From snow to grow!

IMG_2321It’s hard to believe that this was the scene at Friendship Court just a month ago. Things sure change fast!

 

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The season always starts early indoors. Many thanks to folks like Floyd, Linda, and Michelle who helped us sow seeds of the early spring crops.

 

IMG_2397Thanks to all the brave souls who helped us lift the greenhouse and carry it to its new home in the parking lot behind 405 Avon Street. It’s been a perfect location, with great sun exposure and good drainage.

 

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The seedlings are thriving in the new greenhouse. The automatic vent openers are doing a fine job keeping air circulating through the greenhouse without the need for electricity or fans. As the weather warms in late spring and summer, we may add some shade cloth, pull off a few side panels, and install screens for more air flow. We are grateful to Emily and her team of City Schoolyard Gardeners at Buford Middle School for helping us sow the first succession of cabbage and spinach this spring.

 

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Though we typically apply compost in the fall, we experimented with some winter killed sorghum Sudan grass and oversown oat cover crops this past season, which led us to apply compost in spring this year. Thanks to Zach and Sarah, as well as Carlos and the whole team at Timbercreek Organics for many years and many tons of compost. Many thanks to Miro and Brennan for lending a hand with shoveling the compost onto the field.

 

IMG_2391Potatoes are usually the first things in the ground, along with carrots, turnips, and mustard greens. We were blessed with some nice soil conditions in mid-March, which allowed us to get things in right on schedule this year. Thanks to Charlie and Miro for their help.

 

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Our dear BCS 853 finally needed a new clutch after eight diligent years of service. The new clutch just arrived the mail this week, and we look forward to putting our trusty blue sidekick back together again, just in time for preparing the Friendship Court field for the late spring and early summer crops.

 

first orchard workday - Aurora

Speaking of Friendship Court, kudos to everyone who showed up in force for our first Wednesday evening community gardening day on April 6. We started up the Wednesday work days early this year to get a jump on installing the second phase of the new community orchard and native plant sanctuary. Thanks to Aurora for taking this excellent shot of the crew at work. For more information on volunteering visit our volunteer page by clicking HERE, and to stay up to date with non-Wednesday volunteer opportunities, join our email list by clicking HERE.

 

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Transplanting was the name of the game this week. Thanks to the help of Miro, Doomi, Jamel, Kyree, and Miranda, as well as Demetrius and Maya (who didn’t make the picture) we finished planting over 3,200 onions at 6th Street and the next wave of 400 cabbage at West Street before the rains came. All in all, we’re off to a great start this season!

 

 

Winter projects

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UACC’s passive solar greenhouse at 405 Avon Street.

After about a year’s worth of tinkering, our passive solar greenhouse is now ready for action. For a video tour of some of the main features of the greenhouse head to our Kickstarter page by clicking here. The greenhouse will ultimately move to the back lot behind our headquarters. The City has generously offered up three parking spaces near the building where the greenhouse will have great sun exposure. We’re still pondering the best way to move the structure from point A to point B, so if you have any ingenious suggestions, please let us know. Our next infrastructure project will be building a mobile cool-bot powered walk-in cooler, which we’ll park in the spot where the greenhouse currently sits.

Orchard planning medley

Planning the next phase of the orchard at the Friendship Court Community Center.

In January, UACC received funding for the second phase of the community orchard and native plant sanctuary at Friendship Court. The first step in implementing the project was gathering neighborhood resident input. We knew folks were interested in fruit, but we wanted to know what else would make the new orchard space inviting and interesting. At the end of the month, we held an informal planning meeting at the Friendship Court Community Center during which folks could drop in throughout the evening and help us draw a map of the orchard space. Some of the ideas that people proposed included adding stairs on the hillside to make it easier to walk up and down and building shade structures and benches within the orchard. We’ll have another follow-up meeting in February to get more input before beginning the installation in March. Many thanks to the Friendship Court residents who stopped in to share their ideas and to Lauren Samay from C’ville Foodscapes and Devin Floyd from Center for Urban Habitats for their expertise and advice on this project.

 

2015 gets rolling

UACC is pleased to announce the receipt of two generous grants that will help fund our work this year. First, UACC received a grant from the Bama Works Fund in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation to help us purchase some of the supplies we will need for our Food Production and Distribution program. Second, an anonymous family foundation has awarded UACC a grant to support the installation of the second phase of the new community orchard and native plant sanctuary at Friendship Court. These two pledges of support bring us much closer to being able to realize our goals this year, and we are truly grateful. Thanks also to all the local folks who believe in our work and have made donations over the past few weeks! If you’d like to learn more about supporting UACC, please visit the donation page of our website. We’re off to a great start!

2014 In Review

At the beginning of each year, our fields look like a blank canvas. We always have an idea of the picture we hope to paint by summer, but final the portrait is always somewhat different than we expect.

