Support UACC and enter to win a Husqvarna Tiller!

Expanding your garden this spring? Enter online to win this brand new Husqvarna DRT900H rototiller! Your raffle ticket purchase ($10 each or 3 for $20) is a tax-deductible contribution supporting UACC’s work to cultivate community through organic farming in downtown Charlottesville!

We’ll add oil, fuel it up, and deliver it to your door if you live within 5 miles of downtown Charlottesville.

Buy tickets online now by clicking HERE. Hurry, the drawing will take place on May 26th!!

Learn more about the tiller model on the Husqvarna web site here.

Fall and Winter 2016

Well, it’s winter. Sort of.

People often ask, “What do farmers do in the winter, kick back and relax?

Well, maybe a little, but some are still growing in greenhouses or tending to animals, and most are probably fixing all the stuff they broke the previous season and scraping together plans and resources for next year. At UACC, we also do a fair bit of affordable housing advocacy while negotiating tenuous deals to preserve existing garden spaces, working out other hopeful agreements for new gardening spaces, writing grants and reports, and trying ever so gently to nudge folks in Charlottesville for financial support (nudge, nudge).

We also update woefully neglected websites… Wait, is it really almost February already? We’ve got some catching up to do!

Nothing says fall like a good sweet potato harvest. We had a bumper sweet potato crop in 2016. We harvested over 1,200 pounds of them from the Friendship Court field for our limited run of six market days this fall. The greenhouse did a fine job of curing and sweetening them up, and, with the new walk-in cooler, we were able to hold the last 500 pounds for a final pre-Thanksgiving market day in November.

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Jennifer and Miro bring in the harvest, which we cured in the passive solar greenhouse.

If you tried growing anything in the cabbage family during the late summer and early fall last year, we sure hope you had better luck than we did! The pests came out in force in our fields. While we got an early harvest from our collards and kale. Later harvests were impossible due to the harlequin beetles, imported cabbage worms, and the onset of alternaria leaf spot, which rendered everything into inedible mush within weeks. Cabbage family crops are some of the most popular within the UACC community, so it was disappointing to lose what we had hoped would be a really big crop of greens. Thanks goodness for the Swiss chard, which the bugs and diseases left alone this fall!

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The collards at West Street looked good from a distance, but a close inspection was horrifying!

While our vegetable season was cut a bit short this year, we still harvested over 3,000 pounds of food and distributed it free of charge to an average of 38 people per market, from September to November. In 2017, we hope to get back in the groove and top our 2015 record of 17,000 pounds.

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Miro harvests the last of the Swiss chard for the pre-Thanksgiving market day at Friendship Court.

When asked about her favorite and least favorite tasks in the gardens, Jennifer said that planting got high marks. Shoveling, however, got a much less enthusiastic endorsement. On top of the twenty-plus cubic yards of compost we apply each fall to the vegetable fields, this year we also shoveled many tons of gravel, topsoil, and wood chip mulch to backfill the terraces in the community orchard. Thanks to all who came out to help!

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Helen and Miro help make a dent in the topsoil. Say, that’s a lot of gravel.

The Friendship Court Community Orchard took a lot more time and effort than we ever imagined it would, but we got it done, thanks to many hands. After we finished building the terrace walls and planting the berry bushes, we took an afternoon in the fall to build and install a bench on the middle upper terrace, between the honeyberries and the gooseberries.

bench-projectThe bench was a fun capstone project for the orchard, as was sheet mulching with C-ville Weeklys.

Of course after we set the bench, it was back to shoveling more woodchip mulch, but the end result was worth the effort! We encourage everyone to come sit on the orchard bench this spring to listen to the bees buzzing among the native plants and watch the orchard and gardens come to life.

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After a year and a half of shoveling, stacking stones, and lots more shoveling, it’s finally finished!

While you are visiting, pick up a map from one of the two boxes below the welcome signs at either end of the orchard. The map has information about the different varieties of fruits and berries growing in the orchard. Also, be sure to take a look at the bee logs! These are home to many species of native solitary bees, which feed on nectar from the flowering native plants and help to pollinate the orchard and fruiting vegetables like squash and cucumbers.

P.S. You can also download a printable black and white version of the orchard map by clicking HERE. Note: it’s a 10MB file so it may take a moment to open.

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Maps designed by Ben Kessler of C’ville Foodscapes, and bee logs by Center for Urban Habitats.

As we gear up for our eleventh growing season, we look forward to focusing on what we do best, bringing people together from all backgrounds to grow and share food. 2017 promises to be a year of great opportunity. Over the past year, residents of the South First Street community have been asking UACC to open a garden in their part of the neighborhood. After a year of vigorous resident advocacy and negotiation with the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, UACC is on the cusp of doing just that.

