But the future of community gardens in Charlottesville – and therefore the future of these market days that increase access to fresh produce for those who otherwise might not have it – has recently been called into question.
For years, residents of these public housing communities as well as housing advocates across the region have asked the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to redevelop their aging homes. And, as the affordable housing crisis in the region worsens, they have also called for more social housing.
In recent years, CRHA, along with the Piedmont Housing Alliance, which recently purchased the Friendship Court community that was previously owned by CRHA, have agreed to and started the resident-led redevelopment and expansion of various public housing sites throughout the region. city.
After asking residents for their opinion, the two redevelopment teams chose in 2019 to build new units in the fields of Friendship Court and Sixth Street so that none of the residents of the communities have to move during demolition and construction.
Choosing between keeping the fields for gardens and using the fields for housing is a choice no one should have to make, Morris said, because housing and food are both human rights. But there is not a lot of land on these sites.
Morris is currently the Co-Executive Director of Farm and Foodroots for Cultivate Charlottesville, but he first became involved in community gardens in 2018, when he joined the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville (which was incorporated into the Cultivate Charlottesville umbrella. with two other programs in 2020).
When Morris started working on urban farms in 2018, he did so knowing that they would only have a few growing and harvest seasons left. âWe knew the redevelopment was coming, we were hoping it was going to happen, and my role was to keep UAC running, restart food production until the redevelopment,â he said.
When that rearrangement happened, it became “a sort of certainty that UAC had run its course,” Morris said. Its longtime manager, Todd Niemeier, had moved on to another job, and the land was about to be filled with building foundations instead of broccoli florets. But despite everything, he continued to grow the gardens (with the help of many others) until the care of the land was transferred to the renovators and the market days began.
Morris has also started attending Housing Authority meetings.
âI just fell in love with people,â Morris said. The more he learned about the condition of social housing, the more he developed empathy for his residents. For example, he realized how little importance was placed on the aesthetics of social housing, so he started planting more flowers in community gardens. âLow-income people deserve to have an aesthetically pleasing place to come home, to go to work, while they are passing by. “
And then, he said, “a switch was flipped.”
âUAC must continue. We can’t let this end, âhe told Jeanette Abi-Nader, now his co-executive director of Cultivate Charlottesville. Providing fresh produce to individuals and families in these social housing units and low-income communities was too important, Morris concluded, and Abi-Nader agreed.
They grew a lot of food on this land. The Friendship Court Garden was approximately 15,000 square feet and the South First Street Garden was approximately 8,000 square feet. Both have ceased to function as gardens in recent years to set the stage for redevelopment. South First Street redevelopment has begun in may of this year, and the redevelopment of Friendship Court is looming on the horizon.
And the Sixth Street Garden, which is currently in the last days of its final harvest season, measures approximately 4,400 square feet. (For a number of years, UAC also maintained a garden on West Street, behind the Ten region, but it was more recently cultivated by refugees and recent immigrants participating in the New Roots initiative of the International Rescue Committee.)
Each year this land had provided thousands of pounds of food for the community, and Morris was not ready to give it up. He, Abi-Nader and others decided to find a way to start food production on the community’s land, not only until the redevelopment of housing, but during and after it.
The gardens provided more than food, Morris said.
âThey provide spaces and places primarily for people of color who don’t have a lot of spaces and places,â he said. âThese were spaces that had the imprint, the blood, the sweat and the tears of the community. Todd [Niemeier] was important in bringing community members to the gardens and to work, and I did my best to follow in those footsteps.
Feed the children
Like Morris, Jenifer Minor disliked residents of public housing communities having to choose between accommodation and food. “They should make both a priority at the same time,” she said.
Minor first got involved in urban farming six years ago, at Friendship Court Garden, and is now a farm manager for Cultivate Charlottesville. Minor loved to be outside all the time, and once she discovered the peacefulness of working in the garden, how âyou can work on your own, get rid of your thoughts,â she got hooked.
At first, Minor worked in the gardens and grew vegetables. But as UAC moved under the Cultivate Charlottesville umbrella, she began to work more with the kids in the garden, showing the next generation how to grow their own food to eat and share. They are excited, she said, for the opportunity to plant something and see it grow. (She noted that kids also like to play in the mud.)