Founded in 2012 by the Peninsula Health Agency, Grove Community Garden in southern James City County is helping meet the nutritional needs of a food desert – defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a low-income neighborhood that lacks healthy food sources – one crop at a time.
The garden, situated on a quarter-acre plot next to James River Elementary School, operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is managed and directed by Rob Till, who considers it a privilege to gift the community with fresh produce throughout the year.
“It’s a small garden, but there’s a lot going on,” Till says. “We touch a lot of lives in our tight-knit community, and many say this garden is a blessing to the area. Plus, we do not accept money for the produce we grow, which is a big help to a lot of people, and we make sure everyone who visits takes a bag of something with them on their way out. We’re a giving place.”
Community gardens often provide the only direct access and exposure to agriculture for many suburban residents.
According to Till, there isn’t much Grove Community Garden doesn’t grow. For example, it’s currently home to crops like melons, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, peaches and plums, as well as herbs and flowers. Plus, if the garden does not grow something a patron wants, he or she is welcome to plant anything they’d like, so it’s constantly evolving – and Till says that’s part of its beauty.
“This garden is an ecosystem,” Till says. “There’s always something new to see, and we have lots of wildlife, including a rabbit named Grove, who is our mascot. You never know what you’re going to discover just around the corner in our garden.”
Grove Community Garden continues to thrive due to local support and grant funds, recently receiving $1,000 through BB&T Bank’s Lighthouse Project that will be used to purchase new fencing. In addition, Till has a team of gardeners and volunteers who help him run the garden and manage its social media presence.
The garden’s reach expands far past its borders as Till regularly donates produce to a local outreach center and food bank, and delivers baskets of extra bounty to families in need across the community.
“We’re doing exciting work here,” Till says. “We are a leader and a frontrunner in community gardens, and we’re proud of the impact we continue to have on our small community.”