The place at the end of the bumpy dirt road looks and sounds like many farms in rural Chatham County. Dogs bark and a rooster crows when visitors arrive. Glossy black-feathered chickens peck in the grass around the coop and a collection of outbuildings. A few people in shorts and T-shirts dig up beets and turnips in a half-acre garden plot.
But the writing carved into the wooden sign above the garden gate shows the difference at the Farm at Penny Lane: “Hope Grows Here.”
“We want the farm to be a place where we create initiatives and demonstrate that they are effective and can change people’s lives,” said Thava Mahadevan, director of the Farm at Penny Lane and of operations at the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, part of the School of Medicine.
The center, in partnership with the nonprofit XDS Inc., operates the 40-acre property just six miles south of campus to provide services to approximately 2,000 people in the Triangle area with serious mental health conditions, addictive disorders or intellectual and developmental disabilities. The farm’s innovative programs include harvesting and processing produce, horticultural therapy, a farmer-led gardening group, yoga, cooking classes and a program for training support dogs.