VCU group making Richmond greener one plot at a time

Green Unity has planted several community gardens in the area, including this garden at the corner of Harrison Street and Floyd Avenue.

Samantha Foster
Assistant Spectrum Editor

VCU’s Green Unity has taken the initiative to help bring organically grown foods to the people of Union Hill.

Green Unity has planted several community gardens in the area, including this garden at the corner of Harrison Street and Floyd Avenue.

The Union Hill Community Garden Project was started last spring by Green Unity for the MCV campus and Tricycle Gardens, but other organizations have since joined them, including Green Unity for the Monroe Park campus, VCUHS Eco-sustainability group, VCU Service Learning and some Greek life organizations.

Green Unity and Tricycle Gardens fund the Union Hill Community Garden through donations from VCU and VCU alumni.

Tricycle Gardens is a non-profit organization started in 2002.  Their goal is to provide nutrition education and healthy food access to Richmond.  They have started four gardens in impoverished areas around Richmond since their beginning.

Green Unity, which focuses on making VCU greener, has created several gardens around both the Monroe Park and MCV campuses.

Along Cary Street, by the Trani Life Science building, Green Unity has made bayscapes, which are gardens that offer a permeable area for water to drain.

“There are blueberries in these gardens. People can eat them,” said Alexandra Little, a sophomore business major and the garden manager for the Green Unity Leadership Team. “The plants in this garden filter out nutrients that would otherwise run into water ways and cause pollution.”

On the MCV campus, Green Unity is planting pollinating plants, which will help the other plants in the garden to grow.

“We started work to make it happen last semester and all of our dreams will be coming true next Friday the 16th and Saturday the 17th when we will be building the plots and planting the pollinator gardens,” Little said.

Green Unity and Tricycle Gardens’ goal for the community gardens is to help low-income residents learn to plant and care for their own plants.  The gardens provide organic food to the residents at no cost to encourage healthy eating and to reconnect the public with their food supply.

“By participating in the Union Hill garden project, student, faculty, staff and community volunteers have a chance to learn basic gardening skills and to increase cultural sensitivity by interacting with a number of low-income families in the area,” said Rachel Elves, a fourth year student in both the Ph.D. human genetics and M.S. genetic counseling programs and one of the founders of the Union Hill garden program.

Photos by Chris Conway

In the community garden last year, there was an initiative to plant trees that would return and bear fruit this year. Two apple trees and two apricot trees were planted in addition to the 12 garden plots which keep some flowers, herbs and other fruit plants year round.

In addition to the new trees, vegetables are planted in the garden year round. In the colder months, March through May and August through October, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and garlic are planted. During the summer, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, okra and peppers are planted.

“Union Hill is a food desert with limited access to fresh and nutritional food,” Elves said. “Many people tasted garden fresh vegetables for the first time and were amazed at how great they taste.”

The Union Hill community garden recently started offering workshops to the public. These workshops are currently offered out of Elves’ backyard garden, located near the MCV campus.

“We have plans to offer more workshops this spring, including how to make self-watering planters, how to can your own food, more vermiculture (using worms in gardening) and basic gardening workshops,” Elves said.

Past topics have included starting plants from seeds, mulching techniques and various ways to save water.

“Aside from encouraging healthy eating habits, we are also helping to beautify the community, instilling more neighborhood pride, getting more neighbors meeting and talking to each other and lowering the crime rate,” Elves said.

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