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.

Summer

fc garden - summer!In the time it takes to upload all these photos to the website, the squash have probably grown another inch. So, rather than type too much and spend more time out of the field, here’s a quick photo journey of our transition into summer.

 

upkeep - johnny cultivating the kaleJohnny cultivates the kale at Friendship Court, as the last echoes of spring fade into summer’s symphony.

 

kale harvest medleyA week later, Kiomi, Patrick, and Josie come out for the early morning kale harvest.

 

market - at the garageThe pre-Market Day hustle at the 405 Avon Street garage: Wilbur records the data, Jennifer and Miro do the heavy lifting, and Kenneth prepares to pack bags for delivery to Crescent Halls.

 

Veggies 6-5-15The bounty of early June: a basket pre-packed for one of our dedicated Market Day volunteers.

 

market day medleyHere’s where it all comes together: Market Day at Friendship Court (left) and South 1st Street (right).

 

market - s 1st 6-26 (2)Belief in action at South First Street: working together to grow and share healthy food helps cultivate healthy communities.

 

stone wall verticalMeanwhile, back in the community orchard, thanks to many many helpers, we finished digging the footer trenches for the lower stone terrace walls. We were then blessed with the guidance of internationally renowned master stone mason Elizabeth Nisos and her partner Tracy Carver, as we began laying stone.

 

stone day 1 medleyOn the first day of stone laying, Elizabeth and Tracy taught us the basics.

 

stone day 2 medleyBy the second week, volunteers were moving fast and making progress.

 

harvest - onionsThe onion harvest always punctuates the start of summer in the gardens…

 

bradley harvest medley…as did the arrival of our summer intern Bradley Ragland. Bradley jumped right into the hardest part of the year with great enthusiasm. Here he is harvesting carrots with Jennifer, and picking the dreaded summer squash with Brennan. You’re a superstar Bradley!

 

market - kenneth preparing for another deliveryKenneth has kept the deliveries to Crescent Halls residents rolling strong. He maintains a list of folks who can’t make it to Market Day and makes sure that fresh vegetables arrive at their doors each week.

 

upkeep medleyPatrick and Jennifer plant lettuce in the last available bed at Friendship Court, while Bradley tills in the onion field at 6th Street in preparation for summer cover crops.

 

Veggies 7-10-15The vegetables of summer add new color to the weekly market basket.

To learn how you can help by volunteering, click HERE. Can’t come out to volunteer? You can also make a donation to support our work by clicking HERE.

Onward toward fall…

 

Almost June…


greenhouse in full swingThe greenhouse is continually full these days, and the gardens are filling up fast, too. It’s been a near perfect spring for growing vegetables this year. The rains have been steady, but not too frequent, and the gradual warm-up has been ideal for our spring crops.

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Thanks to Aaron’s early season cultivation, and help from the City Schoolyard Gardeners from Buford, the West Street field got off to a great start. We’ve already harvested for three Friday Market Days from this garden, and it’s only just starting to produce.

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Many willing volunteers have been coming to our Wednesday evening community gardening days. We’ve been focused on getting the second phase of the community orchard up and running. From digging footer trenches for the retaining walls to stripping sod and planting native plants, neighborhood residents and volunteers from all parts of town have helped us out tremendously. The Friendship Court garden is growing into an amazingly diverse urban oasis.

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Last, but most certainly not least, UACC is proud to welcome Jennifer Minor to the UACC team! Jennifer will be working for us this year as a Farm Apprentice. In her first week she’s already done everything from planting, to tilling fields, to helping us harvest for Market Day. She’s a fast and enthusiastic learner and we are very lucky to have her help this year!

Your continued support makes our work possible, and we are grateful. You can make a quick and secure online donation by clicking here. Feel free to contact us for more information by clicking here!

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!