The Garden’s Origin Story

Yesterday I was out working in the garden with a few good people and it occurred to me that the story of how the PVCC Community Garden came into being is not on the website. Now seems as good a time as any to share the story.

Back in April, 2008 a student named Beng “Nik” Ooi came to see me with an idea for a community garden at PVCC. He was passionate about the idea, very detail oriented, and had already looked around the grounds for a place to start. But to start a club at PVCC requires a staff or faculty member to act as advisor. Nik had heard that I might be a good fit and asked if I would help him.

Of course I told him “No.”

Thankfully, NIk isn’t that good at listening to “No.” He arranged for two other advisors, Lloyd Willis and Lesley Sewell, and asked if I would be a third advisor. He put together a Powerpoint presentation for college administration justifying the proposal. He was insistent, polite, obdurate. He got me to say “Yes.”

It was a rocky beginning. We found that the ground was full of huge rocks and some overflow fill from the construction of the nearby Dickinson Building (built in 2000). My memory serves up many images of Nik wearing his jaunty straw hat while tilling up the ground, large water bottle sitting nearby. He planned sunflowers for one side of the triangle shape, to act as shade and a natural fence. After a few semesters taught us the low fertility of the soil, we began growing in bags soil placed atop the ground. Eventually we built one raised bed, then another, and so on. The PVCC Construction Academy, under the direction of Jim Coyner, donated a shed. We put up a fence, using poles donated by later club President Modou Gaye. Later we raised the fence four feet higher.

PVCC science, technology and engineering students helped construct the elaborate irrigation system that feeds our eight raised beds, along with funding the project. Later, some students from this same group built a rooftop rainwater collection system that drains water right into the tank. The other club’s advisors eventually pursued other interests, but two years ago Biology instructor Jennifer Scott became club co-advisor.

We have been the beneficiary of so many generous people that it would be impossible to name them all, but I do want to mention a few and say “thank-you” again.

Fred Scott, Jr. with the Ballyshannon Fund provided us with our first funding for infrastructure.

Steve Murray with Panorama Farms provided us donated soil/compost mixture.

Van Yarhes Tree Company and Bartlett Tree Experts have provided us with mulch whenever we ask.

Nicola McGoff with the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conversation District has helped show us the way to find grants for native plants.

UVA’s APO service fraternity chose as a pledge project, raised big funds, contributed huge hours, and really brought us forward in many areas, including our hoop house.

and so many more that I cannot thank them all. Most of all, thank you to all the hundreds of people who have volunteered in the garden in the past, and to those who continue to walk through our welcome gate. It all makes our community garden a very special place to inhabit.


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