Article: Local Community Center Provides Fresh Produce to Families in Need

Words and Photos by Lauren N. Colie and Michael Pasco

Matthew Daniel winds his way down the mulched path from the William Byrd Community House to the quarter-acre farmlet behind the playgrounds. He gestures excitedly at the flowerbeds along the way, and points to a tree he rescued from an overgrowth of ivy. Nearby, the foundation of a gazebo stands ready to funnel guests to the field in which the farmer’s market is held.

“We try to teach skills like self-sufficiency and raising your own food,” Daniel said.

Daniel is the first full-time staff member assigned to manage the farmlet for the Byrd House. In the span of his first year, he has managed to significantly alter the appearance of the farmlet and gardens.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference. To me, it’s a way to kind of simplify your life around things that really matter,” Daniel said. “Taking care of your body, taking care of the earth, taking care of your family and doing that with healthy food. It’s a very powerful way to connect with other people.”

Daniel works with student volunteers and donated equipment to run the farmlet, which provides vegetables such as leeks, turnips and garlic.

In the greenhouse, he has started pea plants he intends to put near the children’s playgrounds so they can watch the plants grow and learn to harvest their own vegetables.

University of Richmond sophomore Allen Stambaugh volunteers under Daniel in the farmlet. Stambaugh said the experience of service is rewarding and that he values what he gains from the people he meets while volunteering.

“I’ve learned more from talking with Matthew,” Stambaugh said. “He’ll explain to me different species and plants. It’s more about the conversations and the skills.”

Located at 224 S. Cherry St., the Byrd House provides social services to the surrounding communities. One major focus is that the Byrd House offers a Nutrition Education Program. The Byrd House provides not only emergency food assistance for families in need, but also to teach community members about healthy food choices and self-sufficiency.

The program distributes produce from the farmlet to community members and uses it to hold educational seminars on how to cook and eat healthy. The program offers the seminars in the Byrd House farmer’s market.

Manager of the Byrd House Market and Library Programs Ana Edwards said it is an asset to be able to teach lessons on food choices and use organically grown vegetables on-site.

“I want the neighborhood to know this is a resource for information about good, healthy, tasty food,” Edwards said.

The Byrd House is located in a food desert meaning there are no grocery stores within walking distance and the poverty rate is high.

Edwards said the Byrd House provides emergency food to families in need, which consists of a package containing a 24-hour supply of food for a family of four. In the growing season, this package will contain fresh produce from the farmlet.

The Byrd House also offers other social programs, but Edwards said they like to highlight involvement with food and nutrition. “Nutrition is directly related to people’s ability to perform on the job or at school,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the Byrd House hopes to offer more enrichment classes in the future, and engage more local college students as volunteers.

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