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UACC In Transition…

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Change is a natural and healthy part of growth. It is the magic of transformative change that turns a tiny seed into a plant that yields pounds of tomatoes with just a touch of nurturing care. Similarly, transition and evolution are inherent in agriculture and in grassroots organizations. We change what crops we plant, and when we plant them, based on the weather. We fine-tune the way we serve the community to make sure we respect the evolving needs and interests of the people who live there. In 2012, UACC emerged as the natural next step for the Quality Community Council’s QCC Farms initiative, which began in 2007.  Some of the dedicated people who were involved with QCC helped us make that successful transition to UACC. As they moved on, new people stepped up with ideas and energy that helped shape what UACC is today.

Over the past six years, the UACC team has had to learn to navigate the complex world of running a small non-profit organization. We know how to connect with the community and bring people together from diverse backgrounds.  In 2017, we grew over 18,000 pounds of food and shared it free-of-charge with the community. We also created a new garden in response to community requests at South First Street. We know our strengths, and we have been able to efficiently do thoughtful and beneficial work on a small budget, with the help of many committed volunteers. That said, we have continually struggled to grow as an organization. We have had some success with cultivating a core group of generous individual and foundation-based donors, and we a deeply grateful for their support. Nonetheless, balancing fundraising and organizational development with growing and sharing food have proven challenging.  After riding the non-profit financial roller coaster year after year, sometimes having to make major sacrifices just into survive to the next season, we knew it was time for a change.

This spring, UACC is preparing for the next phase in the life of the gardens, though we don’t yet know what that will be. We are in dialogue with several non-profit groups that share our commitment to grassroots leadership and working in direct partnership with local residents to guide the vision and mission of the gardens. They too believe in the power of growing food as a way of bringing people together, and they each bring a new level of capacity for fundraising and organizational development, which UACC could never quite afford. As often happens when one pursues a new path, we are finding out that the transition of leadership and responsibility is more complicated and takes a lot longer than we realized. We will keep you posted as things develop and appreciate your continued patience as we work through this transition.

While I have officially stepped down as UACC Operations Director, you will still see me around the neighborhood, both as a volunteer helping UACC coordinate the garden transition and through my new role as a Community Outreach and Investigation Specialist with the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. It is my sincere hope that you too will stay involved and in touch as we find a new path to continue working together to grow and share healthy food and cultivate healthy communities!


Todd Niemeier
(The Former Farmer Todd)

P.S. Below is a collage of photos from 2017. It was a tremendous year, and we’re grateful to all the community members and supporters who made it possible!

2017 Collage


Spring 2017

Turnips as big as your head courtesy of Jennifer and the 6th Street garden – June 2017

Spring has been good to us: a slow warm up, rain at the right times, lots of volunteers, not too many bugs, giant turnips, etc. The first day of summer seemed like the right time to update the blog, and I had a little time before the Wednesday volunteer day. Speaking of which, you should consider coming sometime, if you haven’t already. 4pm to 7pm, Friendship Court, every Wednesday, from now until the end of September, Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise (at least not too much).

See, Miranda and Matt look like they’re having a good time volunteering, right? – June 2017

We’re psyched to have Bradley Ragland back on the team for the summer push. This is Bradley’s third season with UACC. He and Jennifer have been fantastic teammates, and they know how to keep forging ahead when the summer heat gets hard to bear.

Bradley is smiling because summer hasn’t really started yet – June 2017

A friend of mine who knows about making real websites (not like this one) told me that people who look at websites want to see big, close-up pictures of other people’s faces. So I’m trying to do that, but not completely. Sometimes you need to step back a bit to take things in. For example, here’s a shot of the garden at South First Street in summer cover crops.

The 8,000 square foot garden at South First Street is hard to capture in one photo – June 2017

I should add that Janet Mitchell totally made this garden happen, and she got the most Be Cville votes for her proposal to help fund the garden. Janet is amazing, and she can run a BCS 853 tiller. Not everyone can do that!

Janet breaks ground on the new South First Street garden – March 2017

Well, I’m about to be late for the Wednesday volunteer day. There are many other photos and snippets of stuff I should probably post, but gardens need tending and relationships need cultivating and that’s not happening with me sitting behind a computer. So, please come on out and volunteer. If you can’t stand the heat and bugs and bending over for hours and such, consider making a donation to help keep this crazy thing going. Here’s a parting shot of our dear market day volunteers at Friendship Court, just before the sky opened up and drenched us!

We couldn’t do it without this group of dedicated souls (including Woody who slid in next to Shirley at the last second!) – June 2017

Thanks for reading and for your continued interest and support!

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.


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!


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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!

corner collapse collage

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.


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.

15 - FC winding down

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.

* - 2015 collage

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.

compost shot

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.

orchard volunteers 1

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.”

orchard volunteers 2

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.

phase 2 before and after

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

orchard - tucked in for winter

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!


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.

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.

spring web photo collage 1

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.

friendship court photo collage

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.

jennifer photo collage

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!