Madison House is almost back…

We have been a beneficiary of the volunteers through UVA’s Madison House for the past several years, as written about previously. Really, without their help the Charlottesville community schools and nonprofits would be able to offer so many fewer services. They do so much, contributing an incredible amount of person hours over the course of the year. While the United Way Day of Caring may be splashier as a huge one day volunteer event, Madison House students help out throughout the year, making a continuing impact.
This year the Madison House team will be lead by Henry Wykowski and Samip Patel. Both have experience working in the PVCC Community Garden and we are very exited to welcome them back. And though Madison House is still in the recruiting stage for this year’s volunteers, Henry and returning MH volunteer Dalma came back to the garden last Friday. They couldn’t wait to get back! We harvested squash and okra, plus weeded and planted a good chunk of the garden’s largest bed.

They’re a great team.

SERVING the community, UVA style

Project SERVE was in the garden last Friday and, as usual, this group rocked the house! Helping local service organizations while making acquaintences with other, new UVA students is the goal of this project and they do an incredible job. We’ve had years of being a Project SERVE site and they always work hard, make great conversation, and hopefully a few lasting friendships along the way. We cleared one of the eight raised beds of summer weeds and planted it full of two kinds of turnips, kale, and mustard greens.
Thanks to everyone who participated and have a wonderful fall semester. Our gate is always open to you.





Volunteers and Native Plant Rocks

This summer the garden has had some really terrific volunteers and I’d like to take some time to celebrate them here, for without our cadre of volunteers this garden wouldn’t exist at all. There have been so many great ones over the years, coming and going, lending their passion to a greater good. Being a community garden coordinator is funny thing. At our garden, we have volunteers note in a spiral bound notebook what they’ve done during their volunteer shift. Some of us never meet each other, but we’ve been reading and enjoying each other’s notes. From Alan, for instance, we get ruminations on time and the beauty of the sunset. Ella brings ideas aplenty, always looking out for ways to improve the garden. Lately she’s been thinking about ways to make the best use of the hoop house, or bringing peach or mulberry trees. Georgia plunks down her stool and weeds the beds thoroughly. Though my hours seldom intersect with hers, I always enjoy the bright, positive perspective she brings to the garden. Albina found us through a Biology professor and though heavily pregnant, tended her row of tomatoes. Congratulations on the recent addition to your family, Albina, and thanks for returning so quickly! Chris, our police chief, is also known around the garden as the guy who devotedly mows, trims, tills, and also manages to work one of the raised beds with his children. Mary Beth, a recent addition to the garden, has taken over not only the compost bins, but also worked with Ella to build a sifter to remove the mugwort plant – in addition to half a million other things. Most recently she and Ella organized a rock party.
What, you say?
Yes, complete with kids a’plenty, refreshments that included passionfruit juice from the garden and a professional illustrator! We painted rocks in bold colors and then painted some of our native plants on them, writing the plant names as clearly as possible. Then we preserved everything with a spray of clear coat. Those rocks now adorn our garden, labeling some of our native plants for all to see. It worked so well we can’t wait to do it again!
This is not nearly a complete list of volunteers, gentle reader, just a start. Andrea, Hannah… the list goes on and on. Come, visit, and see.
By the way, you can also friend us on Facebook at






Presidential Growth

I’d like to take a moment to call attention to our lovely heirloom tomato bed, thoughtfully tended by Horticulture and Environmental Club President Andrew Harriman. Heavily mulched, well pruned and tied, this bed has produced some beautiful tomatoes all summer long. Last summer Andrew tended a smaller section of this bed all on his own, but he branched out and really did some wonderful work. He also brought us native plants through his membership in the VA Native Plant Society, worked to monitor the temperature in our hoop house, and has done a number of other, unthanked tasks in the community garden over the last few years. Thank you for your hard work, Andrew!

Triple C Camp visits the PVCC Community Garden

Yesterday, more than 30 campers and counselors from Triple C Camp were in the garden. These were some of the older campers from 6th to 8th grade, many of whom had visited the garden last year and were happy to share what they knew. We harvested pounds of green beans for the food bank, examined the native plant border, found a snake and lots of insects, and walked all around the garden space talking about growing plants.

Exposing young people to gardening early is very important as it helps them develop a relationship with the plants that provide the basis for a healthy diet. Visiting the produce section in the grocery store with your children is good, getting them started preparing and cooking food for the family is good, and letting them learn from the ground up the process of a healthy, sustainable way to produce food is critical. Maybe they won’t put it all together at 12 years old, but each positive exposure helps in the development of a healthy diet.

We did some weeding in the tomato plant section and in one of the native plant beds. I was very impressed by the hard work of these youngsters, as it was a hot day and many of them hadn’t much experience pulling plants before. We accomplished quite a bit and the garden is looking very good at this point in the summer.

IMG_3098 Triple C June

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.

