Hines Chapel Incubator Farm

Piedmont Conservation Council is part of a partnership initiated by Elon University, Guilford County Open Space Commission, and Guilford County Soil & Water Conservation District to develop a farm incubator at the Hines Chapel Preserve, a 450 acre nature preserve owned by Guilford County and managed by the Open Space Program. The idea was originally laid out in the 2020 Guilford Farmland Protection Plan as a means to encourage new farm business development and develop a support network for these vulnerable ventures. After the initial approach to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners seeking permission to pursue implementation of the project, PCC was charged with further organizing the effort and returning with a feasibility study to present for BOC approval. PCC applied for and was awarded a technical assistance grant from the Center for Environmental Farming Systems to assist with the design, development, and implementation of a farm incubator in 2012. During 2012-2013 PCC made great strides in development and planning by utilizing the CEFS technical assistance grant and organizing stakeholders.

A Kickoff Meeting for the Hines Chapel Incubator Farm at Hines Chapel on September 13, 2012.
In the summer of 2012 PCC held a site visit at Hines Chapel Preserve for an interested group of stakeholders. The small group of stakeholders that attended the site visit developed a plan of action to organize local agriculture professionals, farmers, and residents. PCC, with extensive assistance from CEFS, then took the lead in organizing a Kickoff Meeting at Hines Chapel on September 13, 2012 (pictured right). The meeting was attended by representatives from the primary partner groups as well as Soil & Water Conservation Districts from Guilford, Alamance, and Rockingham counties, Guilford County Cooperative Extension, North Carolina A&T State University, as well as local residents. 

The Kickoff Meeting focused on the concept of farm incubation, visioning (see Hines Chapel Vision Mandala) and project objectives, asset mapping, and development of a steering committee for Hines Chapel Incubator Farm (HCIF). The HCIF Steering Committee began meeting monthly at Elon University in January 2013 to implement a plan for developing a feasibility 

An outdoor meeting to get feedback on the incubator farm.
The HCIF Steering Committee organized a community input meeting at Hines Chapel on March 25, 2013. The meeting purpose was to provide an update on Guilford County Open Space’s plans for the preserve, introduce the concept of incubator farms, introduce project partners, provide a timeline for implementation, and answer questions from the public. There was terrific public support for the project at that meeting. Another meeting was held in October 2013 with a group of local farmers operating in the vincinity of the preserve to guage local impact of the incubator, particularly how it may impact their businesses. The group was generous with their feedback and supportive of the idea of training new farmers. The prevailing sentiment was that the startups would be too small to negatively impact an established farm in the area, however the seasoned farmers emphasized that the project must really put the new businesses to the test before letting them go out on their own if the new farmers were to be successful. study/business plan, gathering community input, and seeking formal permission to develop the incubator on the property.

As part of the process to gain formal approval to develop a lease for the property, members of the steering committee presented the project to the Open Space Commission at their June 25, 2013 meeting and successfully gained their support. On August 13, 2013 the steering committee gained the support of the Guilford Parks & Recreation Commission as well, and in January 2014 the Guilford County Board of Commissioners agreed to develop a lease with PCC to begin an incubator farm on portions of the Hines Chapel Preserve. Early plans are to utilize a small 7.5 acre of the Preserve as a startup location for incubating new farm businesses, until the project achieves long-term financial stability (see below).

The Incubator Farm Site plan, including a 7.5 acre field area and offices and outbuildings.
The HCIF Steering Committee was also successful in securing a grant for $27,500 through the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation as part of the development of a Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, known as Piedmont Together. Through this project, PCC developed a regional strategic plan for incubator farm development, which concluded early in 2014.

Read the full report here:  Developing a Strategic Plan for a Regional Incubator Farm

For more information on incubator farms, please visit some of the following links:

Center for Environmental Farming Systems: NC Incubator Farm Profiles

New Entry: National Incubator Farm Training Initiative

Lowcountry Local First: Dirt Works Incubator Farm

Intervale Center: FARMS Program

YES Magazine: Farmer Startups? How Incubators are Helping Small, Sustainable Farms Take Off