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This particular year was full of unexpected twists and turns, as well as many surprise blessings. We started out the year with funding to build a new passive solar greenhouse and walk-in cooler, thanks to our super successful Kickstarter campaign. We were fortunate to have received financial support from many individual donors and from the Bama Works Fund and Ballyshannon Fund in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation. With these funds, we were able to purchase supplies for the growing season and cover staff time to host classroom activities and field trips for school groups. By early March, however, it was clear that we wouldn’t have enough funding to make it all the way through the year unless we cut the growing season short and spent more time asking for support and less time in the field. This was disheartening, and we felt like we were heading into the unknown. After seven years of growing an average of 10,000 pounds of fresh food per year, UACC was facing the reality of a season with drastically reduced yields. We didn’t know what this would mean for the community members and volunteers who’d worked with us for years, who were looking forward to another season in the gardens. Furthermore, we didn’t know what it meant for the future of UACC.

2007 to 2013Uncertain of where we might end up, we set out to do as much as we could with the resources we had. We started construction on the greenhouse, we visited school classrooms and hosted field trips, we planted the spring crops and sowed cover crops in place of the summer crops we knew we couldn’t afford to grow. We spent more time reaching out to community partners for support and writing grants, and Farmer Todd made plans get his worn out hands repaired after the spring season wound down. We had good yields on the spring crops and held five well-attended early season Market Days. Our long-time volunteers returned and new ones joined us, helping plant and distribute the spring harvest.

spring season

In late May, UACC got two unexpected blessings. First, the Enterprise Preservation Corporation (a partnership of The National Housing Trust and the Piedmont Housing Alliance, who together own the Friendship Court property) surprised us with a large donation, an offer to help us seek out other sources of funding, and a commitment to preserving the gardens for the long-term. Second, we got a call from BB&T Bank. They were interested in supporting UACC through their Lighthouse Project. Inspired by this new outpouring of generosity, we decided to pursue a project that we had been dreaming about, and neighborhood residents had been asking about, for years. We’d been wanting to do something that showed our solidarity with community residents in light of approaching redevelopment. We hoped to use agriculture to send a message about the value of long-term thinking and the benefits of preserving open green spaces where all are welcome. The time was right to plant a community orchard. By the end of June, with volunteer support, we had measured out the space, ordered the trees, and made plans for shaping the hillsides and planting fruit trees in the fall. 

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All told, 2014 was an amazing journey. We accomplished much more than we anticipated and even some things we would never have guessed. This year we…

  • Grew 4,762 pounds of organic produce in partnership with 118 volunteers who contributed 487.25 hours of service in the gardens.
  • Hosted 8 Market Days during which we distributed everything we grew, free of charge, to an average of 52 people per market. 22 volunteers contributed 71 hours of time to help Market Days run smoothly.
  • Shared a presentation called “What do farmers do?” with four elementary school groups at three different schools, and led garden field trips for three elementary school groups.
  • Shared a presentation about volunteering in the garden with two grade level groups at Clark elementary, first as part of a career unit on “Community Helpers” and later as part of an activity during Farm to School Week.
  • Partnered with volunteer groups from Albemarle High School’s Young Men with Great Minds program, BB&T Bank, Charlottesville Therapeutic Recreation, The Girl Scouts, and The Miller School on various service learning projects in the garden.
  • Almost finished construction on our new passive solar greenhouse (it’s getting close).
  • Installed the first 22 fruit trees for a new community orchard at Friendship Court!

last market

As we head into 2015, we carry with us the experience of eight years spent sticking to our core values of working together to grow and share healthy food and cultivating a healthy community for all residents, regardless of wealth or background. Whatever lies ahead, UACC will stay true to our neighborhood partners, relying on their input and leadership to ensure that our work remains relevant and respectful to those in whose backyards we grow food.

We look forward to being able to growing a full season of vegetables, expanding the orchard, and continuing to engage and inspire urban residents of all ages and backgrounds through agriculture. 2015 presents us with another blank canvas, and we need your help to paint it. We’re off to a good start. We’ve received support from Organic Valley and once again from the Bama Works Fund. We have several more grant proposals pending and local folks are again showing their support. If you share our values and believe in what we do, please show your support with an end-of-year donation.  Thank you.

Happy New Year!

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Digging swales

Preparing a hillside for an orchard is hard work, but it was made much easier thanks to the many helpers who came out this past Saturday. We made great headway on the upper swales, and even got one filled with good woodsy debris and covered with mulch by the end of the day. We’ll be out there again on Wednesday, 10/29, from 3pm to 6pm. Come join us!

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Jennifer and Simon get started on the first swale while Aniyah and Amy pound in posts to mark the spots where the trees will go.

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Cassidy gets the second swale going while Jennifer and Simon add woodsy debris to the finished first one.

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Over the course of the day, fifteen volunteers came out to help.

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Jennifer uses the A-frame level to check the slope of the second swale.

Amy and Caiden soak the cardboard sheet mulch with stored rain water.

Amy and Caiden soak the cardboard sheet mulch with stored rain water.

Simon spreads a thick layer of wood chips below the first swale.

Amy and Simon spread a thick layer of wood chips below the first swale.