David Baron

Junior David Baron drills in signs to mark the different types of compost used for the HOPE Garden into a bamboo fence.


Hope Garden sign

The HOPE Garden is located on Homestead Rd in Chapel Hill. Volunteers donate their time on Saturdays to developing the garden.


volunteers talk

Baron, far left, talks to volunteers in front of the HOPE Garden as a Saturday workday draws to a close.


volunteers paint bricks

Volunteers use yellow and green paint on bricks to spell out the names of the different plants, trees and fruit that will grow in the garden.


raised beds and fencing

The garden is enclosed by a fence to protect it from unwanted visits by animals such as deer. Within the garden are production beds that can be leased by people in the community to grow food.

Junior David Baron plants a garden of HOPE for the homeless

During final exams, many students dream of not going to school. David Baron, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has decided to take an entire year off – but instead of relaxing, he has embarked on a project to improve the lives of homeless people in Chapel Hill.

Baron chose to spend the 2009-2010 school year focused on executing the HOPE Garden, a self-sustaining garden for the local community that will also provide income and job experience to those currently homeless.

“People actually depend on this project, and it’s important to have a solid foundation and to be sustainable,” Baron said.


Bringing hope to the community

The word HOPE stands for Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication, a student-run committee within UNC’s Campus Y that encourages students to confront homelessness issues on both the campus and the larger Chapel Hill community.

The garden is open to anyone and has individual plots that the community can lease on a yearly basis alongside an urban farm featuring production beds, orchards and a flower meadow. The farm will give transitional employment to homeless people as a positive alternative to panhandling in downtown Chapel Hill.

“We put them next to each other because a big part is socialization. We want to bridge the gap between the communities,” Baron said.

Future plans include specially designed plots that will allow handicapped people to access the garden and incorporating plots designated for educational purposes with a learning center.

“We want everyone to have something to gain by coming to the garden,” Baron said.


Sowing the seeds

Baron, originally from Atlanta, Ga., developed the idea for the garden after spending the summer of his sophomore year teaching to marginalized farming groups in Tanzania biointensive agriculture, a method focusing on maximum yields from the minimum use of land while simultaneously improving the soil.

Baron returned to school wanting to start a similar project in Chapel Hill utilizing the same techniques he had taught in Tanzania. As Baron volunteered with HOPE, the idea for the garden matured to involve the homeless.

“We wanted to include the homeless population – make them our focus,” Baron said.


Working together

With the help of several grants including $10,000 from the Davis Projects for Peace, an initiative encouraging and supporting youth to create ideas to increase peace, the land was purchased for the garden off of Homestead Road in Chapel Hill.

During this time, Maggie West, former co-chair of HOPE, contacted professor Will Hooker of the North Carolina State University horticulture department for help constructing the garden. Hooker incorporated the garden into the curriculum of his residential landscape design class to give his students real-life experience.
“We met with David and walked the site,” Hooker said. “Students designed the garden and we presented their ideas.”
Once the final ideas were approved by the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, work was finally able to begin.
Within a few short months of existence, the garden has positively affected the lives of many homeless people. The garden teaches the homeless how to be self-sufficient as they learn more about growing food and eating healthier.
Every Saturday the garden is swarmed with people from the community volunteering their time. The harmonious interaction between a variety of people is only possible because the garden has grown into a peaceful place where the homeless can feel safe.

“The pride that they take in the garden and the comfort that they feel – they feel like they belong,” said Baron. “They come here to get away from it all.”

Through its teaching, research and public service, Carolina connects with the people of our state every day in ways that improve lives and build futures.

“A Community Engaged University” recognized by the
 Carnegie Foundation