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Thanks to all who supported our work in 2016, whether by volunteering time in the garden or at market day, serving on our leadership team or making a financial contribution. We’re grateful for your continued belief in in the value of slow, steady, grassroots work. This spring we plan to hire another staff person to help us open the gardens at South First Street and expand production, but paying a living wage to three staff people is expensive and is nearly impossible to do through grants and corporate support. That is why we rely on contributions from donors like you who believe in what we do.

You can stay informed about upcoming volunteer events and opportunities by joining our email list, and, if you’re so inclined, you can also support our work financially by making a secure online donation. See you this spring!

Summer 2016

We’re pleased to be growing vegetables again, thanks to the support of The Hut Foundation. Though it was a rough start for fall crops during the late summer heat and the recent dry spell, the harvest has been bountiful, and our first two fall market days were well attended. Many thanks go to Bradley and Jennifer for their hard work and endurance, as we got the fall season underway.

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Over the summer we put a lot of energy into finishing several big projects that had we hadn’t finished during last year’s record-breaking vegetable season. The biggest pending project was the Friendship Court Community Orchard, which started with a handful of trees back in 2014 and has since expanded to include a terraced berry orchard and native plant and pollinator sanctuary. Over the next few weeks we’ll be top-dressing the plants with compost and sheet mulching the whole area in preparation for the cold months. We look forward to the first berries next spring!

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One of our other small but challenging side projects was to figure out how to mount an air conditioner on an exterior cinderblock wall. In previous years we’d had to vent the heat from the A/C unit into the other garage bays. This was a very unkind thing for us to do to our dear neighbors at Community Bikes, but we needed to cool our seed starting room enough to start fall seedlings in July (yes, the fall season starts in July!). We are grateful that the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which owns our headquarters at 405 Avon, gave us the go ahead to knock a hole in the wall. After consulting with people more in-the-know than us about the process, we were confident we could do it without the building collapsing, though it was still a little bit frightening to commit to that first hole.

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Last but certainly not least, ever since we completed our successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, we’d been hoping to build a new walk-in cooler for vegetable storage. We’d been relying on a small cooler that could only hold 10 of the usual 30 to 40 harvest bins we fill each week. This meant a lot of harvesting at the last minute, covering things with wet burlap to prevent wilting, and occasional major losses due to spoilage of long-term storage crops like onions and sweet potatoes. Thanks to the major support of the Lowe’s Hero’s Project and Lowe’s employee Richard, who donated many hours of his own time, we have a top-notch, low-energy walk-in cooler with ample storage space.

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We also fulfilled another long-term goal this summer. After many requests from neighborhood friends of all ages, strawberries are once again abundant in the Friendship Court garden. In addition to the patch that we planted this spring with young residents, the many understory patches throughout the fruit tree orchard yielded lots of sweet berries.

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When passing by the Friendship Court garden you may have also noticed a new small plot near the garden sign. UACC is working in partnership with Virginia State University and Virginia Tech on a project to expand knowledge and awareness about urban agriculture among Virginia Cooperative Extension agents. This plot is a demonstration and experimental plot, which we will highlight during a field day with extension agents this October.

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With the help of young volunteers, we also replanted the borders around the vegetable plots at Friendship Court with native perennials. These borders had been planted with a mix of native and non-native perennials in previous years, but we thought it was time for a full native makeover. These borders are planted with over 30 species of native plants and will serve as habitat for pollinators as well as many other beneficial insects.

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As we head into fall, the UACC leadership team is also working hard on plans for 2017 and beyond. During the past five years we’ve learned a lot about how to run a non-profit from the grassroots. We’ve also learned that it takes much more than just doing good work to ensure the future of the organization. This winter we will introduce some new energy into the UACC Board of Directors, streamline our programming to focus on our strengths, and develop a long-term strategy that continues to support our community during the upcoming process of urban redevelopment.

We’re grateful to everyone who continues to believe in our work and support the vision through volunteerism and financial contributions. You can stay abreast of the latest volunteer opportunities by clicking HERE to join the UACC email list. You can also make a secure online donation to UACC through our partners at Virginia Organizing by clicking HERE.

Thanks!

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Spring 2016

When the spring cover crops reach their peak growth and bloom, it’s always hard to want to mow them down, but we’re grateful for the amazing work they do for our soil year-round. UACC is blessed to garden on some of the largest and most fertile open spaces in Charlottesville.

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Hairy vetch, crimson clover, winter pea, and winter rye cover crops at Friendship Court.

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Jennifer Minor, UACC Farm Apprentice, mows the cover crops at 6th Street.

