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Brianna Patten started advocating for food justice in college with both the Real Food Challenge and the Towson University Urban Farm. After graduating with a B.S in Sociology, Anthropology, and African American Studies, she moved to Virginia where she started researching her African and Indigenous ancestry. Brianna is currently working with her family to preserve the land her ancestors were enslaved on in North Carolina and supporting community efforts to advance food equity in Charlottesville with Cultivate.
Fun Fact: We water our garden with runoff water from the school’s roof into a 1000 gallon water cistern
More Info: The garden at Burnley-Moran Elementary school is always a site to see! It is a large space that has 8 vegetable beds in the front portion separated by an octagonal-shaped garden classroom that leads to the back of the garden, which is home to a native plant area, an herb spiral, 5 raised beds, and the fairy garden. The garden also hosts a 3 part compost system, a bat house, 1 peach and 3 apple trees, a living sound barrier to block the noise from the highway, and a butterfly garden path leading to a bridge. Student design takes center stage at Burnley-Moran, as all of the spaces, from the chalkboard to the sound barrier, were designed by students.
Fun Fact: The CHS Urban Farming class focuses on small-scale farming that provides extra produce for UAC’s Community Market Days
More info: In 2013, a small group of students, staff and community volunteers began a slow and steady effort to clear the six-foot-tall weeds and that had taken over the existing small CHS garden. Since that time, a small farm has slowly started taking over the field behind the school and has brought us to a point where we are now using about half an acre of land consisting of over 3400 square feet of organic growing beds, a small fruit orchard, outdoor classroom, wildflower garden, hoop house, mobile chicken coop, post-harvest production area, shed and refrigerated trailer. The garden is largely managed by the Garden to Market and Urban Farming classes which walk students through the process of starting plants from seeds all the way through harvest. The Urban Farming class is taught through an entrepreneurial lens and students learn important business and marketing skills in addition to organic gardening skills. In the summer, CSG’s Food Justice Interns care for the garden and take the harvest to share with residents of local public housing communities in Charlottesville through coordination with the Urban Agriculture Collective. The garden is available to all teachers to use with their classes during the school day, either for instructional purposes involving food or environmental topics or simply providing a peaceful place to work outside. Students are also able to join an after school garden crew which focuses on food production and raising awareness around food justice issues.
Fun Fact: We work hard at maintaining our large pollinator garden
More info: At Clark Elementary, students, parents, teachers, and volunteers have created twelve raised vegetable garden beds on the site of a former playground area at the front of the school. Clark has a native pollinator garden next to the vegetable garden where students can learn about the importance of pollinators and how to create a pollinator habitat in an urban setting. Mary Craig, the Clark librarian, hosts monthly library garden lessons, where students read a book related to the Harvest of the Month fruit or vegetable and participate in hands-on garden activities. Clark students have been experimenting with composting, vermi-composting, planting native and heirloom plant species, and starting seeds indoors under grow lights.
Fun Fact: Our garden has a mud kitchen and science center for Johnson students to explore.
More info: At the Johnson Garden there is a sign that says, “Respect Your Garden.” The importance of “respect,” for and in the Garden is a constantly reinforced theme. Additionally, creating a sense of ownership and responsibility is key to the children understanding the communal aspect of our Garden. The children take part in each and every aspect of the gardening process, from turning the beds and preparing them, to sowing seeds to harvesting vegetables and fruit and preparing them to eat. We concentrate on individual exploration and discovery at Johnson. Additionally, every visit to the garden children have the opportunity to practice measuring using tape measures and our produce scale. Magnifying glasses are available to investigate and discover the multitudes of critters and budding life on every visit. Garden harvests have been incorporated into school cooking lessons. We have classrooms actively vermicomposting, (worm composting). Most uniquely, the Johnson Garden has a Sensory and Exploration wheelchair accessible bed. The bed is 32” tall which allows all students an up close sensory and exploration experience.
Fun fact: Our garden shed has a green roof!
