Community Partner • Pasture to Produce

The idea of growing and sharing produce is based on the credo of the Chestnut Grove Baptist Church: Faith, Formation, and Fruitfulness. This past spring, Pastor Lance King looked out his office window and saw empty fields and envisioned healthy crops growing there to feed local underserved people.  He knew one of his parishioners owned some land, and within a few days an owner of an adjoining parcel called to offer her pasture if he wanted to grow crops. He gratefully accepted and then spoke with his parishioner who agreed to share her land.  Thanks to the Bailey and Philkill families who readily supported Lance’s vision, Pasture to Produce was born.

Church members were enthusiastic about the idea, and Mitzi and Aaron Hammer, who owned a nearby homestead and Jonathan Proffit, a neighboring farmer and graduate of Virginia Tech’s agriculture technology program led a picnic-table planning session.  As part of the planning, Jonathan sketched a garden layout and determined that 5,000 pounds of food could be grown in a .65-acre plot. Lance suggested hearty crops that were healthy and relatively easy to grow by inexperienced volunteers (he includes himself here!); planting included one-half of the plot in green beans, squash, zucchini and cucumbers. The remainder was planted in sweet potatoes they will harvest in the fall.

Initial funding of $1,000 came from a planned community picnic that could not be held due to COVID-19, and the first week the program was announced, another $3,000 came in from other church and community members.

Mitzi branded the project Pasture to Produce and created a distinctive logo. She also was instrumental in recruiting volunteers, starting with 140 emails to her contacts that included friends, business owners and the Girl Scouts. She also used Facebook and other social media to share the word about the project and set up Signup Genius to manage the deluge of volunteers!

Meanwhile, a team working under the direction of Jonathan prepared the field with help from many to remove the rocks.  Aaron then planned and supervised the planting of the seeds and seedlings, including some flowers to invite pollinators to their fields.  The site had no electricity or water, so Aaron rigged up a water cart to get them through the summer.

As word spread about the project, more people signed up to help in the fields. Nearly 100 volunteers worked over the summer, from ages 3 to 78, donating over 700 hours.  A father and his two sons came every week, often two or three days. Several other families included their children, who learned to weed, hoe and hunt potato bugs. As you can see in the pictures, the children had a great time, and many made new friends. Mitzi noted that all activities included social distancing to help keep all volunteers safe and well.

The first harvests in June yielded 1,100 pounds of vegetables, all of which were donated to food pantries: Earlysville’s Buck Mountain Food Pantry, Charlottesville’s Loaves & Fishes, and Greene County’s Feeding Green.  By the end of the season, Pasture to Produce had shared more than 6,000 pounds of produce.  Yet to come is the harvest of their sweet potatoes.

Although Jonathan has his own large farm, he continued to help all summer. Aaron and Mitzi continued to work in the mission-rooted garden all summer, too. As first-generation farmers, Mitzi blogged about Pasture to Produce, “Life is about relationships and about meaningful connection. Our village here in Earlysville has opened its arms to us, and we fully embrace them in return, taking the time to love one another thoughtfully, help our neighbors genuinely and live as much as we can off the land around us

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.