Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
Progressive Gardens owner Evan Folds, right, stands with Progressive Farms manager Mike Slanton in front of the farm’s recently acquired greenhouse on Oleander Drive.
Using local land to produce the foods and ingredients used in local restaurants is the plan for Progressive Gardens owner Evan Folds.
The idea of using the knowledge he has accrued from years in the organic gardening world to help Wilmington eat local was something Folds always wanted to do, but did not have the space for. When a greenhouse became available across the street from Progressive Gardens on Oleander Drive, Folds seized the opportunity to start Progressive Farms.
With the buds of pok choi, broccoli, mustard greens and scallions peaking up through the soil inside the greenhouse, Folds and farm manager Mike Slanton are beginning the operation in partnership with Rx Restaurant and Pembroke’s. James Doss, owner of both restaurants, is a longtime friend of Folds, and Folds said he hopes he can soon provide produce for many other local restaurants.
“It is really important to understand the connection to the chefs,” Folds said. “We are going to label the produce with their name so it is theirs, not just something that is on the market they can buy.”
Folds and Slanton said they also plan to use the space around the greenhouse as a place to hold seminars about topics like growing produce and beekeeping. With the knowledge gained by those attending the seminars, Folds said he hopes another phase of his plan can be realized — to use the many underutilized yards of Wilmington as satellite produce farming stations.
“What we are talking about doing is saying, ‘Look, we have a growing model, we will do all the marketing because we have the relationships with the restaurants who want it … all you need to do is grow and we will take care of the rest,’” he said.
The homeowners who partner with Progressive Farms would volunteer a portion of their yard as a farm that would employ all of the growing practices and ideals created by Progressive Farms. Folds said whatever produce is farmed from the land could be turned into Progressive Farms in return for things like cash, discounts to Progressive Gardens or discounts to the partner restaurants.
“The restaurant is going to see the value because they have people growing for them all over the city and the story behind it is good,” Folds said. “I love that idea of being able to grow tomatoes in someone’s yard and them tracking the food so they know where their food is and can tell their neighbor that their tomatoes are in somewhere like Pembroke’s this week.”
Folds said he would not be seeking an organic certification for the produce grown by Progressive Farms or their partners, but that the crops would be grown with all-natural products and according to the holistic growing practices of Progressive Gardens. Making sure the crops are as naturally nutrient and vitamin rich as they can be, and making sure the customers see the difference is the most important thing, Folds said.
“You can’t look at something that is certified organic and say, ‘That food is better for me,’ and that is why people complain about it being more expensive, because they don’t see the value,” he said. “So I think if you could turn it on its head and show the value you can kind of flip the script.”