More info: Greenbrier Elementary School has a long history of tending two courtyard gardens and introducing students to the joys of fresh vegetables. The larger vegetable garden at Greenbrier was constructed in 2012-13 and is home to a large U-shaped bed, two 20 foot beds, and ten 6 foot beds . The garden at Greenbrier currently engages students in every grade — from Kindergarten through fourth grade — in activities that include planting, harvesting, and learning about composting. Greenbrier’s garden shed also has a living bio-roof that demonstrates innovative design and the importance of mitigating water run-off. Students always look forward to free time in the garden to pick and eat the vegetables they’ve grown.
Fun fact: We are proud of our 10 (and counting!) fruit trees
More info: Jackson-Via Elementary has one of the longest standing gardens of the 6 elementary schools, with 14 raised beds, a small native fruit tree orchard and pollinator garden, and woodland trails created by landscape architect Jessica Primm. Students frequently visit the garden during recess to weed, water, plant and explore. Teachers at JVE bring out students for weekly garden lessons focusing on seed starting, soil structure, plant anatomy, and cooking.
Fun fact: Although our smallest garden, there is still room for 9 growing beds, a three-step compost system, a fruit tree, shed and water catchment system.
More info: Venable Elementary’s garden “courtyard” site is unique in its size and diversity of garden elements, with four raised garden beds, a rainwater catchment system, compost pile and pollinator garden. Venable has a robust garden program through PE classes, which plant vegetables, herbs and flowers in early spring, summer and fall. Classes engage in a variety of activities, including cooking, vermicomposting, starting seeds indoors and exploring the sensory elements surrounding them.
Fun fact: The City of Promise garden has been active for quite some time – only recently becoming one of our programming gardens.
More info: The City of Promise Garden is nestled in the heart of Charlottesville. Centrally located, it is adjacent to the City of Promise building on Page street and hosts an after-school garden club. To provide more exploratory opportunities for young planters, six raised beds were recently constructed. Now the number of raised beds stands at twelve. In partnership with UAC, foods grown in the other six beds are given away at no cost at UAC market days. As the youngest in our network of community gardens, the City of Promise garden is full of potential. Tapping into that potential, we hope to continue servicing our community for many years to come.
In partnership with community volunteers and community members, Cultivate Charlottesville builds food equity by growing and sharing fresh, organic produce with Charlottesville residents with limited financial resources.
Community Market Days are also a great place to reconnect with friends and neighbors, pick up some recipes, or watch a cooking demonstration.
Fun Fact: Garden Aides grow over 9000 seedlings a year in our Hoop House for distribution at schools, UAC’s urban farm and area non-profits.
More info: CSG’s Middle School program includes a 4,000 square foot organic garden and 350 square foot hoophouse at Buford Middle School, which serves all seventh- and eighth-grade students during the school year and community youth and interns during the summer. During the school year, our full-time Garden Educator hosts two, daily garden aide classes, weekly visits from English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and functional skills classes, weekly workdays for PE students, quarterly units with Family and Consumer Science (FACS) classes, and annual units with science, math, art, and foreign language classes. During the summer, our staff hosts youth programming including a Garden-to-Table Camp with the PB&J Kitchen for Parks & Rec Summer Camp and Boys & Girls Club-Cherry Avenue Summer Program, weekly visits from Boys & Girls Club-Southwood and Greenstone on 5th, drop-ins from Region-10 Walker Summer Program, and an internship program for four Charlottesville High School youth supported in part by the Community Attention Youth Internship Program (CAYIP).The Buford garden hosts over 5,500 student visits to the garden and 700 hours of instruction annually.
Harvest of the Month program is a unique partnership designed to build capacity, health and food security by increasing preference and exposure to fresh, healthy, local foods. Through an innovative and comprehensive program, youth, families, schools and community partners are introduced to a locally available crop each month. A backpack flyer with recipes, growing and nutritional information and a related library book goes home with each student in English, Spanish and Dari (switched from Arabic in 2021). Check out our flyer archive!
