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Philanthropic Foodies

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Philanthropic Foodies
Director Sally Schwitters with Kids / Photo Aimee Tapajna McNamee

FIVE LOCAL FOOD FIGHTERS DEMONSTRATE THE POWER OF THE PLATE

It’s obvious that food connects us. We gather around the table so much this time of year that January is always filled with tips to help combat the consequences of our holiday overindulgence. But food is not just for celebration. It can also serve as a catalyst that inspires us to reach out and connect with someone we would not have otherwise, to give, and to help empower. The following Southern foodies saw a need and realized they could be a part of a solution. Then they acted.

Tricycle Gardens

The five-person staff of Tricycle Gardens in Richmond, Virginia, is a hardworking bunch. Yet they are just so giddy about the whole farming thing that they don’t seem to mind.

The organization started with the seed of an idea, its mission hatched by three architects in 2002. They shared a vision for urban agriculture, both as a means for beautification of abandoned lots and for improving the overall health of their community. They started by creating a community garden in their own neighborhood of Church Hill and then branched out (literally) from there.

One by one, patches of cracked cement and vacant overgrown lots were reclaimed as flourishing urban gardens. Members of each community became involved—across social, racial, and financial divides. Now the organization boasts five community gardens, three learning gardens, a greenhouse at Bryan Park, a half-acre urban farm, a healing garden at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center (which grows vegetables and herbs used in the hospital cafeteria), and a 3,000-square-foot edible forest garden at the Science Museum of Virginia.

It’s not about free food—it’s about community and sustainability, with a snowball effect. The multiple gardens have spawned green-collar jobs, a welcome perk in low-income neighborhoods. Some gardens have led to cafes that have then hired cooks and which provide healthy snacks to community kids. You should see the children’s eyes light up the first time they bite into a stevia leaf (the plant that tastes like sugar).

Humans aren’t the only ones excited by this transformation of the blighted urban landscape. Farm Manager Josh Schweizer explains, “Something that surprises me are all the creatures that still roam the city during the night when everyone is sleeping. They slowly make their rounds and while on the farm munch on veggies as they pass. Each day, I notice a missing or half-eaten veggie the following morning.”

In short, these sites, these gardens, attract amazing diversity, of both people and animals, and what that does for an urban setting is dramatic. In the end, though, it always comes back to the work and how the work connects people.

“There is something about finding healing in this work together,” says Executive Director Sally Schwitters. “It’s always a fantastic surprise and delight to feel that connection to another person through the garden and through the simple medium of food.”