In praise of she who wields the mattock

Many years ago a young lady visited the garden when only a few raised beds stood shoulder to shoulder, in stony but ┬ánot straight evidence that growth was underway. The weather was snowy, and she was there along with others to measure the beds so that we could calculate the area in order to purchase soil compost mix. Or perhaps we were doing this in order to prepare an assignment for one of the math classes. It doesn’t matter. Who works in the garden in the snow, she wondered?

What does matter is that this woman became intrigued by the magic that surrounds the garden and began a love affair that still continues, visiting the garden in all seasons and participating for all reasons. For several summers she was there nearly every weekend, working early before the sun’s heat was full. Eventually the squash bugs so traumatized her that she declared full bore “No more” and desisted from going anywhere near growing squash.

She has left her share of sweat and blood in the garden, nurturing the growing plants like any dedicated volunteer. One of the delights of coordinating a community garden is never really knowing everything that’s going on, which includes a surprising troop of dedicated community and garden members who arrive and depart at their own volition. One week a number of purple and white iris were planted in some of the garden beds. Another time it was a score of heirloom tomatoes. The garden delights with fresh surprises, feeding that part of us that thrives on the unexpected. The woman above, Erin Hughey-Commers, has made a ritual of showing up unexpectedly, and that arrival always heralds her unique combination of cheerfulness and industry.

Perhaps strangest yet, she fell in love with a wild haired, dirty fingernailed, impulsive laissez-faire garden coordinator and last month we were wedded in a simple yet beautiful ceremony in Nelson county, the center of the universe.

Erin, you have the gift of making everything around you glow more brightly. Thank you for marrying me… and I’ll see you in the garden.

Erin with mattock

Photos credit: Sara Elizabeth

Let’s talk about tenacity

As you might remember reading from earlier posts on the website, our community garden was the incredibly fortunate beneficiary of UVA’s APO pledge class project back in the fall of 2014. It was an awesome day, with over a hundred volunteers working in the garden space on tasks that included: building trellises and tables, compost bins, raising the height of the surrounding fences, moving beds, upgrading the irrigation system, and more. One group directed a rather ambitious project to build two large hoop houses. A lot of time and expense went into all of the projects, but none more than the hoop houses. It was discovered that the design was not sturdy enough and the project had to be rethought. Many people would have given up at that point, but not the incredible team of Casey Eilbert, Jen Natyzak and Adrianna Gorsky. These three awesome women brought the project back the drawing board, raised additional money for materials, did research that included visiting other hoop houses, and came back time after time to ultimately finish the project. It has been a privilege getting to know them through their efforts.

The hoop house that they’ve constructed will allow us to grow more during the late fall and early spring, not to mention winter. That’s vital for a school community garden because that’s when the students are in session. It will also allow us to get a jump start on our summer plantings. Come by the garden sometime to admire their work!

APO Leading Women

Madison House Leadership

Over the years, UVA’s Madison House volunteers have spent hundreds of hours in the PVCC Community Garden and we are truly grateful. The story goes back to PVCC student Sara Elizabeth, who was also President of the PVCC Horticulture and Environmental Club. When she transferred to UVA she said, “Don’t worry, you’re not going to get rid of me.” and she was (and is) as good as her word. That next semester, Sara brought the PVCC Community Garden to the attention of Madison House staff and in fall 2012 was leading a group of volunteers on a weekly basis back to work in the garden. At the end of her time as Project Director, she handed her role over to Christine Wehner, who was a marvel of organization and energy. She was assisted along the way by Lia Cattaneo, another model of enthusiasm and earthly sustainability. Then came Varun Kavuru, who has come to the garden just about once or twice a week for better than three years. He is graduating UVA this spring and we would like to take off our hat, wipe a sweaty brow, and say thank-you.

He has been helped along the way by Chris Porter, who we are looking forward to welcoming back to the garden this fall, and an awesome cast of volunteers, many of who have come back to volunteer year after year. We are constantly heartwarmed by those who have passed through the garden at some point in their lives and remained in touch. Hopefully when you read this, you know that I am speaking of you.

The picture below shows next year’s Project Directors Henry and Samip (along with Varun and David). Both Henry and Samip already have much sweat and experience in the garden and we feel sure that they will be excellent leaders. Have a wonderful summer, Madison House! Thank you for all your hard work. We hope to see many of you again. Watch the website for updates – this is your garden too.

Madison House spring 2016

UVA The Big Event

It continues to be a cool and windy spring of late, so this past Saturday April 9th a curious onlooker might have seen about 20 UVA students and one funny looking PVCC employee and garden coordinator huddled in the wet warmth of the garden’s hoop house. But then, we sprang into action and this awesome group weeded, turned over, mulched new paths, planted, and watered in three full beds! It was awesome! Thanks so much to all those who came out as part of UVA’s The Big Event. We are very grateful for your hard work, which will grow so much food for the area hungry.

Thank you to Jordan Fish for sending over the following photos