Shamera Banks was born and raised in Charlottesville where she has raised her four children. She has spent the last four years as a Nutrition Manager for Charlottesville City Schools. As Farm-to-School Coordinator she is working to connect schools and farms. Shamera is hard working and dedicated to serving and helping the community.
Jeanette Abi-Nader started as the Executive Director of City Schoolyard Garden in 2013 with the vision of transforming our work for social justice impact. In 2020 we became Cultivate Charlottesville and in 2021 launched a Co-Executive Director role with Jeanette focusing on Advocacy & Systems. Before Cultivate, she worked for a dozen years with the national food justice nonprofit, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). CFSC co-founded the National Farm to School Network and was instrumental in the passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. As CFSC’s Evaluation and Training and Capacity Building Director, Jeanette authored publications on strategic evaluation design including Whole Measures for Community Food Systems, Community Food Project Indicators of Success, and Growing Communities Curriculum.
Jeanette is the former Board Treasurer for the American Community Gardening Association, Vice President of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Board, and a founding member of the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative (GFJI). GFJI is a national network focused on dismantling racism in the food system.
Jeanette is an experienced farmer, having launched the first community supported agriculture project in the state of Louisiana and as Director of Farms for Frontier Natural Products Co-op. She has a Masters of Science in Sustainable Systems/Agroecology and is a certified permaculture designer and instructor.
You can read more about the intention behind the Co-Executive Director model here.
Richard Morris joined Cultivate Charlottesville in June of 2018 as Urban Agriculture Collective Program Director. In 2021 he also became our Farm & Foodroots Co-Executive Director. He grew up in the desert valley of Phoenix, Arizona and began an apprenticeship in the family garden sometime between learning to walk and ride a bike. He earned a degree in graphic design from Arizona State University and went on to become an instructor of design at the National Education Center. For over two decades, Richard has worked across the healthcare, education, aerospace, and financial industries as a graphic and software designer/developer and team manager. In that time, he has always maintained a garden of one sort or another. In 2005, he completed a Summer internship on the Flack Family Farm in Vermont. More recently, he comes to CSG from a ten-year stint at Polyface Farm. He has done volunteer work with local Charlottesville food equity organizations and is the author of “A Life Unburdened: Getting Over Weight and Getting On With My Life”. Currently, Richard lives on a few green acres with his family where he practices small-scale food production on a home foodstead.
Rosa Key is a native of Charlottesville who has lived in the 10th and Page neighborhood for many years. She was one of Cultivate’s first Community Advocates and continues to support our programming at Market Days and Garden Clubs as a Food Justice Leader.
Joanna Currey was born and raised in Northern Virginia and moved to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia, quickly falling in love with the town. Though her background is in poetry writing and teaching, she has been fascinated by gardening and plant life since she was little and views “cultivation” as a practice that both spans and connects many disciplines. She believes that food is central to community health, not just physically, but spiritually and culturally as well. As Farm Assistant for the Urban Agriculture Collective, she enjoys getting a little bit dirty, seeing plants in the garden change from day to day, learning about food systems, racial equity, and justice, learning about soil health, and getting to know the volunteers who help out in the UAC gardens.
Tami Wright has lived in Charlottesville for most of her life. She is a resident of Friendship Court, where she lives with her four children. She has been involved in food justice for nearly a decade, first on the UAC Advisory Council. She now serves on the UAC Board and is a strong and crucial voice in the community conversation around food justice. As the Community Advocate Lead, Tami is a leader in the Food Justice Network’s outreach and mission.
Bria Williams is a native of the 10th and Page neighborhood and a 2015 alumnae of Charlottesville High School. After leaving CHS, Bria matriculated to Howard University in Washington, DC where she studied Urban Education on an honors track. Through volunteering and constant youth engagement, Howard led Bria to her deep love for social justice, equity, and community advocacy. She brought this love back home to Charlottesville in 2019 where she began a teaching career with her alma mater, Charlottesville City Schools, in addition to volunteering with several local non-profit organizations. After working with Cultivate Charlottesville’s Covid-19 emergency food response efforts, Bria learned and fell in love with the aims and mission of the Food Justice Network. A few months later, Bria joined their staff as Program Director where she now leverages her personal ties to the community and a commitment to uplifting the underserved through leadership and the cultivation of food access. An avid proponent for advancing opportunities for Black and Brown citizens, Bria believes food equity is one of the first keys to overcoming the many systemic pathways of oppression found in Charlottesville and across the US.
