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.
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.
Uncertain 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.
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.
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!
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!