The community garden at Friendship Court is just about to pop with summer fruits and vegetables. This community garden, as well as several others around Charlottesville, are managed by the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville (UACC), a grassroots organization that promotes social equity through collective gardening and produce distribution. UACC is the continuation of an urban agriculture project called QCC Farms, started by the Quality Community Council (QCC). The idea for QCC Farms began with a group of residents at Friendship Court and 6th Street who were looking for a way to bridge the social barriers between their communities. The project started with a series of community conversations which culminated in breaking ground at the Friendship Court Garden in May of 2007 and the 6th Street garden in June. When QCC disbanded in 2011, committed local residents and volunteers formed UACC to continue the valuable work of bringing community members together through urban agriculture.
Toni Eubanks is one of several board members of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville and has been volunteering her time to work in the garden for many years now. Toni says she became interested in learning what was happening in her new backyard, and that’s when she approached Todd Niemeier, better known as “Farmer Todd,” to see how she could get involved. Toni adds, “Throughout the year, the garden helps engage the community and provide fresh produce to those that can’t afford it. People get to learn about plants and gardening, but it’s also a way to bring our diverse community together.”
UACC conducts many programs to help teach people about community collaboration and leadership, but a big part of what they do is distribute produce free of charge using a time-based, alternative currency called farm tokens. When someone volunteers in one of the UACC gardens, they earn a wooden farm token for every half hour of service. Volunteers can then use theirs farm tokens or share them with neighbors. Farm tokens are exchanged for garden produce at weekly, volunteer-operated distribution events called market days. During each growing season, UACC conducts 20 to 24 market days all held in community centers or on lawns in the Friendship Court, Crescent Halls, 6th Street, and South 1st Street communities. Depending on the time of year, one farm token is worth a bag of vegetables that would cost roughly $15 to $30 in the grocery store. Market days also serve as a place where people can share information and make connections. Guest chefs offer cooking demos and share recipes made with the weekly harvest. Other community organizations come from time to time as well to share information about upcoming events and happenings in the neighborhood.
Anyone in the neighborhood can volunteer in the community gardens which helps promote neighborhood engagement. With over 600 volunteers, comprised of both adults and youth, the gardens provide a great way to grow and share healthful food together, along while creating a strong foundation upon which to build a healthier community. The Youth Leadership Team worked together with Farmer Todd last fall over several sessions to learn more about the Friendship Court Community Garden and envision and sketch what the new garden could look like after the redevelopment process. While he doesn’t know exactly what form the garden will take in the future, Todd says he has started doing some research around the idea of creating rooftop gardens and that feasibility for the Friendship Court Community. While keeping affordable housing at the forefront, he still hopes that through careful research and open dialogue, the future garden will start to take shape.
For more information or to volunteer at one of the gardens, see UACC’s website.
And here is a detailed map of the Friendship Court Community Orchard.
The next market day is this Friday, June 16th at Friendship Court at 4PM.