Sarah Wayne is a lover of all things related to food. She received her Bachelors of Science in Nutrition and Food Science with a minor in Plant Biology from the University of Vermont. During her time in Vermont, Sarah worked on various farms in the area to learn more about the local food community and farming practices. Sarah has experience working as a Farm-to-School Coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where she worked to connect schools and farms through food and education. As a Youth Engagement & Garden Coordinator, she strives to nurture curiosity, build relationships, and foster a connection between children and nature through exploration, experiences, and play.
Leon Nunez is our beloved Garden Associate. As a Charlottesville native, Leon attended the city schools and found themselves in the Buford garden while attending middle school quite often. Leon became one of the first students to participate in the Garden Aid program the school had to offer and while at Buford, Leon developed a deeper appreciation for the environment and put their heart into maintaining the garden space while being a team player for their peers. Although they moved to the county during their high school career to attend Monticello High School, Leon has been loyal to the organization and became a youth intern for 2 (3?) years participating in various projects with other interns until officially taking the Garden Associate position. Although new to the title, they are very much familiar with how the organization works and excited to help support the organization and staff however they can. Leon is currently attending PVCC while taking an interest in biology and often likes to share a random fact or idea unprompted.
Jenifer Minor joined the UACC team in 2015 as a Farm Apprentice. She helps run all aspects of the Food Production & Distribution program, from starting seeds to harvesting for market day. A resident of Friendship Court, Jenifer keeps a watchful eye on the gardens in her backyard and encourages her neighbors to get involved.
Gabby Levet loves growing and cooking delicious, healthy food as medicine and believes all people should have the right and access to do so. She is grateful to be part of the food justice movement in Charlottesville building community and youth power through equitable food systems policy change with Cultivate. She is the Food Equity Policy Advocate & Organizer with Cultivate Charlottesville Food Justice Network and began her journey with Cultivate in March of 2020 at the outset of the pandemic. Initially her role was focused on co-creating an equitable response to the pandemic in collaboration with partners, community members and community organizations. Since transitioning a majority of the emergency response efforts over to partners, she has turned her attention to long-term systems change work. Gabby is involved with co-designing advocacy tools, conducting community-based research and supporting Cultivate’s food equity policy campaigns and policy platform initiatives. In her free time she enjoys practicing yoga, growing food and medicine in her front yard, spending time with loved ones, and sitting on her porch.
Megan Donovan joined Cultivate Charlottesville in an administrative capacity after serving as our bookkeeper for three years. She holds undergraduate degrees from Miami University of Ohio, and has a Master’s in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College. Prior to her move to Charlottesville in 2014, Megan worked in health care settings as an advocate for un- or under-insured patients. Her deep connection with the earth stems from a childhood rich in outdoor experiences, whether it was picking mayhaws on her grandpa’s 1 acre hobby farm, bird watching with her mom, digging potatoes with her dad, or exploring creeks with her brothers.
Michael James is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas. His love for agriculture was instilled early, having grown up with a large backyard garden, but it was working at Heifer International’s Ranch that peaked his interest. Heifer Ranch is located in Perryville, Arkansas. While there, Michael worked in a large market garden that supplied CSA baskets to over 300 members. He was also able to practice animal husbandry with a variety of animals including chickens, sheep, cows and goats. His time there got Michael excited and motivated to improve the food system in America. Recently, as a Tricycle Fellow, Michael finished a USDA certified Urban Agriculture program in Richmond. He is proud to have completed this fellowship and learned a great deal about some of the particular obstacles cities face in regard to accessible, healthy food. This was an incredibly informative and enriching program for Michael. Michael also holds a degree in English and has worked as an ESL teacher for three years.
