by Michelle Rehme
The UVA Community Garden first began as a wild seed sown in of a few young agrarians, who were brought together by the raw desire to dirty our hands, feel the crunch of the shovel, reconnect with the source of our food, and enjoy the fruits of nature as a community. Since last August, these students have devoted countless hours researching, writing proposals, making calls, meeting with administrators, forming task forces, and inspiring fellow greenhorn gardeners along the way. Driven by the sun, fed by the soil, quenched by the rain, and nurtured by the animals—this garden serves as a model which restores, teaches, and unites us.
The garden is a retreat, as it is a living, breathing model of sustainability awakens our senses and returns us to our agricultural roots. As we tend to heirloom varieties of lettuce and peas, we are reviving our bodies as well as Virginia’s diverse food heritage.
The garden is a classroom—for when Thomas Jefferson imagined his ideal Academical Village, he emphasized the importance of agriculture in higher education. The garden provides a hands-on environment where students learn to grow vegetables, fruits, and herbs—but more importantly, they cultivate knowledge of sustainable practices that will preserve our earth. Students now have the opportunity to conduct research, study agriculture, ecology, history, anthropology, politics, and more— without textbooks.
The garden is a bridge, as it links the UVA and Charlottesville community by providing fresh, organic produce to area food shelters, UVA’s own Campus Kitchen project, and to our own volunteers. What’s more, the garden links Jefferson’s agricultural ideal with the University’s mission towards sustainability. Jefferson himself says it best when he wrote in his journal, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberties and interests by the most lasting bonds.”
Just as the sun, soil, and seeds are interdependent and equally essential—this garden is a testament to the tireless efforts of everyone involved. There are the many professors who believed in us from the beginning, the landscape architects who helped us to find the perfect site, the helpful gardeners at Hereford, generous local farmers, student engineers, newspaper reporters, soup kitchens, and Student Council committees—not to mention all the bicycle riders, unfailing recyclers, poster makers, Michael Pollan readers, seed savers, and farmers market-ers. The simple fact of you being here to celebrate today’s groundbreaking makes each of you an important part of this garden. It is our hope that each growing season in the garden will bring not only more fresh, colorful vegetables—but also more student and community involvement to keep the garden flourishing.
Clearly, this garden is not just a source of fresh food— it is a link between the young and old, past and present, student and the earth. We would like to leave you once again with the words of our agrarian idol, Mr. Jefferson himself, when he said: “No occupation is so delightful as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” This simple patch of land truly is a living, breathing metropolis, in which each particle of sunlight, droplet of water, worm, insect, seed, root, leafy green, and helping hand serves a purpose.