We’re pleased to be growing vegetables again, thanks to the support of The Hut Foundation. Though it was a rough start for fall crops during the late summer heat and the recent dry spell, the harvest has been bountiful, and our first two fall market days were well attended. Many thanks go to Bradley and Jennifer for their hard work and endurance, as we got the fall season underway.
Over the summer we put a lot of energy into finishing several big projects that had we hadn’t finished during last year’s record-breaking vegetable season. The biggest pending project was the Friendship Court Community Orchard, which started with a handful of trees back in 2014 and has since expanded to include a terraced berry orchard and native plant and pollinator sanctuary. Over the next few weeks we’ll be top-dressing the plants with compost and sheet mulching the whole area in preparation for the cold months. We look forward to the first berries next spring!
One of our other small but challenging side projects was to figure out how to mount an air conditioner on an exterior cinderblock wall. In previous years we’d had to vent the heat from the A/C unit into the other garage bays. This was a very unkind thing for us to do to our dear neighbors at Community Bikes, but we needed to cool our seed starting room enough to start fall seedlings in July (yes, the fall season starts in July!). We are grateful that the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which owns our headquarters at 405 Avon, gave us the go ahead to knock a hole in the wall. After consulting with people more in-the-know than us about the process, we were confident we could do it without the building collapsing, though it was still a little bit frightening to commit to that first hole.
Last but certainly not least, ever since we completed our successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013, we’d been hoping to build a new walk-in cooler for vegetable storage. We’d been relying on a small cooler that could only hold 10 of the usual 30 to 40 harvest bins we fill each week. This meant a lot of harvesting at the last minute, covering things with wet burlap to prevent wilting, and occasional major losses due to spoilage of long-term storage crops like onions and sweet potatoes. Thanks to the major support of the Lowe’s Hero’s Project and Lowe’s employee Richard, who donated many hours of his own time, we have a top-notch, low-energy walk-in cooler with ample storage space.
We also fulfilled another long-term goal this summer. After many requests from neighborhood friends of all ages, strawberries are once again abundant in the Friendship Court garden. In addition to the patch that we planted this spring with young residents, the many understory patches throughout the fruit tree orchard yielded lots of sweet berries.
When passing by the Friendship Court garden you may have also noticed a new small plot near the garden sign. UACC is working in partnership with Virginia State University and Virginia Tech on a project to expand knowledge and awareness about urban agriculture among Virginia Cooperative Extension agents. This plot is a demonstration and experimental plot, which we will highlight during a field day with extension agents this October.
With the help of young volunteers, we also replanted the borders around the vegetable plots at Friendship Court with native perennials. These borders had been planted with a mix of native and non-native perennials in previous years, but we thought it was time for a full native makeover. These borders are planted with over 30 species of native plants and will serve as habitat for pollinators as well as many other beneficial insects.
As we head into fall, the UACC leadership team is also working hard on plans for 2017 and beyond. During the past five years we’ve learned a lot about how to run a non-profit from the grassroots. We’ve also learned that it takes much more than just doing good work to ensure the future of the organization. This winter we will introduce some new energy into the UACC Board of Directors, streamline our programming to focus on our strengths, and develop a long-term strategy that continues to support our community during the upcoming process of urban redevelopment.
We’re grateful to everyone who continues to believe in our work and support the vision through volunteerism and financial contributions. You can stay abreast of the latest volunteer opportunities by clicking HERE to join the UACC email list. You can also make a secure online donation to UACC through our partners at Virginia Organizing by clicking HERE.