UACC’s Community Collaboration program increases interaction and collaboration across racial, economic, and other social barriers through collective gardening and produce distribution, community organizing, and community member empowerment. UACC provides a welcoming venue for people of all ages and backgrounds to work together to improve the quality of life for themselves and their neighbors.
Since 2007, volunteers have contributed nearly 4,000 hours of service during our weekly community gardening days and market days. Volunteers from all parts of Charlottesville work side by side with UACC staff to plant, harvest, and distribute everything we grow. UACC also partners with other community organizations to connect city residents to opportunities that satisfy community service requirements. We have hosted volunteers fulfilling service hour requirements for Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, The Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW) program of Charlottesville Social Services, as well as court-mandated community service through Community Attention and Offender Aid and Restoration. In 2013, 169 volunteers contributed 732 hours of service during our community gardening days and our market days. In 2014, we plan to encourage even greater community engagement through expanded local outreach.
In addition to community gardening days, UACC also hosts garden tours throughout the season for diverse groups of visitors, including elementary and high-school students, first-year medical students learning about health initiatives in the community where they will be attending school, university classes studying food access as it relates to social justice, environmental advocacy groups interested in our rainwater management system, and apprentices from local farms who are just beginning their agricultural careers. In 2014, we anticipate additional tour requests from these and other local and regional groups. Garden tours provide a unique opportunity to raise awareness and inspire visitors to seek creative community-based solutions to address hunger and nutrition issues.
Community involvement in the gardens is not limited to scheduled gardening days and tours. The UACC gardens are integral components of the neighborhoods where they are located. During the growing season, the daily presence of UACC staff in the gardens year after year has allowed us to build long-term relationships with neighborhood residents. Children in particular come out to visit whenever they see something happening in the garden. On any given day during the growing season, anywhere from two to twenty neighborhood residents and volunteers come out to help, many of whom have come out consistently for multiple years. For the past seven growing seasons, the UACC gardens have been a place where both children and adults can go to meet new people, learn, have fun, and help out, knowing that their contributions are appreciated.
Cultivating community health goes hand in hand with community-member empowerment. The majority of the members of the UACC Board of Directors live in the communities where our gardens are located. We rely on the leadership of the UACC Board and the UACC Advisory Council, made up of long-time volunteers and participants, to ensure that our work is relevant and meaningful to the neighborhoods where we work. Board and Council members work closely with the UACC Operations Director to guide and expand the vision of UACC, while developing their own leadership skills. They learn to identify their strengths and build partnerships that are enhanced by the diverse backgrounds of everyone in the group. This past year, the Board led grassroots fundraising initiatives and interviewed and hired a consultant to help UACC with planning and development. In 2014, Board members are planning to attend local board training courses, as they work increase their capacity and expertise as a leadership team.