A small farming operation run by University of Virginia students has turned to the community to raise money to expand its business.
“We want to plant more vegetables and we also want to plant an orchard for apples, berries and other fruit trees,” said Erika Stadsklev, a second-year student and a co-director of the Morven Kitchen Garden.
The garden is part of a one-acre section of the larger Morven Farm, which was donated to UVa in 2001 by billionaire philanthropist John W. Kluge. The garden lay fallow for many years until the student group formed in 2011.
Now they’ve turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise money, as well as awareness.
“We think what we’re doing is pretty awesome and we want people to be as excited as we are,” said Emily Salle, the garden’s manager. “Crowdfunding seemed like the way to go for that.”
Volunteers grow produce for customers who purchase shares for fresh deliveries during the spring, summer and fall. Food is distributed at the HackCville headquarters on Elliewood Avenue on The Corner.
Stadsklev said there is a large market for students who want fresh produce to be part of their diet.
“A lot of people don’t have cars and it’s a hassle to go to the grocery store each week,” Stadsklev said. “If you can just get fresh produce and keep staples in your house like dried pasta, I think it is a lot easier for people.”
The Morven Kitchen Garden is one of several student groups at UVa that is tapping into the emerging local-food movement.
One is the Community Garden on Central Grounds near the O-Hill Dining Hall.
"The UVa Community Garden serves as an educational, experimental space that allows students, faculty, and family members to learn and grow by doing," said manager Love Jonson. "I got involved my first year after frequenting the City Market, learning more about the world of ethical agriculture, and realizing there was still something missing in my relationship with food."
There’s also a group called Greens to Grounds, which purchases directly from farmers and then resells to consumers.
“There’s [also] Campus Kitchen at the University of Virginia, which gleans good food and turns it around to feed the hungry,” said Tanya Deckla Cobb, director of the Institute of Environmental Negotiation. “There’s also Slow Food at UVa, which promotes local foods and farms and educates fellow students about the impacts of food choices.”
Cobb said many of today’s students are active in food policy because of growing awareness of sustainability.
“I believe what we’re seeing today is just the beginning phase of a very long movement that is here to stay,” she said.
“There are always more students out there who are expanding their interest in local food, how it’s produced, the ethical questions raised by the food system and the environmental questions,” she said. “All of those questions appeal to so many different departments.”
In the meantime, the Morven Kitchen Garden is preparing for a busy season.
Last year, the students built a hoop house to increase their yield. The group will be expanding onto a section of the property that had been used for experiments by UVa’s biology department. To do that, they need to reclaim the soil.
“We want to put biochar down, which is this charcoal soil enhancer,” Stadsklev said.
“Our focus is really to grow the soil, so we want to experiment,” Salle said.
They also will install a few beehives this season to help with pollination.
The expansion comes because there is currently a waitlist for new shares.
“We only have so big a garden and we can only provide for so many people,” Stadsklev said.
Customers include students, faculty and members of the greater Charlottesville community.
“We also sell to the Boar’s Head Inn, so they use our food to supply their dining room throughout the summer,” Salle said.
“Last year, we harvested 200 pounds of tomatoes in just one week,” she said. “When we have excess like that we try to supply the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. They are good about getting produce delivered to their partner agencies on a daily basis.”
Salle said the extra space will give a little more of a financial cushion in case there is a crop failure.
She said volunteers are exposed to all of the different aspects of running a small farm.
“We sort of get to experience the skill set you need for that kind of experience,” Salle said.
The Kickstarter campaign crossed the $5,000 goal on Sunday. Salle said additional funds raised over that goal before the Feb. 12 deadline will go toward the purchase of raised beds, maintenance of the hoop house and replacement of a dilapidated shed.