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Friday, Sept. 15, 2023

Cultivate Charlottesville has a plan to build a massive community garden on what is now essentially open land at Booker T. Washington Park. And on Monday night, the group will ask Charlottesville City Council to work with them to make that plan a reality.

A man uses a metal stake to dig a small hole on a grassy hill. Below him other people work and mingle around a large garden.
Credit: Zack Wajsgras/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Want to see a massive community garden with free produce in Booker T. Washington Park? City Council hears about it Monday

This garden is something a lot of neighbors say they want. Ahead of the meeting, Cultivate surveyed around 350 people who live near the park. Ninety four percent said they wanted the garden.

If built, Cultivate says the garden will be open for anyone to use. That means neighbors would be welcome to work there, or simply stop by and nibble on fresh produce. At the same time, a lot of the produce would be intentionally given to Charlottesville residents who otherwise struggle to access fresh food. That’s actually a lot of people in the city. Of the 350 folks surveyed by Cultivate, around 120 said they personally struggle to get fresh food because of transportation and cost. That’s one-third of the people Cultivate spoke with.

Community and urban gardens have long been used in Charlottesville to fill this gap for people. Cultivate has managed several such gardens around the city, many of which were in and around public and low-income housing communities. The group takes the produce from those gardens and distributes it to people free during “Market Days” held in various neighborhoods where folks earn lower incomes around the city.

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The trouble right now is, those gardens are disappearing. Many were on property owned by various public housing organizations. Those organizations — along with the city — have invested millions of dollars in taxpayer money the last few years to rebuild the communities. That investment means new, modern homes for families with low incomes. But it also required using the spaces where the gardens once grew.

Two adults wearing masks stand in front of containers full of vegetables, helping children fill plastic bags with produce.
Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville is losing its community gardens to redevelopment — this group wants to relocate them to city parks

As it became clear that Charlottesville was losing some of its community gardens to redevelopment, Cultivate came up with the idea of relocating them to city parks almost immediately. It makes sense to have gardens there for many reasons. Parks are already natural gathering spots for people. And there is less danger in the garden being pushed out of a park to make way of other developments.

City Councilors will not vote on the Washington Park proposal Monday, but this initial conversation could get the ball rolling. If Council does eventually greenlight the project, then Cultivate says it will build a 10,000 square foot garden in the lower half of the park within the next two years.

If you’d like to be there when Cultivate speaks with Council, you can! The proposal will be made during Monday’s 4 p.m. Council meeting. You can attend in-person at City Hall or virtually via Zoom here.

Cultivate Charlottesville is also circulating a petition to deliver to Councilors on Monday. If you’d like to see a community garden in Washington Park, you can sign the petition here.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.