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Monday, May 27, 2024

Back-yard gardens to full-scale farms, Progressive Gardens owner wants to improve your green thumb

From free online courses for first-time farmers, to consulting for full-scale agricultural operations, Evan Folds wants to bring better soil - and better food - to everyone.

Former Progressive Gardens owners Evan Folds has a new venture, Be Agricultural, aimed at making people better farmers. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY BE AGRICULTURAL)
Former Progressive Gardens owners Evan Folds has a new venture, Be Agricultural, aimed at making people better farmers. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY BE AGRICULTURAL)

WILMINGTON — Two years after Progressive Gardens closed its doors, former owner Evan Folds is getting back in the business of making people better farmers — even if that means a simple planter box in the window.

For almost 15 years, Folds ran Progressive Gardens, working to help Wilmington-area farmer improve their soil and their crops. Opening in 2002, Folds’ operation worked with people, whether they were running full-scale agricultural operations or growing tomatoes in their backyards. Then, in 2016, the store shut down.

“I was sad to see Progressive Gardens go, but online retailers came in and – well – customers could come in, get some advice, get a sense of what they needed to do, and then go get it on Amazon,” Folds said. “Amazon came in like a hurricane, it was the retail apocalypse.”

Be Agricultural

Taking a cue from the online revolution, part of Folds new project – Be Agricultural – is a collection of free online content, blog posts and videos aimed at demystifying what it takes to grow in southeastern North Carolina. Folds will offer hour-long webinars for around $5, and full-length courses for between $15 and $20.

“I deal a lot with what I call personal agriculture, and you know that could be one herb plant you grow on your railing to a little garden patch in your yard, but I believe everyone should grow at least one thing. But a lot of people try it one time, and it doesn’t work, and then they just walk away,” Folds said.

According to Folds, misunderstandings about what constitutes “good soil” are at the root of most people’s failures.

“The science of soil is complicated, it’s more than just throwing down a bag of potting soil from a box store,” Folds said.

Folds already has a few posts up, tackling issues like hydroponics, the science of the how microorganism in the soil interact, and how – and why – to make “compost tea,” a way to get the beneficial microbes in compost into the soil in greater concentrations.

For aspiring farming and gardeners, Folds will offer a variety of options, from garden “starter kits,” to composting equipment and premade “compost tea.” These items will be available through the Be Agricultural website.

Getting his hands dirty

In addition to online courses and classes, Evan Folds offers hands on soil testing and consultations for farmers. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY BE AGRICULTURAL)
In addition to online courses and classes, Evan Folds offers hands on soil testing and consultations for farmers. (Port City Daily photo | COURTESY BE AGRICULTURAL)

Folds’ work isn’t just online, however. He’s also willing to get his hands dirty.

“I’m already known as the soil doctor, so you know the doctor makes house calls,” Folds said.

Be Agricultural will perform soil tests for local farmers. The science behind these soil tests can get a little complicated – those interested can read all about it here – but the basic principle, according to Folds, is that achieving the correct chemistry and biology of soil can effectively ween farmers off fertilizer.

“We’ve got really sandy soil here, and – sometimes – fertilizer is a necessary crutch. But fertilizer doesn’t improve the soil, and it’s not a long-term solution,” Folds said.

Folds also offers his services as a consultant, whether on-call by email or phone, to on-site consultations.

Lastly, Folds is working on a book project with Dr. Maurice Werness, a Durham-based naturopathic doctor. “The Food Movement” aims to combine Folds’ practical techniques to improve soil health with his more philosophical approaches to agriculture.

“Agriculture is the answer to all of our current social issues,” Folds said. “It was really the first human activity. It was the first medicine – and its lost that importance.”

While acknowledging that not everyone can walk away from their current lives for an agrarian existence, he is confident that increased attention to what people eat – and how that food is grown – is at the root of solving a wide range of societal ills.

“The Food Movement book project is about empowering people to take their place at the table in the food system. To be a part of agriculture. In essence, and reality, the living soil is the gut of the landscape. The story of why human degenerative and auto-immune disease is increasing exponentially is the same as what is happening in the soil, and food is in the middle,” Folds said.

More information about “The Food Movement” and Be Agricultural can be found at Folds’ new website.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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