Local Food Hub dirt is under my nails

Yes, I am newly manicured thanks to a morning of volunteering at Maple Hill Farm in Scottsville. That’s the farm formerly known as Best of What’s Around, for several years a CSA. Starting this year, it’s the educational facility for the Local Food Hub.

I went out to Maple Hill for one of their regular Wednesday morning volunteer sessions, as did three other ladies. (I’m pretty sure you can be a dude and volunteer if you want to.) We got a tour first, from outreach manager Emily Manley and farmer Steve Vargo, both of whom are obviously thrilled with their new gigs. Steve, who’d previously farmed for a decade in Louisa County, described the Hub job as "like being at camp." He’s especially excited to have three apprentices to help him out.

Steve Vargo, Emily Manley and a whole lot of tomato plants.

We looked at Maple Hill’s 120 or so chickens, stuck our heads in the greenhouse where the warm-weather seedlings are looking fine and lush, and poked under row cover in the fields to see pac choi, well protected from flea beetles and other bugs.

Broccoli and cauliflower are looking good!

Emily and Steve explained that the Local Food Hub has arranged for other local farms to supply specific crops to bigger buyers, like schools and hospitals. Then Maple Hill can grow supplemental crops to fill in any gaps. It’s a learning process. One goal this year is to do succession planting, spacing out their crops over the season, to "avoid a glut," as Emily says. Steve remembers planting too much at once in previous years and ending up with "tractor trailer loads of squash."

Oh yeah, and we did some work, too: transplanting tomatoes. Leggy seedlings went into the rows, 24 inches apart, through holes poked in the plastic cover that will help keep the moisture in the soil. As we worked, we chatted and enjoyed the morning—sun, birdcalls, and the unmistakeable scent of the tomato plants.

It was fun, and there’s always something to learn through farm volunteering. If you’re hankering to get out there, get in touch with Emily (emily@localfoodhub.org). She schedules volunteers on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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