A crowning achievement for the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville has been the New Roots urban farm, the more than eight-acre stretch of land abutting Azalea Park that has served as a resource for many refugees who have resettled in the Charlottesville community in recent years.
But the heavy rains that plagued Charlottesville in late May took a particularly hard toll on the farm, when the entire property was submerged beneath three feet of rushing water from the adjacent Moore’s Creek. Brooke Ray, senior manager of food and agriculture programs at IRC Charlottesville, says the floods resulted in significant damage, including destroyed fences, ruined equipment and lost crops.
“The 20 different families that rely on this farm for food use this [crop yield] to pretty significantly supplement their family’s vegetables for the summer,” Ray says. “We’ve been working with Blue Ridge Area Food Bank to supplement their lost crops with emergency food drops of fresh produce until they’re able to make the next harvest.”
And while the flood represented a devastating loss for those who counted on their crops both for sustenance and income—some grow to sell at their Michie Market farm stand as well as to local restaurants—the Charlottesville community was quick to come to the rescue, Ray says.
“The really awesome part is that within a week, a number of farms and community members and nurseries had come together and replaced a lot of what was lost,” she says.
Local artist Ken Horn, a community activist and New Roots supporter, quickly organized a CrowdRise fundraiser and, together with direct donations, the IRC has already raised $44,000, just $6,000 shy of its goal.
“So when Tracey Love from Hill & Holler asked if I wanted to do some kind of fundraiser, we ended up turning it into an incentive event for people who give $100 or more to the CrowdRise campaign,” Ray says about the July 30 dinner from 5-8pm at New Roots Farm on Old Lynchburg Road. “That way we can get people who love Hill & Holler out there who didn’t know about New Roots. People can see the farm, see what we do—and Tracey helped to pull together an incredible list of sponsors for the party.”
Hill & Holler, a roving farm dinner event company owned by Love, has garnered a stellar reputation for farm-based food events in the region that feature locally sourced products.
“While I wasn’t able to help rebuild the farm, we could put together an appreciation party to incentivize people to give to the campaign,” Love says. “We’d throw the party, and donors could have a good time, meet the refugee families and see the rebuilding process on the farm itself.”
Love says the party is fully sponsored by local businesses, including Ivy Inn and Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar, two restaurants that were already buying produce from New Roots. Monticello Wine Tour & Coach Co. will shuttle guests between the parking area and the farm. Reason Beer is donating brews and Blenheim Vineyards, where Love works, will contribute wine. Other sponsors include Bellair Farm, Paisley & Jade, A Pimento Catering and JBE Communications.
All donations to the CrowdRise campaign go directly to the New Roots farm rescue, and not toward the party.
Ray says the rebuilding effort has been gratifying. “We lost probably 80 percent of our crops for the spring and summer, but with the donations for replanting, they’ve refilled the garden. It’s actually looking pretty amazing,” she says. “The farmers have started their harvest although we lost probably a month at market.”
Ray says they are continuing to hold farm work days during which community members are invited to help re-fence, replant and clean up. The farm, which opened in 2014, plays host to families from Bhutan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Kenya, India, Burma, Syria and Turkey, Ray says.
“We grow farm stand favorites people would be familiar with, like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, but also a lot of specialty crops popular amongst our shoppers with international culinary traditions such as amaranth, bitter melon, pumpkin shoots and dent corn.”
And while the bountiful produce is a huge positive for the IRC refugees, the sense of community is even more important, she says.
“One of the coolest parts of the New Roots project is seeing people who have been here longer support newcomers to the program,” Ray says.