Horticulture Program.” A Master Gardener collects used plastic and clay pots to be reused in the horticulture program. The school has also received landscape rocks, bricks, chicken manure and rain barrels as donations.

Hoke and Cumberland Counties Cooperative Extension Services offer rain barrels and teach classes on how to build and place them at your business, home or farm. All North Carolina counties have Extension Service Agents who provide assistance in horticulture areas, water and land usage.

In the Victorian era mansion of the Raeford-Hoke Museum in central Raeford, Junior Master Gardeners harvest and share food growth in nine 4 feet by 4 feet plots for school projects, shelters and food kitchens. Some of the food at Fayetteville’s Community Garden also goes to charities and to the less fortunate. Sandhills Area Land Trust (SALT) coordinates Fayetteville’s Community Garden. SALT has helped save over fifteen thousand acres of land for conservation and preservation. They also support the publication of books on the flora of the Sandhills.

The nearly one hundred 20 feet by 20 feet plots contain gardens which have been an anchor for redevelopment in a community garden near the Old Wilmington Road section close to the PWC Building on Eastern Boulevard in Fayetteville.

The Solar Center at NCSU is a model of practical learning and economic empowerment. They offer classes in wind, solar and thermal (water) technologies to produce heat and electricity. Students get hands on training and prepare for the national certification for photovoltaic and thermal installers tests.

From Spring Lake to Laurinburg local food is supported and provided in community sponsored and conveniently located Farmers’ Markets. Many take place in the parking lots of Transportation Museums, history centers, flea markets and center business districts on several or more days a week.

Worms, Bees and Wine

Honey beekeepers are teaching classes and making appearances at Raeford’s Turkey Festival and Fayetteville’s Umoja Festivals and providing webinar educational presentations as well as having basic beekeeping classes in each county in the region. Hobby beekeepers are encouraging the development of local pollination and honey production.

The viniculture industry is growing in the state. Each region has guides and wine tastings. There are over a hundred wineries spread throughout the state. Dancing, good music and mellow wine are offered on every other Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. in Wagram’s Cypress Bend Vineyards. In a large tent and wooden floor, four musicians play pop, jazz, rhythms and blues, rock as well as standards and people are seen shaking away cobwebs. In the art and recycled community, the Restore Warehouse, a church based not-for-profit organization, collects and resells used appliances and building materials. They have an annual Recycled Art Show, where artists submit works from recycled, reused and preserved materials.

What once was sandy is becoming a bit greener each year. The cauldron to support local food production and reduce chemicals in lawns and farms is showing results. Sustainability is a growing and positive trend in the Sandhills.