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Energy & Environment

Bulldozers Clear Huntersville Land For Development — An Urban Farm

022221 Zack Wyatt at Free Spirit Farm 2.JPG
David Boraks
Zack Wyatt of Carolina Farm Trust describes plans for Free Spirit Farm in Huntersville.

Bulldozers this week began removing stumps and brush on vacant land on the west side of Huntersville. It's not another housing development or apartment tower. It's the first step in turning this into an urban farm.

"This is going to be the new location of Free Spirit Farm, a 28-acre farm we're building a mile from the Charlotte city line," said Zack Wyatt, president and CEO of Carolina Farm Trust.

Wyatt started Carolina Farm Trust in 2015 to preserve, revive and promote farming near urban areas. This site is on Kerns Road, just a couple of miles north of Interstate 485 and not from Huntington Green, a neighborhood of small houses and mobile homes.

"The North Meck corridor still has a ton of farmland around, but it's all you know, pretty much for sale," Wyatt said. "So we're hoping, really, we can use this farm to be an asset to the Huntington Green community and the North Meck corridor, to really get everyone, all the residents, to kind of understand how important farmland is and why we need to keep it."

David Boraks
A bulldozer clears vacant land in Huntersville for a new "urban farm" planned by Carolina Farm Trust.

Wyatt said it's part of a campaign to bring farming back to Mecklenburg County and rebuild appreciation for farms.

Besides growing produce, Free Spirit Farm will have a greenhouse, an orchard with fruit and nut trees and a composting facility. A building will house equipment to process and refrigerate produce and a farmers market.

Wyatt said Free Spirit Farm also will provide neighbors with fresh produce and agricultural jobs.

Reforming The Food System

This will be the fourth and largest in a network of urban farms created over the past few years by Carolina Farm Trust and its partners. Others are the Urban Farm at Aldersgate in east Charlotte, Mill Grove Farm Co-Op in Indian Trail and Janco Community Farms in Statesville.

Wyatt grew up on a dairy farm in northern Virginia and started Carolina Farm Trust five years ago out of concern that our food system is getting out of whack. He says small family farms are disappearing and we're becoming overly reliant on massive commercial growers.

"Our farming community is aging out. Our food system is, you know, really scary. And what can we do about it? So it's evolved a lot over the last five years," Wyatt said. "But really, it's, you know, how can we really rebalance our food system to be really decentralized and more regional?"

Carolina Farm Trust has a 10-year lease on the Huntersville property, which is owned by a Charlotte family that actually approached Wyatt.

"It was logged, I think in the early part of 2019. And it's just been kind of sitting," he said. "The owners said, 'Hey, we have this. It's either gonna get planted again, for trees or, you know, do you want to build a farm on it?'

"And so we jumped at the opportunity and are very thankful that we have been given the opportunity to do so," Wyatt said.

Farming Roots

Those owners are Sri and Neelu Burugapalli. Sri Burugapalli said they wanted to create a farm there in part because of their roots as farmers and landowners in south India, where they moved from 28 years ago.

"Growing up in that environment, we had this dream of owning a farm in this area," Burugapalli said. "And then when we read about Zack and Carolina Farm Trust, and we started engaging with him, we thought it is a great way to collaborate and realize our vision for the land and then help the community that way."

As clearing begins, Wyatt said he's working on deals to provide produce to local food pantries. And he hopes one day Free Spirit Farm will become a destination for people to come learn about where their food comes from.

To build out that vision, Carolina Farm Trust is trying to raise $500,000 — through $1,000 donations from 500 donors. As of this week, the trust has already raised $100,000. A ceremonial groundbreaking is planned for Friday, March 5.

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