Jordan Johnson officially came on board as the Garden Team Manager and Health Advocate Coordinator in May 2017. He was born and raised in Rochester, NY and moved to Charlottesville in April 2017. Jordan has always been involved with planting and growing. Even on their tiny city lot growing up, his mother found a way to grow pumpkins, sunflowers, roses, and herbs. Jordan earned his masters degree in Public Administration from SUNY The College at Brockport, where the majority of his work focused on engaging the community and schools, emphasizing garden-based learning. Before leaving upstate New York, Jordan led a project to create a garden program at a day rehabilitation program for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Selena Cozart, Ph.D., has over 20 years’ experience in facilitating dialogue and community engagement in the service of equity and justice. Selena is well-versed in the full range of skills and expertise required to affect community change through dialogue and action. We are grateful to have her support with coalition building, network coordination, building our capacity for racial equity, and strengthening organizational goals and values for the Food Justice Network and Cultivate Charlottesville as a whole. Some of her many other recent key experiences include: the Truth Commission Planning Group of Charlottesville and Surrounding Counties; Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results; Transforming Community Spaces with IEN; Montpelier Descendants Community Memorialization Workshop; The Front Porch; and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation Project Management Team.
Born and raised in Charlottesville, Yolonda Adams is a former student of the City School system. She is committed to empowering youth to thrive and excel. As a Youth Engagement and Garden Coordinator for Cultivate Charlottesville, Yolonda is always eager to work with students and teachers to encourage them to explore and embrace our garden spaces. She is attentive to providing optimal learning experiences for students while also engaging them in nature. Dually employed as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Thomas Jefferson Health District, she is adamant about connecting with families in the community. This synergy provides her with a solid foundation built around helping low-income families to develop a better understanding surrounding healthy food choices.
Aleen Carey was born in Chicago, raised in Lancaster, PA, and moved to Charlottesville with her family while in high school. She then became a high school Spanish teacher and shared her love of the language and culture with hundreds of students over a decade. When she left the classroom, Aleen joined the CSG Board as a way to stay involved in education. After serving on the board for six years, she joined the staff in January 2020. Aleen caught the philanthropy bug while completing CNE’s Board Academy program and has spent the last 5 years honing her skills for relationship building, storytelling, and fundraising. Although she is not the most experienced gardener in this group, she is always eager and enthusiastic to learn about all things agriculture as well as the intersection of Charlottesville history and food access.
FJN has collaborated with city councilors and Blue Ridge Health District to pass the 2018 Food Equity Initiative (FEI), which was the first local appropriation bill of its kind dedicated to tackling the root causes of food insecurity. In its first year, the FEI brought together 1,210 individuals representing residents for 8 neighborhoods, 45 non-profit organizations, 10 city departments, 5 healthcare institutions, 7 foundations, 8 state and federal partners, and 5 media outlets, for food system planning in our 5 advocacy action areas; healthy school foods, urban agriculture, affordable housing, transportation, and neighborhood food access & markets.
In November of 2019, the city approved a second year of the Food Equity Initiative and has supported efforts that build upon the foundation the Food Justice Network has laid for resident and youth ownership and self-determination within our local food system
UAC continues 13 years of grassroots work growing on public and subsidized housing sites amplifying the contributions and decisions of Charlottesville residents faced with food insecurity. This grassroots urban farm grew out of the 2007 Quality Community Council’s Farm Initiative, led by Karen Waters-Wicks. The catalyst for the creation of the farm was to work in partnership with community residents at public and subsidized housing locations. Together, we worked to build bridges between Charlottesville neighborhoods where people from across the socio-economic spectrum could grow good food and healthier communities together.
At its peak, UAC managed four urban garden sites and has produced over 17,000 pounds of food in a single year. Owing to redevelopment pressure, UAC downsized in 2019 from approximately 1 acre of land to its current garden of 4,400 square feet located at Sixth Street and Monticello. We are working with planners and community members to find innovative solutions to grow food and meet food security needs in our community.
