This post was contributed by Jenny Schwanke.
Earth Day April 22, 1970 marked to many the birth of the modern environmental movement. The decade to come was full of new initiatives. The Y at Virginia Tech, like groups all over the country started or revamped community gardening programs. In the late 1970’s, The Y at Virginia Tech, working with community volunteers and Virginia Tech students, implemented two garden programs. Senior Gardens matched senior citizens needing help with their gardens with volunteers able to plow and till, offer pest control and trouble shooting advice and even bring along some plants and seeds. It gave seniors the ability to continue gardening despite potential physical limitations.
Additionally, the Y opened three community gardening sites around the town of Blacksburg where participants according the tri-fold brochure could “SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE!” The sites were located in individuals’ big backyards. The landowner was one of the participants and likely did a fair amount of coordination. Sign up was first come, first serve, in person.
After a decade or so, the Y’s gardening was consolidated on town property where forty gardeners with individual plots grew vegetables and flowers until 2009. By then, the Senior Gardening project had dissolved. Change was in the air. The town needed the property for its cemetery expansion and so the garden looked for a new location.
In 2010, the Y was able to move to a 15-acre site owned by Blacksburg native, Arlean Hale Lambert. She was returning home after fifty years in New Jersey and wanted to see her family’s property kept in open space. The new land hosts about 70 families from about 15 different countries. Many of the gardeners come from long farming traditions; some are just curious and ready to explore food growing for the first time. At the same time as the new garden location began, Virginia Tech started its minor in Civic Agriculture and Food Systems and invited the Y at Virginia Tech to participate as a community partner. The university-nonprofit partnership brought the involvement of students at the
community garden. The ongoing relationship has added variety to the perspectives at the garden, putting a neighborhood garden into a larger conversation around globally relevant food issues. It also has meant that through student and faculty word of mouth there are nearly a dozen different organizations and classes come on site to learn and help the garden grow.
The Y garden program history, its partnerships, its gardeners, has created an ever dynamic garden focused on food growing, education, volunteer opportunities, and community building. Forty-five years since the first Earth Day. Community Garden projects such as the Hale Y Community Garden give acknowledgement and thanks to thoughtful organizers, participants and citizens that have made such opportunities exist today.
Jenny Schwanke is a Community Garden organizer and Community Partner Liaison for the Civic Agriculture and Community Food Systems minor at Virginia Tech