Cover Crops – Incubator Farm

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In an earlier article, the topic was the history of the Memorial Industrial School (1928-1971), located near Horizons Park on the north side of Forsyth County.

There were two focuses for the orphanage, one to care for neglected black children in Forsyth County and two to provide a sustainable farm system to support the orphanage. We cultivated 167 acres of land. It was one of the best farms in the county. It was a research farm working with N.C. Cooperative Extension. We ate everything from the land and raised enough to sell the excess to markets downtown and hotels such as the Robert E. Lee. (site who said this)

The land is now serving as an incubator farm and food program, Memorial Industrial CDC.

The leader is Dr. English Bradshaw, who attended the school beginning at age two. The program included self-sustaining farming. After a lifetime of learning and working he has returned to farm the same patch of earth. As he has said before, “this soil has given me life.”

Small plants growing in the dirt of a green house.
The Spring of 2022 began with the Memorial Industrial CDC serving as the host site for the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s: Forsyth County Urban Farm School. It’s been a good year of re-establishment. On a recent farm visit, horticulture agent, Celine Richard and Dr. Bradshaw talked about the logistics of farming: irrigation, overwintering strawberries, winter crops and soil health. Stepping into the doorway of their new high tunnel, the temperature is noticeably warmer. The aroma of the soil is concentrated. There are two inch shoots scattered across the red earth’s face. The first topic of conversation is cover crops.
Dr. Bradshaw points overhead to the slats in the dormer of the high tunnel.
Two people inspect an empty greenhouse.
“They’re on temperature control, opening when it’s too hot and closing when it’s too cold.” He laughs, “But the birds fly right on in and they have been eating the cover crop seeds.” Celine listens. She offers a strategy of thickly spreading the cover crop seed, like hairy vetch, then covering them with a thin layer of compost to keep the seeds out of sight until they germinate.
A bag of Hairy Vetch.
For those who are not familiar, as plants grow, they pull nutrients and water through their roots from the soil. To replenish the soil, cover crops are a strategy for maintaining soil health. Among the most common benefits of cover crops are erosion control, addition of nitrogen (N) to the soil for use by a subsequent crop, removal of N from the soil to prevent nutrient loading, and buildup of residue that acts as a mulch for water conservation or retention. (NC State).
If you are also thinking about soil health, consider reviewing the following article about cover crops. Every garden, regardless of size can benefit from this nutrient replenishing strategy.
Two people inspect a garden bed.
Towards the end of the farm visit, Dr. Bradshaw showed us some of his vegetable favorites:
  • the collards, as big as elephant ears
  • onions, strong in flavor
  • red carrots, a feast for the eyes
  • garlic, that is growing faster than expected
Large cabbages lay on the ground.A woman inspects a recently harvested carrot.
Gardening is always an exciting topic of conversation for the N.C. Cooperative Extension.
If you have questions, please contact Celine Richard, Horticulture Agent,
336-703-2869, cvrichar@ncsu.edu