UVA Community Garden Grows Student Thirst for Lessons in Sustainability

Rising third-year Elise Watt spent her summer managing a garden through a Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship. (Photos by Dan Addison / University Communications)

Both feet and cars frequently travel the intersection of Alderman and McCormick Roads, as University of Virginia students make their way to classes, dorms or a meal at Observatory Hill Dining Hall.

But amid the hustle and bustle, on a plot of greenery adjacent to the Astronomy Building, is a student-run space that is ripe with sprouting tomatoes, budding lavender, growing sunflowers and more: the UVA Community Garden. The garden is maintained through the work of students across academic programs and student organizations, but it is housed within the School of Architecture’s Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and is a project of the Student Council’s Sustainability Committee.

While interns and members of the garden’s leadership team are vital in the formal management of the garden, the word “community” is key; it’s open to anyone who wants to volunteer their time or simply enjoy the space.

“It’s such a great community space for a reason,” said Elise Watt, a rising third-year student who spent her summer managing the garden through a Charlottesville Sustainable Agriculture Internship. “A lot of people will come and sit here to eat lunch. Some will take produce, and I’ve even seen people come by with their own watering cans and start watering the garden.”

UVA boasts two other gardens: the Hereford Heritage Garden and the Morven Kitchen Garden. Each focuses on teaching lessons in sustainability through the hands-on experience and care that is essential to their maintenance.  

“It’s all about learning to grow food and to care about food,” Watt said.

Garden projects have included building cold frames that allow crops to grow throughout the winter months, made possible through a UVA Green Initiatives Funding Tomorrow grant; and an eight-bin rotational composting system built by Engineering Students Without Borders.

“A lot of different student organizations are touching the garden in one way or another,” Watt said. “It gets a lot of traffic.”

“I think a gardening environment is one of the most gentle and rewarding of learning spaces,” she said.

“I love this patch of kale,” she said, as she harvested several of its leaves. “It has been producing since the day I got here. There are things living and dying all around it, but the collard bed is so robust.”

“It can be hard to be a good gardener, but it can also be easy to just plant a seed and watch it grow,” she said. “It’s a really unique learning space.”

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Kaylyn Christopher

University News Associate Office of University Communications