Category Archives: Garden News

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.

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…

 

Sharing the Harvest

Time flies. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been three weeks since our open house and harvest meal. We had a great evening sharing some wonderful soups made with ingredients grown in the UACC gardens. Thanks go to A Pimento Catering, feast!, and UVa Nutrition Services for preparing the soups, to Albemarle Baking Company for the bread, and to A’Lelia for staying up until 3am (!) baking 10 (!!) homemade sweet potato pies for desert.  Here are a few photos.

IMG_1833

The greenhouse frame made a great little serving pagoda. Mo strings the final while lights in the corner.

IMG_1832

Kate not only offered the services of feast! chef Megan Kiernan to prepare an amazing soup, but she came to help serve and coordinated the bread donation from Albemarle Baking Company. Thanks, Kate!

image (1)

The Banks family was well represented, thanks to Demetrius rounding up the crew. They even stopped over at community bikes to fix their rides and get new helmets.

Thank you A'Lelia! The pies were amazing!

Thank you A’Lelia! The pies were amazing!

Lena offered some impromptu musical entertainment. Thanks, Lena!

Lena offered some impromptu musical entertainment. Thanks, Lena!

Which soup to try first?

Which soup to try first?

UACC Harvest meal L.W & Barbara

LW and Barbara enjoy the perfect weather.

Seconds.

Seconds.

A new perspective

photo-9

With the persistent cold and wet weather, the growing season will likely start a little later for most gardeners this year. This week Miro and I spread some extra hay mulch on our new permanent raised beds (pictured above). I expect these beds will prove very useful for our late spring plantings when many of our other beds will still be too wet to access. It was nice to finally get out from behind the computer for a day and start thinking about gardening instead of fundraising. It’s always surprising how much administrative work it takes just to grow food with friends and neighbors. Over the past five months the bulk of my time has been spent writing grants, mailing letters, emailing, calling, and meeting with people, a crucial aspect of the work to be sure, but comically far removed from kneeling in the soil.

This year will be different than the past seven. Thanks to many generous individual donors, and contributions from the Bama Works Fund and the Rossetter-Cuthbert Fund in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, we have the funding to purchase the supplies we need to begin the season. Next week, we plan to start framing the walls of UACC’s new passive solar greenhouse, thanks to our many Kickstarter backers. We’ll also be starting seeds for the first wave of spring crops. So far, however, we’ve not succeeded in raising the funds we need to hire any new employees or compensate the current one. This means that I too will be a volunteer this year. As a result, I’ll have a little less time to dedicate to UACC, as I will necessarily seek part-time employment, but it also presents a unique opportunity to rethink what we do this year, as an organization.

One of the things that has been on our minds here at UACC is the redevelopment plan that is being considered for the neighborhoods and land between Garrett Street and Elliot Avenue. The City has adopted the name Strategic Investment Area (SIA) to refer to the land that includes Crescent Halls, Friendship Court, the IX property, South 1st Street public housing, and 6th Street public housing. It also includes part of Belmont and the garage UACC shares with Community Bikes at 405 Avon Street, which is owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA). After only a year of meetings and discussions, some public and some private, the City Department of Neighborhood Development Services and the Cunningham Quill architecture firm created a 200+ page design plan for the SIA. During the City Council meeting on February 3, 2014, Council voted to add the SIA plan to the City’s comprehensive plan with only one dissenting vote from Bob Fenwick.

While the City made an effort to engage the public in the planning process, their outreach into the area’s lower income neighborhoods was insufficient. To the City’s credit, during the public input period, they held one meeting with residents at Crescent Halls, and one at Mt. Zion Baptist Church near South 1st Street, and one at 6th Street. However, speaking from the experience of having worked in these neighborhoods for the past seven years, I can say with some certainty that one meeting is not enough, especially when the future of your neighborhood is being discussed. While Crescent Halls, South 1st Street, and 6th Street residents have strong advocates within the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR), the residents of Friendship Court have no similar neighborhood coalition. What’s more, the City did not hold a single public meeting with Friendship Court residents during the entire year-long planning period to talk about the SIA plan and ask for their input.

In an interesting twist of fate, the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA), which has partial ownership of the Friendship Court property in partnership with the National Housing Trust, found itself in a situation similar to the residents of Friendship Court. The City did reach out to PHA, and they held a single meeting with four staff members in February 2013. However, that was the only recorded meeting they had prior to the presentation of the final SIA plan, which suggested a radical redevelopment of the Friendship Court property. In response, PHA has begun hosting monthly meetings at the Friendship Court Neighborhood Network Center to talk to residents about the plan, ask for their feedback, and to come up with something that better reflects the needs of the neighborhood.

I congratulate PHA and PHAR and their efforts to begin dispelling myths about the SIA and to empower residents to speak up in response to the proposed plan. I also applaud the courageous residents who got involved early, like UACC Board Vice Chair and 6th Street resident A’Lelia Henry, who sat on the SIA steering committee and faced an uphill battle as she advocated for the interests of her neighbors. I am thankful to Friendship Court resident Shelanda Green, who spoke twice at City Council meetings to voice her concerns about the cloud of confusion surrounding the SIA planning process. She has since attended the PHA-hosted neighborhood meetings to share her thoughts. UACC Board Chair and Friendship Court resident, Tamara Wright has also served as a voice for Friendship Court residents, attending the first of the PHA-hosted meetings and subsequently meeting directly with PHA’s Executive Director and Deputy Director to share her perspective and her hopes for the neighborhood.

