A quick glance at Google Maps north of Chapel Hill and you’ll notice an impressive amount of green space. For a modern city, we’ve got a whole lot of parks and undeveloped land. Both people and animals can agree this improves the overall quality of life. In 2009, Hope Gardens partnered with the Chapel Hill department of Parks and Recreation to create the community garden on a 14-acre green space off of Homestead Road. Looking more closely at the map, it becomes evident that the Gardens’ location is actually nestled in a green corridor between a few sizeable forest tracts. South of our location are great swaths of the Carolina North Forest. Northeast of us lies Homestead Park. Northwest looms an enormous section of the Duke Forest. Altogether this accounts for hundreds of acres of linked, undeveloped Piedmont forest. Hope Gardens has the great fortune of being right along this green corridor, an essential connection for traveling wildlife.
o our gardeners and plants, this is a blessing. It means greater ecological stability–birds to eat bugs, snakes to eat mice, hawks to eat snakes–and therefore improved sustainability and greater returns on our harvests. But our location is also a responsibility. Operating along a wildlife corridor demands environmental stewardship. It would be wrong to use insecticides and artificial fertilizers. How would those agricultural practices hurt our pond and its residents? What about our friendly pollinators and their sensitivity to chemicals? It would be wrong to cut all the trees and expand our plots (which take up less than an acre of the property). How badly would deforestation impact the birds, the mammals, the insects that live here? How much topsoil would erode without vegetation to secure and nourish the sediment? It would be wrong to let the bamboo and other invasive species run amok. How would that diminish the normal food supply of native wildlife?
Sustainable agriculture isn’t just about ensuring future harvests–it’s about doing what’s right for every living thing.
In this sense, Hope Gardens works toward food accessibility for all beings.
On July 30th, I drive over to the Gardens with my fishing pole and machete. As I approach the pond (perhaps unnecessarily hacking at the grass) a Great Blue Heron flies off. I set my stuff down, grab a stick, and dig for worms. It takes all of 60 seconds to find one under some leaves. I cast out into the pond. Because of all the rains, the water is experiencing something of an algae bloom right now. But, I can see fish jumping periodically around the water’s corners. Luckily, there don’t seem to be too many mosquitoes around. I see a pair of dragonflies dancing around and silently thank them–dragonflies eat mosquitoes.
There are minnows everywhere–but even more numerous are the deer tracks along the shoreline. They’re very overpopulated–and I’ve seen several does here on workdays. I asked the Garden managers to list the wildlife they’d seen this summer: song birds, birds of prey, frogs, toads, butterflies, bees, other insects, rabbits, voles, groundhogs and deer. I’ve even seen foxes nearby.
For Hope Gardens, our community isn’t limited by town borders, race, class, or faith. But we like to take that even further, remembering that in life, community isn’t even limited by species. We take pride in our neighbors, human and nonhuman alike. The reality is, we’re all ecologically codependent. Humans, animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, everything. This truth compels us to respect wildlife. Furthermore, this truth teaches us that when the situation is appropriate, we have a responsibility to protect wildlife.
In keeping with this commitment, Hope Gardens is currently in the process of seeking certification by the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF is a voice for wildlife, dedicated to protecting wildlife and habitat and inspiring the future generation of conservationists.
We’re currently asking for donations to raise the money for the NWF certification. It only amounts to a small sum, but it has enormous meaning for us. It is symbolic of our appreciation of the natural world. It is a reminder to respect and appreciate all life forms. Furthermore, it promotes conservation ethics to all of those who work, visit, and eat at the Gardens. If you’d like to donate towards our certification, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. On behalf of HOPE Gardens and all the critters, thank you!