When Arthur Gordon opened the Irregardless Cafe in 1974, in Raleigh NC, he sourced local produce for the vegetarian cuisine he offered, Why? Because he was ‘in relationship’ with his community and environment. Of course, local produce tastes better. Being just hours or days from harvesting, the freshness assures its nutritional value, less non-renewable energy was consumed and the area’s farmers made a better living, affording them the affluence needed to also be his customers.
Almost four decades later, this relationship with the soil, agricultural community and the Cafe’s patrons has matured. The Cafe added a full service catering division, expanded the menu to include seafood and meats, installed solar thermal hot water heating on the Cafe’s roof and in 1985 became the first restaurant in North Carolina to ban smoking.
Growing up as a self-professed ‘hippie’, Gordon loves growing plants, putting his hands in the soil and turning his compost pile. So it made sense that he’d continue innovating when in April 2012 Gordon purchased an acre-and-a-half lot, with a distressed house, just three miles from his kitchen. Turns out the land was the remnant of a post Civil War farm, and an abandoned well was discovered in the back. Gordon re-dug the well and has already installed a modern irrigation system for the entire lot. For him, the biblical metaphor of ‘re-digging our father’s wells’ is symbolic of this reconnection to the true source of life.
“It’s a magic little piece of property,” Gordon enthuses. The home has been restored and a young family has taken on the gardening in exchange for free rent. The ‘sustainable permaculture design’ includes gardens and greenhouses for year-round production. The gardens’ first year is bountiful, providing vegetables, micro-greens, berries, fruits and herbs as well as eggs, honey and mushrooms to be enjoyed by the Cafe’s and Catering patrons and volunteers. “There is a groundswell of young people who want to till the soil” that reminds Gordon of his ‘hippie’ roots. His long term goal is to empower this ‘new crop of farmers’ to revitalize similar urban distressed properties and return our communities to healthy, sustainable relationships.