Though the SIA plan has already been voted into the City’s comprehensive plan, this is by no means a closed discussion. This past Monday, A’Lelia and I had the good fortune of meeting with City Manager Maurice Jones, Assistant city Manager David Ellis, and Council Member Kathy Galvin to talk about some of our specific concerns with the SIA plan. Our overall goal was to draw attention to the fact that excluding residents of low-income neighborhoods from the planning process, even unintentionally, is an injustice that needs to be addressed in order to create a plan that would truly benefit the whole community. While we came to no conclusions during the meeting, we agreed to further discussions about how to better include residents going forward, thereby opening a new line of communication with those who have the power to influence change at the city level.

You can help by visiting the links below to learn more:

You can download a copy of the SIA final plan from the City’s website by clicking here.

You can see Shelanda Green, Nykia Walker and others advocating for the interests of Friendship Court residents at the City Council meeting on June 3, 2013, by watching the video of the meeting here. You can use the video index to go to the “matters of the public” section and then watch “council responses to matters of the public.”

You can see Shelanda, Nykia, Brandon Collins, UACC Board Secretary Mo Nichols, and others express their concerns about the adoption of the SIA plan to the City’s comprehensive plan by watching the video of the City Council meeting on February 3, 2014, here.

UACC exists because residents in the neighborhoods affected by the SIA have supported it and guided its vision. The organization relies on their leadership and input to ensure that our work remains relevant and respectful to the community as a whole. Because we are a community-led group, UACC is in a unique position to help raise public awareness about the SIA plan both among our constituents and within the broader community. It is our hope that by sharing information about the plan, and helping to raise the voice of unheard residents, we can inspire positive action.

Thanks for helping us cultivate healthy communities!

Todd

Resilience

IMG_3208

Single digit temperatures used to be a rarity around here, but not lately. This winter has been pretty rough on our garlic, and yet, walking around the field you can see signs of life. Even with frost-burned leaf tips, there, amidst the remains of the most recent snow, the little plants keep plugging along. I didn’t dig any up to check, but I’m sure I’d find healthy roots reaching deep into the soil keeping the little clove alive and holding out for the warmth of spring.

Today marks the beginning of the lunar new year and the year of the horse in the Chinese Zodiac. Like our humble clove of garlic, the horse endures over a long journey. As UACC prepares for the eighth year of its journey, we look to the deep-rooted clove of garlic and the long-running horse for inspiration. May the new year bring health and prosperity to all.

Todd

‘Tis the season for quiet preparation and gratitude

IMG_0898

Fall and winter, while a restful time in the fields, are still busy seasons for us at UACC. As the winter rye and  crimson clover cover crops grow and rebuild the soil, the perennial flowers gather strength and expand their roots, and the garlic begins to poke its first leaves through the thick hay mulch, we work to ensure that the organization has the resources necessary to begin the next season.

We are so thankful to everyone from the local community and beyond who helped us succeed with our Kickstarter campaign. We look forward to beginning construction on a new passive solar greenhouse and a low-energy walk-in cooler at the beginning of next year.

We are also pleased to announce that UACC has just received a $10,000 grant from the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation (CACF)!

2013 (Sept) Ariana and Anaya - carrots

 

2013 was a productive year for us:

  • We grew 10,134 pounds of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits on just over half an acre of urban land;
  • We distributed everything we grew free of charge to an average of 54 people per week during our Market Day events;
  • 131 community volunteers of all ages and backgrounds came out to the gardens and put in 519 hours of service;
  • An additional 38 volunteers gave 213 hours of their time to make sure our 20 weekly Market Days ran smoothly;
  • We mentored another hardworking summer intern in partnership with the Community Attention Youth Internship Program; and
  • We hosted school activities and field trips for the entire Kindergarten class at Venable School and the entire Kindergarten and First Grade at Clark, serving a total of 225 students!

2013 (June) Friendship Court field

2014 will be a pivotal year for UACC and the neighborhoods where we work.

Over the past seven seasons we’ve learned a lot about the land on which we grow food, the people who live in the neighborhoods where we work, and the empowering synergy that comes from uniting the two. Every year the UACC Board, Advisory Council, and staff take a close look at our work to make sure what we do remains respectful and relevant to our neighbors and partners.

In the coming year, in addition to continuing and expanding all of UACC’s ongoing programs, we look forward to hiring a Farm Apprentice from one of the neighborhoods where are gardens are located. We seek to provide a young person, who is just completing high school, a six month opportunity to develop some of the essential skills they’ll need to succeed in future jobs or as they continue their education. The Farm Apprentice  will learn what it takes to run a production-scale garden and do so in a safe and mentoring environment while earning a living wage.

UACC is much more than a collection of very productive community gardens. It’s a community of people who have united despite barriers of race, wealth, age, and other less visible but powerful social constraints that too often divide us. As potential re-development approaches the neighborhoods where are our gardens are located, UACC’s role in the community we serve will necessarily evolve. The UACC Board, Advisory Council, and volunteer base is an informed and empowered community of individuals ready to advocate for the health of their neighborhoods. With their support, UACC is uniquely poised to ensure that urban agricultural land and fresh organic produce remain accessible to individuals with limited means living in downtown Charlottesville.

We hope you will continue to follow what we do and consider supporting UACC by volunteering this spring or by making a financial contribution. Thanks again for helping UACC grow and share healthy food and cultivate healthy communities.

2013 (May) Arriane and Ariana planting