Our community garden is volunteer led and driven and I’m pretty proud of that. I mean, if we had paid staff, a large budget and fine, shiny resources I’d be proud of that too – but in a different way.
Schoolyard gardens are funny creatures in the summer if you think about it. Between late May and early September is often when the garden is at it’s most productive – and neediest. The weeds are growing fast, insects are eating and multiplying in large numbers, and here in Virginia it constantly seems like a month will go by without rain. Raised beds drain pretty quickly anyway even with regular rains or watering.
But guess what? Schools are largely devoid of students, staff and faculty in the summer. So who takes care of it? That’s where our top notch volunteers come in. They have “ownership” of sections of the garden and work together to maintain the common areas (flowers, herbs, shed, hoop house, native plant beds, etc.).
Our native plant beds, however, thrive even if neglected. Years ago we dug long beds alongside the fence’s interior and over time planted much of the space up with native plants. Some we were fortunate enough to get small grants for. Over time these hardy plants have flourished and as they did, we began seeing more birds, butterflies and helpful predacious insects. Plus, as they create healthy ecosystem and small shade areas, they give the gift of beauty to our eyes and perfume to our noses.
I have memories of the years when there were just two or three of us keeping the whole garden running. Now there are dozens of wonderful people. Our garden community is always looking though for good hearts and eager hands, particularly during the busy and hot Virginia summer. If you’d like to get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, October 2nd was the quintessential Virginia fall day with a sky so blue it almost hurt to look upwards. And, for the first time in a few years, the community gardeners gathered in celebration – a community harvest festival, if you will, a chance to be joyful in each other’s company. The food was delicious – these people can really cook – and the conversation was better. It was great to see smiles unhidden by masks.
Friday’s weather was just perfect, a blue sky without blemish, and about ten students came out to finish the week by digging in numerous areas of the garden. They weeded, prepped bed space, thinned growing rows of plants and most importantly tasted, tried, laughed, and enjoyed. Fridays from 3:00-5:00 are a wonderful way to end the work week. Come and join us!
There’s been a major project underway at the garden to increase plantings around the exterior beds. Too many hands have contributed time and effort over the years to count but today I’d like to give some credit to Kip. Not only has he managed a bed in the community garden for the last few seasons, plus helped many other gardeners maintain and upgrade their own plots, plus takeover the garden’s shared herb space, but he also planted a huge number of both annual and perennial plants. Nut trees, apple trees, plums, grapes, sorghum, etc. And take note, he’s done this during a summer of high heat and little rainfall. Often have I watched him march around the garden with a heavy watering can in either hand, moving like an industrious bee from flower to flower.
Some fig trees existed in the garden and they’ve been added to and just yesterday, I saw the first ripe fig purpling and nodding, hanging heavy and ready to pluck. I brought it over to gardener Chris so that he could enjoy it. For him, as for so many others who have visited the garden, it was his first fresh fig and he pronounced it delicious. And they are. Fresh figs are so very different from dried figs. Get the real thing, if you’re lucky enough to have a source nearby. And ours will grow large and bear great amounts of fruit in time, along with many of the plants that Kip and the other gardeners have been stewarding.
Here’s an easy pizza recipe with fresh figs. Add some leafy greens and you’ve got simple deliciousness.
Girl Scout Troop 3042 in Crozet visited the garden and learned about the benefits of a community garden and sustainability. They and their younger siblings and parents walked around smelling, touching, and tasting the assorted growing vegetables, herbs and flowers. Climbing the mulch mountain was very popular and, as it was a hot morning, so was spraying the hose. Hopefully they went home and began clamoring for gardening opportunities.
Thanks to all who visited, troop leaders Lauren Costella and Erin Lynch and, as always, the very cool Waverly Nohr- who made gardening fun.
It’s been a beautiful spring and the gardens are getting into full swing. We have about 25 individuals and families currently occupying the vegetable plots and have recently created two new beds: one for flowers and another for Madison House. Speaking of the UVA volunteers, they rejoined us again about a month ago and have been their usual source of joy and positive energy. It’s been such a comfort to have this community in the community garden during this past year.
Every year we make labels so that we can continue learning about what the plants look like in every stage of development. After all, a young sprout with it’s first two leaves looks an awful lot like a lot of other young sprouts. Or maybe we make them because it will help us remember later what we planted and less for other people. Perhaps it’s the joy inherent in the act of making something both beautiful and functional. Whatever the reason, every single season we gather to make more labels becomes a laughter filled occasion. Each label contains a picture of the plant, the Latin name, common name and usually, the name of the person who painted the rock. That way we know later who to remember and thank for the work they did that remains for future gardeners. Enjoy a few pictures from yesterday’s labor. One of them, Nate, you will note is handling his kale harvest and not a rock but since I like Nate a good deal and the picture I included it anyway.
I look forward to this day every year. It’s the largest volunteer day of the year and a tremendous amount of work gets done in our local nonprofits and schools thanks to our local United Way office and this project. You can find more information about it here.
Sun Tribe Solar came back to the community garden to volunteer again for the second time in just a few months. I’m so impressed with just how fun and hardworking this group is. You can find out more information from their website.
And PVCC employees volunteered too! Thanks to Kit Decker, Corinne Faris, Ben Copeland, Kendra Powell, Karen Grunow, and Andrew Renshaw. And Becky Parkhill for coordinating and President Frank Friedman for his constant support of this day.
I am pleased to report that the PVCC Community Garden has stayed open throughout the spring and summer and continued growing food for donation to local agencies. Our volunteers (there are no paid staff) have worked through a very hot summer, managed the coronavirus fears, kept masked and socially distanced, and done some magnificent work. All eight raised beds are in production and some of them had very heavy and productive seasons. We have nearly 25 individuals and families managing different plots. Fall planting has begun, even though the summer heat is still with us, and even though the PVCC campus is largely empty of students the garden has remained a friendly reminder of people caring for people. Digging in the dirt is also a concrete act to best the worst of this extended season’s megrims.
I would like to thank the cheerful and hardworking team of local company Relish Careers for doing a volunteering shift in the garden on Wednesday (https://www.relishcareers.com/). We are indebted to you for braving the heat and thunderstorms, weeding, tying up and the general neatening up that you helped with.
All beds in the PVCC Community Garden are full and the garden is in overall good shape, even while the world outside rumbles with protests and returns from isolation. Approximately 25 individuals are regularly coming to garden and we’re beginning to get enough crops to harvest and feed them into the local food pantries, food banks, and local nonprofits.
Here are a few pictures from earlier this morning.
The Piedmont Virginia Community College Community Garden has been in existence since 2008. This student-led effort exists for many reasons, including hands-on education, student involvement, leadership and personal development. We also have community members, staff, and faculty who volunteer in the garden. Most of the produce grown is donated to feed the local hungry through The Haven, a multi-agency effort working with the homeless, and the Thomas Jefferson Area food bank, though some goes to feed our laboring students! Additionally, we also have summer camps and other groups that visit the garden.