This year we’re taking a detour from our usual growing season. When we realized we didn’t have enough funding to hire additional staff to do all the work we hoped, we decided to make the best use of the resources at hand. We’ll be sowing most of the fields to warm season cover crops to protect and prepare the soil for a fall vegetable season. If you pass by Friendship Court this summer, you’ll see lots of tall sorghum Sudan grass and cowpeas along with a substantial sweet potato planting, which we’ll harvest in September. In the meantime, we’ve been working hard to finish the new community orchard at Friendship Court.

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Volunteers backfill terraces and build walls during a Saturday morning volunteer day.

The community orchard project has been quite a learning experience. It’s brought out many new volunteers and has attracted new visitors and attention to UACC’s work. At the same time it’s taken a lot more time and labor than we ever imagined it would. As it turns out, building dry stack stone walls is really difficult, and building really sturdy dry stack stone walls is even more difficult!

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Despite the steep learning curve, we’re getting really close to having the whole terrace system finished. Our current goal is to get the berry plants in the ground by the end of May. Speaking of berries, when we began planning this orchard with community members, we heard many requests for strawberries. About seven years ago we had a big patch of them at Friendship Court, and people have been asking us to replant them ever since. With the demand for veggies, space is always at a premium, so this spring we carved out a new spot for the strawberries.

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In March, we prepared a new space for the strawberries by building raised beds.

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In April, young people from the Friendship Court after school program planted over 100 strawberry plants.

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A heavy layer of hay mulch and spring rains have gotten the berry plants off to a strong start.

Working with Center for Urban Habitats on our native plant and pollinator sanctuary has inspired us to plant more natives along the borders of our gardens. We’re learning the ins and outs of growing native plants from seed, which can be a bit more involved than growing vegetables. Some seeds need stratification (exposure to moisture and cold temperatures) for a month or more, some need to be scarified (having the outside seed coat scratched so that water can penetrate inside), and some seeds are so small you can barely see them. We learn a little more about them each time we experiment, and we have several thousand plants ready to go into the ground once the rains subside.

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Native plants in the foreground and berries in the back await the ideal planting day.

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Crimson clover in full bloom in the foreground, our almost finished terraces in the middle, and a thriving native plant community at the top.

This year is one of contemplation and reflection at UACC, as we work with our many neighbors, friends, and volunteers to determine our long-term vision. While we are faced with many uncertainties, there’s still plenty of work to be done day to day, and we are grateful to everyone who continues to support our work and helps us plan for tomorrow with hope.

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Anything is possible, and every effort matters, no matter the size.

Winter

2016 will be our tenth year of growing and sharing healthy food and cultivating healthy communities, and our fifth year doing it as UACC. We’ve seen a lot of things change over the years. Many community friends have moved to other parts of town, while new friends have joined us in the gardens. We’ve watched young people who were just learning to walk when we broke ground, now come out and help us build stone walls for the new community orchard. Kids who started helping us in the gardens when they were in elementary school are now in high school.

A lot has also stayed the same. A sense of great uncertainty still looms over the communities where we work. Affordable housing is still hard to find. Families trying to get ahead, and break the generational cycle of poverty, still face an upward battle as they juggle single-parenthood, limited employment opportunities, the pursuit of higher education, and navigating the complex rules of HUD subsidies. The discussion about redevelopment in the Ridge Street Neighborhood is picking up again. The Piedmont Housing Alliance is rekindling the community engagement process at Friendship Court in an effort to determine the future of the property. With the departure of the most recent director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, public housing residents are once more holding their breath to see what will happen to their communities in the new year.

In communities where day-to-day life can feel so precarious, we’re constantly amazed by the resilience and perseverance of the people we meet. UACC is blessed to count as board members, volunteers, and staff some of the most inspiring and empowered community members from Crescent Halls, Friendship Court, 6th Street, and South 1st Street. Without their enthusiasm, commitment, and belief in the value of working together, there would be no gardens, no orchard, no market days, and no UACC. It’s the people and the relationships that intertwine them that create the web of support that makes UACC work. You can read about UACC’s leadership team by clicking HERE.

2016 will be a year of transition and evolution for UACC. Sadly, we won’t be growing any vegetables this year. After finishing a year where we produced 17,000 pounds of vegetables, 70% more food than our annual average, not growing vegetables at all feels a little paradoxical. And yet, we realized that without sufficient funding to hire additional staff and cover the costs of supplies, trying to run a full season this year just wouldn’t work. At the same time, we see 2016 as an opportunity to do something different and of potentially greater long-term benefit for our community and the people we support.

