2015-2016 Winter

2016 will be our tenth year of growing and sharing healthy food and cultivating healthy communities, and our fifth year doing it as UACC. We’ve seen a lot of things change over the years. Many community friends have moved to other parts of town, while new friends have joined us in the gardens. We’ve watched young people who were just learning to walk when we broke ground, now come out and help us build stone walls for the new community orchard. Kids who started helping us in the gardens when they were in elementary school are now in high school.

A lot has also stayed the same. A sense of great uncertainty still looms over the communities where we work. Affordable housing is still hard to find. Families trying to get ahead, and break the generational cycle of poverty, still face an upward battle as they juggle single-parenthood, limited employment opportunities, the pursuit of higher education, and navigating the complex rules of HUD subsidies. The discussion about redevelopment in the Ridge Street Neighborhood is picking up again. The Piedmont Housing Alliance is rekindling the community engagement process at Friendship Court in an effort to determine the future of the property. With the departure of the most recent director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, public housing residents are once more holding their breath to see what will happen to their communities in the new year.

In communities where day-to-day life can feel so precarious, we’re constantly amazed by the resilience and perseverance of the people we meet. UACC is blessed to count as board members, volunteers, and staff some of the most inspiring and empowered community members from Crescent Halls, Friendship Court, 6th Street, and South 1st Street. Without their enthusiasm, commitment, and belief in the value of working together, there would be no gardens, no orchard, no market days, and no UACC. It’s the people and the relationships that intertwine them that create the web of support that makes UACC work. You can read about UACC’s leadership team by clicking HERE.

2016 will be a year of transition and evolution for UACC. Sadly, we won’t be growing any vegetables this year. After finishing a year where we produced 17,000 pounds of vegetables, 70% more food than our annual average, not growing vegetables at all feels a little paradoxical. And yet, we realized that without sufficient funding to hire additional staff and cover the costs of supplies, trying to run a full season this year just wouldn’t work. At the same time, we see 2016 as an opportunity to do something different and of potentially greater long-term benefit for our community and the people we support.

Jennifer Minor will return on a part-time basis for a second season as the UACC Farm Apprentice. The fields still require lots of attention, even when we’re not producing food in them. Jennifer will be helping us sow and manage our summer cover crops and transform our perennial borders to a diverse native plant community. We’ll also finish constructing the stone-walled terraces in the orchard and plant the blackberries, blueberries, bush cherries, gooseberries, honeyberries, and strawberries that we’ve been carefully overwintering. Jennifer and Todd will also finish construction on our mobile walk-in cooler and complete a few other building and repair projects that have been waiting in the wings.

This past December UACC board members who live at Friendship Court were key players in the establishment of the Friendship Court Residents Association. We applaud their courage to re-establish a platform of advocacy and support for community residents. UACC will continue to play an active role in the dialog on redevelopment and explore partnerships that help us define how urban agriculture fits into the future of the neighborhood. To that end, we have partnered with the National Housing Trust/Enterprise Preservation Corporation, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center on a proposal to the Kresge Foundation for a planning grant through their in Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative. Through a cross-sector collaborative planning process, we hope to collectively define the optimal strategies for using urban agriculture to further empower neighborhood residents, improve the wellbeing of the community, and explore the potential for UACC to broaden the scope of its programs for community members.

We see this as a great opportunity to further engage and empower current community leaders while welcoming others into the fold. Resident leadership and volunteerism have always been the backbone of UACC. Over the long term, we hope to transfer more ownership of the organization to the community. This is no simple task. Running the organization not only requires people with expertise in agriculture but also experience in accounting, fundraising, community organizing, and managing community relations. Members of the UACC leadership team and others in the community have the potential to grow into these roles and we are excited to collaborate with other community partners as we embark on this journey.

Ultimately, it is the community of people that surround UACC that make it unique and successful. Working together to grow and share healthy food is UACC’s way of encouraging good people to come together and realize what’s possible when we collaborate. We encourage folks to keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities this spring, as there will still be plenty of work to do in the orchard.

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Richard Morris