We advance city-wide food equity through partnerships. FJN partnered with the City of Charlottesville in winning the Local Food, Local Places National Award for food system technical assistance. This award enabled our city to not only co-design key interventions guided by resident voice, but to build direct relationships with 8 state and federal agents representing departments within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These partnerships are critical to increasing our capacity to receive state and federal funding in support of food system’s transformation.
The Food Justice Network believes in igniting genuine dialogue and convening our city around a core vision. We host events such as round tables and conferences, deliver presentations on our research findings, and invite powerful food justice activists to inform our local movement alongside our Network Partners, who you can read more about on our Partners page.
Each year the students grow hundreds of pounds of produce in the school garden. With the support of our mobile kitchens, CSG Garden Coordinators facilitate cooking activities where students harvest the food, clean, prepare and cook the food right in the garden. When the mobile kitchen isn’t in use, students are able to harvest and bag up the produce that they want to take home.
Starting in fall 2020, student-led focus groups and initiatives at CHS, Buford and Walker ensure that students are positioned to lead the conversation around what they want to see in their cafeteria. Cultivate Charlottesville facilitates these Student Nutrition Committee Meetings in collaboration with city school administrators. A five-year grant from the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation partners City Schoolyard Garden programs with Charlottesville City Schools Nutrition Department to increase fresh, from scratch, and healthy food options in our cafeterias, all led by student preference.
To celebrate Farm to School and Healthy Schools Week the first week in October, students experience a week-long menu of locally sourced food made from scratch. Cultivate Charlottesville coordinates with Charlottesville City Schools to connect students with local farmers through demonstrations, visits and taste-testing at their City Schoolyard Garden.
We believe that building a pipeline for leadership to show up at the decision making table ready to invest their power and wisdom towards systemic change must be diverse and inter-generational.
Why diverse and intergenerational?
Systemic inequity in our food system, is not only about historical wrongdoings but also about traditions which have been passed down through generations. So undoing these inequities means that we must start thinking about our future leaders today, while cultivating the skills and capacity of those that have knowledge and direct experience of the past. We’ve found that working across generational lines, simultaneously builds a deeper understanding of systemic injustice while cultivating new traditions honoring voice, power, and decision-making among our multicultural grassroots leadership group.
How do we do this?
During the summer, City Schoolyard Garden runs an 8 week youth food justice unit in collaboration with Charlottesville Food Justice Network’s 12 week Community Food Justice Advocate Program. This past summer 7 youth interns and 4 community advocates worked alongside one another.
Our food system does not serve us all equally. The result of this inequality can be seen in the health inequities apparent across race and class. Food justice calls upon us to develop tools and frameworks to adequately address these race and class food related inequities
We are a collaborative of over 35 organizations working at the intersection of food and education, public housing, church communities, urban agriculture, environmental protection, urban planning, farming, and health systems. We support one another as we craft food justice practices for our various sectors.
The Spring Seedling Project is a multi-faceted, youth-centered project that builds youth leadership and invests in neighborhood food security by engaging middle school students in planting, growing, and distributing seedlings to community organizations and Charlottesville City School (CCS) families and students.
Starting in February, hundreds of Buford Middle School students grow over 9,000 plants. Of those plants, 6,500 are distributed at no cost to schoolyard gardens, partner organizations, and students and their families including Urban Agriculture Collective Farms, IRC’s New Roots Program, Bread & Roses, City of Promise, Casa Alma, and Greenstone on 5th. The remaining 2,500 are distributed through the Spring Seedling Give-a-Way to the greater community.
Cultivate Charlottesville trains future leaders in food equity by mentoring Youth Food Justice Interns during summer months. For 8-weeks, interns spend 20 hours per week in the garden and in discussion groups learning about growing food, food access, food insecurity and food systems in Charlottesville.
Former interns have gone on to become active advocates in the food justice movement, through presentations to Charlottesville City Council, CCS school board, and the 2019’s Food System Conference in Savannah, GA. Former students have also joined the Cultivate Charlottesville staff, like Leon who you can read about on our staff page.