by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
“It all started with a jelly jar in 2013,” says Lisa Grele Barrie, co-chair of the board of directors at Raleigh City Farm. The nonprofit urban farm had begun to take root on the corner of Blount and Franklin Streets near her Oakwood home, and detail-oriented Barrie had a penchant for weeding. “I’d bring my Bonne Maman jelly jars and a bottle of wine and we’d go out into the space when it was just wiregrass.” Barrie is also the president and CEO of the nonprofit N.C. Theatre, so creating a volunteer initiative was admittedly in the back of her mind – but at first, it was mainly a troupe of civic-minded gardening friends.
To hold themselves accountable, the group coined a name for their gathering: “I feel like you need a handle, you need alliteration, and you need a date to commit yourself to,” Barrie says. “So, we called it Wine and Weeds on Wednesday.” As the farm grew, so did the weekly group. By 2014, Wine Authorities had opened a few doors down, and Raleigh City Farm had begun offering volunteers a complimentary glass of wine to fuel an hour of weeding.
Now, anywhere from 10 to 25 volunteers meet every Wednesday evening between April and October. Weeders of every age show up: nearby Oakwood Garden Club members, office groups, millenials seeking community. “There’s something about weeds and their resilience and how relentless they are that’s a good metaphor for life,” Barrie says of the appeal. Plus, it’s approachable: “Anybody can weed. You show up without expectation and you get free wine. It’s a no-brainer.”
A core group is there every Wednesday, but it’s not an exclusive atmosphere. “There’s always a huge need for weeding at the farm,” says general manager Rebekah Beck. It’s a way to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and make a tangible difference. “It’s beautiful to be in that corner lot at that time of day,” Beck says. “The sun is setting; you’ve got a glass of wine. It’s just really nice.”