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Rainbow Gardens highlights the relationship between nature and queerness

The Rainbow Gardens LGBTQ Flower Farm & Community Center in Chapel Hill photographed on Wednesday, June 5, 2024 is set to open on Thursday, July 4, 2024.

In 2015, a group of moms got together and envisioned a community farm where people of all ages cultivated the land. These conversations led to the creation of Wildwoods Community Farm, now known as Rainbow Gardens

“Our mission was basically to help preserve small farming and help to launch the next generation of young farmers,” Cheri Lynne, director of Rainbow Gardens and part of the original group of moms, said

Located in western Chapel Hill, Rainbow Gardens began as a volunteer-supported nonprofit produce farm. The farm was also an educational resource for the community; they held events on topics including bee conservation and beginning farming, as well as participated in the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms program, which helps farming interns gain practical farming skills. 

After eight years, the farm outgrew its small plot of land. The farm’s board of directors didn’t want to privatize the land, so they sought out alternative options to maintain the farm’s community-oriented mission. 

In an almost unanimous vote, the board of directors decided to rebrand Wildwoods Community Farm to Rainbow Gardens, changing it from a produce farm to a flower farm and LGBTQ+ community center. 

The flower beds are still in the process of being planted, but Rainbow Gardens plans to have a four-season garden with perennial and annual fields. Many of the plants in these fields will come from community members donating small cuttings or plants from their own gardens. 

The fields are maintained by community members who volunteer every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Victor Acosta, a volunteer in charge of events, said that he’s excited for the opportunity to connect with nature and plant for a purpose.  

“Creating that community and helping it grow I think is a huge motivator, and wanting to get out there, and support,” Acosta said

Alongside the flower garden, the farm will provide space for people to socialize in lounges, knitting clubs and book clubs, as well as through events like karaoke and picnics. Rainbow Gardens also aims to host small weddings at a low or no cost, Lynne said

“We truly, truly want the space to be a celebration,” Lynne said. "So, if you have a love story, you can get celebrated here, you can have your wedding here. If you have a birthday party, if you just want to come sit in the garden, and be at peace, and celebrate yourself — you can do that." 

Rainbow Gardens’ focus on the queer community was an organic progression.

“There is kind of this natural connection between the LGBTQ+ community and nature,” Lynne said. “We found there to be a higher participation in volunteering and the joy in wanting to be farmers.” 

The board of directors felt that focusing on the queer community in an outdoor space was especially important because not many LGBTQ+ centers are directly connected to nature. 

Acosta said that he has noticed that many queer spaces in the Triangle area are disappearing, and he wants to provide a space where members of the LGBTQ+ community can interact with each other and nature, during the day. 

Another reason that Rainbow Gardens decided to focus on LGBTQ+ farmers is because farming is often seen as a heteronormative activity, Lynne said. In the Rainbow Gardens’ experience, she said, this traditional heteronormative perception of farming is almost a myth. 

Sherri Lynne, co-director of the Rainbow Gardens LGBTQ Flower Farm & Community Center in Chapel Hill, discusses future plans for the property on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. The flower garden and community event space is set to open on Thursday, July 4, 2024.

This lack of representation may be partly due to the lack of formal measurement of the number of queer farmers. The USDA Census of Agriculture does not collect data about sexual orientation and gender identity, outside of male or female. 

Some researchers and non-governmental organizations have attempted to independently measure the prevalence of LGBTQ+ farmers, however, their research suffers from limitations. For example, the National Young Farmers Coalition found that 24.2 percent of young farmers identify as a sexuality other than heterosexual, but only surveyed farmers under the age of 40. 

A 2017 research study out of the University of Idaho used USDA Census of Agriculture Data to estimate the number of farms run by men married to men, and women married to women. They found that many farms are run by LGBTQ+ farmers. Yet, the researchers also acknowledged that their estimation was limited by the census data. 

The farm will officially reopen as Rainbow Gardens on July 4 and is hosting a picnic on opening day from 12-6 p.m. to celebrate. The picnic is free to attend and will have food for sale, music, face painting and games. 

The picnic’s theme is “Pride,” which highlights how LGBTQ+ pride is a year-round celebration at Rainbow Gardens and not just relegated to June. 

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Scott Royal, who is helping the farm with sponsorships, visited the farm during the transition from Wildwoods Community Farm to Rainbow Gardens. He said that Rainbow Gardens is still in the initial stages, so he finds it exciting to hear other people’s dreams for the space. 

“I think it’s still kind of left to be written,” Royal said

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