Most of the people who live in the neighborhoods where our three gardens are located have limited incomes and many rely on federal assistance to afford food. Fresh organic vegetables and fruits are expensive and not readily accessible to most of these residents, and many instead purchase foods that cost less but adversely affect their own health and that of their community. UACC’s Food Production and Distribution program increases the availability and consumption of organically-grown, fresh fruits and vegetables among individuals and families with limited financial means living in downtown Charlottesville.
With guidance from UACC staff, volunteers work collectively to maintain three urban garden sites that occupy just over half an acre of land and produce an annual average of 10,000 pounds of produce. We operate the gardens at Friendship Court, 6th Street, and West Street as one big garden so that we can maximize our production and rotate crops from year to year. Individuals who volunteer with UACC earn credits toward vegetables in the form of wooden coins we call “farm tokens.” For half an hour of service, a volunteer earns one farm token. That token can be exchanged for a bag of fresh organic produce that would cost between $15.00 and $30.00 in a local grocery store.
Volunteers can exchange their farm tokens for a bag of vegetables at our weekly volunteer-run distribution events called “market days,” which are held at the Crescent Halls apartment building and at the Friendship Court Neighborhood Network Center. From May through September, every Friday afternoon, market day volunteers distribute the weekly harvest to an average of 54 families and individuals. The majority of those who attend market day live the neighborhoods of Crescent Halls, Friendship Court, S. 1st Street, and 6th Street. These neighborhoods are all within walking distance of our two primary gardens and distribution sites.
UACC is committed to ensuring that when people take home fresh produce, especially something they have not tried before, they know how to prepare it in a way that works for their family. To this end, we partner with other local groups, like UVA Health System Nutrition Services, to host monthly cooking classes. The classes are held in the neighborhoods where we work, either during our market days at Crescent Halls or at other times at the Friendship Court Neighborhood Network Center. People of all ages living in the local neighborhood attend the cooking classes. Each hands-on cooking class focuses on simple, healthy recipes that use produce from the garden in combination with affordable staples from the grocery store. Our goal is to make eating more fresh fruits and vegetables easy and inviting.