Jennifer Minor will return on a part-time basis for a second season as the UACC Farm Apprentice. The fields still require lots of attention, even when we’re not producing food in them. Jennifer will be helping us sow and manage our summer cover crops and transform our perennial borders to a diverse native plant community. We’ll also finish constructing the stone-walled terraces in the orchard and plant the blackberries, blueberries, bush cherries, gooseberries, honeyberries, and strawberries that we’ve been carefully overwintering. Jennifer and Todd will also finish construction on our mobile walk-in cooler and complete a few other building and repair projects that have been waiting in the wings.

This past December UACC board members who live at Friendship Court were key players in the establishment of the Friendship Court Residents Association. We applaud their courage to re-establish a platform of advocacy and support for community residents. UACC will continue to play an active role in the dialog on redevelopment and explore partnerships that help us define how urban agriculture fits into the future of the neighborhood. To that end, we have partnered with the National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corporation, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center on a proposal to the Kresge Foundation for a planning grant through their in Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative. Through a cross-sector collaborative planning process, we hope to collectively define the optimal strategies for using urban agriculture to further empower neighborhood residents, improve the wellbeing of the community, and explore the potential for UACC to broaden the scope of its programs for community members.

We see this as a great opportunity to further engage and empower current community leaders while welcoming others into the fold. Resident leadership and volunteerism have always been the backbone of UACC. Over the long term, we hope to transfer more ownership of the organization to the community. This is no simple task. Running the organization not only requires people with expertise in agriculture but also experience in accounting, fundraising, community organizing, and managing community relations. Members of the UACC leadership team and others in the community have the potential to grow into these roles and we are excited to collaborate with other community partners as we embark on this journey.

Ultimately, it is the community of people that surround UACC that make it unique and successful. Working together to grow and share healthy food is UACC’s way of encouraging good people to come together and realize what’s possible when we collaborate. We encourage folks to keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities this spring, as there will still be plenty of work to do in the orchard.

Signing up for our email list is a great way to stay informed. You can sign up for the UACC email list by clicking HERE.

You can also make a donation to support our work by clicking HERE.

Fall

This time of year our work shifts from growing to building and rebuilding. While the cover crops and earthworms build and rebuild the soil in the gardens, we work to build and rebuild our infrastructure, equipment, and our community relationships.

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In late September, Jennifer works in compost and cover crop seed into the field at Friendship Court, and a pile of stone awaits willing hands to help stack the next terrace wall.

This was an incredible year for growing food. Thanks to many willing hands, and one additional pre-Thanksgiving greens harvest, we produced over 17,000 pounds of fresh vegetables and fruits. Everything we grew was distributed free of charge at 24 weekly market days. We served an average of 55 individuals per week at market days this year, for a total of 386 individuals.

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A collage of 18 weeks of Market Day baskets.

Many thanks go to Sarah and Zach at Timbercreek Farm for donating compost for the eighth year running, to Jennifer for shoveling tons of the stuff, and to our friends from the Miller School for helping us spread it on the fields.

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Jennifer shovels yet another trailer load out at Timbercreek, and the Miller School volunteers apply it to the 6th Street field.

The Miller School crew were also among the many volunteers who helped us prepare the new community orchard site at Friendship Court this year. Thanks go to UVa Intramural Recreation staff who came out for the United Way Day of Caring in September, and volunteers from Mountain Top Montessori who helped out in November.

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Miller School volunteers dig an upper wall footer trench and UVa Intramural Recreation staff level off the first terrace.

All told, 107 people contributed 546 hours of volunteer service this year. Project partners from C’ville Foodscapes and internationally-renowned master stonemason Elizabeth Nisos also put in many hours to help us build the dry stack stone walls for the new orchard. Elizabeth shared her expertise and also donated much of the local stone used to build the walls. Here’s what she had to say when we asked her why the project was valuable to her:

“It has been an honor to work throughout this summer 2015 with Todd, with UACC, and with each of the volunteers of all ages, building the stone terrace walls for future plantings, and sharing the sacred rules of stone masonry, while witnessing the garden’s full abundance for the community, week by week. May this garden be a solid footprint for continued development, providing bountiful gifts to our community members, and bringing us all together, creating something amazing.”

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Sarah from C’ville Foodscapes and Elizabeth put the finishing touches on the first wall, while young volunteers from Friendship Court shovel gravel for backfilling the next wall.

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Phase 2 of the Friendship Court community orchard, well on its way from concept to reality.

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Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, bush cherries, gooseberries, and honeyberries tucked in for the winter, awaiting spring planting.

UACC is grateful to all  who came out to help in the garden and at market, to the generous landowners who gave us space to grow, and to the many financial supporters who helped make 2015 one of our most productive and engaging yet. We depend on local contributors to keep growing and sharing healthy food and cultivating healthy communities. You can make an end-of-year donation to support our work by clicking HERE. Thanks!

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A wintery December sky above the Friendship Court field. The gardens rest while we gear up for another round of building stone walls and community.