Arcadia Farms: Serving the Community and Creating Opportunity

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The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture’s mission is to improve the health of their community, support the viability of local farmers, and preserve the environment for future generations. All it takes is a trip to their farm sites in Alexandria, Virginia to see this mission in action.

The first visible example of their mission in action can be seen when turning into one of Arcadia’s two farm sites. As volunteers or visitors drive up the narrow driveway to a greenhouse built for seedlings, they immediately see the repurposed and repainted school bus that is now known as Arcadia’s Mobile Market, which will be opening for business on May 10.

It was inside the greenhouse for seedlings that I was able to speak with Director of Farmer Training and Market Garden Manager Anita Adalja. One of the first things she explained was what crops they grew, and why.

“Because everything we grow goes into our mobile farmer’s market, we know what our customer base is and what the demand is. This is our fifth year of growing for the farmer’s market, so we know that our consumers are looking for collard greens, okra, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant peppers, lots of different types of herbs, beets, carrot, and others,” Adalba said.

Growing all this produce and working the land requires quite a bit of help, and Adalba said she relies a lot on volunteers and special programs that get the community involved. One program Adalba spoke about in particular was the Veteran Farmer Training Program.

“So we have a full time veteran fellow, Laron, who works with us forty hours a week; he’s basically an apprentice with us and he’ll be with us for two years. Then we have another program called the reserve program, so it’s less commitment. So we have 13 folks who are all veterans, some right out of combat, who come and work with us on the weekends,” Adalba said.

As the Arcadia Center’s website shows, the Veteran Farmer Training Program’s main goal is to address the employment challenge facing the farming sector. Their solution is to, “Pay veterans to learn how to farm. Help them find affordable land. Provide easy market access for the food they produce to satisfy the robust and growing public demand. And reinvigorate the farm sector with skilled new growers, eager to begin their next phase of life.”

Of the 14 veterans working at Arcadia to help produce food for the market, Laron Murrell is the only one in the full time program. Murrell explained he came across the program when looking for Summer Internships at his community college in North Carolina.

“I was actually taking agricultural technology at my community college in North Carolina, and I was looking for a summer internship or work study. When I put in internships all of them came up and the flower from Arcadia caught my eye and once I picked that one I saw they were starting a veteran program so it was like perfect timing,” Murrell said.

Murrell explained that when he realized the program was full time and not only for the summer, he had to make a decision on whether to focus on schooling or experience, a decision many students have to make during their college careers.

“I saw that and I was like, ‘well, which one should I do? Should I continue going to school, or go ahead and get some experience? I decided to go ahead and get the experience.”

Murrell said that he has truly enjoyed the past eight months he has spent with Arcadia, and that he looks forward to being able to start his own farm eventually back in North Carolina. Until then, he will continue to help grow fresh produce for the Mobile Market.

Overall both of these programs are helping solve problems that the infographic above explained in more detail. Though there are many issues facing the D.C community today, we can feel better knowing that programs like the ones being run by the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, among others, are doing their best to solve them.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Arcadia Center or food insecurity in the D.C. area can go to the Arcadia Center website at www.arcadiafood.org or visit http://www.dchunger.org. To see Arcadia’s farms and hear this story through the mouth of the people who work there, watch the embedded video below.

 

 

 

 

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Growing and Going Green at Mason

In a world where climate change and food insecurity are considered to be some of the greatest challenges facing our world, many colleges have been supporting green initiatives on campus to try and do their part to combat the issue.

Though there are many arguments over the degree and severity of climate change, the impacts have already been felt, and the future will not be sustainable if we continue our current rate of pollution as the chart below and the accompanying narration shows.

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The President’s Park Greenhouse (PPG) is a perfect example of a green initiative that has found success here at Mason. Until 2014 the PPG was owned by the College of Science, who used it to grow plants for Biology and Ecology classes to use before they moved to Exploratory Hall, leaving the greenhouse vacant.

That is when an initiative from the Office of Sustainability was able to turn the greenhouse into the public resource it is today. Refurbishing the greenhouse with hydroponic growing technology, the Office of Sustainability has opened the greenhouse to both the Mason community and the public as a place to learn about going green hands on.

Not only is the greenhouse a great source of information for the public, it also is helpful for Mason as well. According to the Greenhouses website, “All of the produce grown in the PPG is sold to Mason Dining. Each harvest is incorporated into Mason Dining’s offerings on campus such as Ike’s, Southside, The Globe, and Catering.”

This is just one of the many ways that the greenhouse has helped give back to the community. Mason Alumnus and Greenhouse Director Donielle Nolan explained that the main purpose of the greenhouse is to be a source of information and hands-on learning, but she says the Mason Dining chefs are most thankful for the produce.

“Harvest is on Tuesdays and typically it is served to students Wednesday,” Nolan said. “The chefs love all of our vegetables, they are as fresh as it gets.”

 

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As far as volunteers go, Nolan said she has volunteers both from the Environmental Science majors and various other majors. She said one of the things that attracts students is that she is able to potentially offer credits to those students whose degree programs will accept them.

Suman Mukhopadhyay, a Junior Environmental Science major, said he loves volunteering with the greenhouse. “It’s very educational and I really love the hands on aspect of it.” Mukhopadhyay said.

So not only do students, faculty, and the rest of the community get to learn about sustainable growing techniques, but they also provide locally grown vegetables for Mason Dining as well. The success of the greenhouse should serve as a blueprint for other schools if they also have an interest in making a difference about food insecurity and climate change within their community.

For those interested in learning more about the greenhouse or volunteering, visit the groups Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/gmugreenhouse/ or go to the groups website at http://green.gmu.edu/campussustainability/ppg.cfm.

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