Since its inception in 2011, the Morven Kitchen Garden has thrived as a unique part of the University community. The garden is a fully functioning business which grows and distributes produce all thanks to the work of students and also acts as a learning space for the advancement of sustainable agricultural knowledge.
Second-year College students Allie Arnold and Erika Stadsklev became two of the three co-directors of MKG after volunteering at the Morven Estate during their first year.
“I started volunteering [after the Activities Fair],” Stadsklev said. “It’s so peaceful out there, there’s a little lake and there’s so much land… you just get away from the hustle and bustle of U.Va. in general.”
Student volunteers work in the garden to grow the produce that supplies their Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, program. The CSA provides weekly fresh produce boxes to enrolled community members.
“We grow it 20 minutes from here, so it doesn’t have to be transported,” Arnold said. “Also, you get to know the people who are growing your food, so it’s a very intimate process.”
Purchasing produce from Morven Kitchen Garden also helps to further its goal of building strong student leaders in sustainable agriculture. A leadership role evolved naturally as both Stadsklev and Arnold spent more time in the garden.
“Basically whatever need that Morven has I’m willing to jump on it, especially as it relates to bringing more people out to the farm,” Arnold said. “It’s fun to find creative ways to get people excited about farming.”
The Morven Kitchen Garden is currently carrying out a fundraiser to double its acreage and move towards even more environmentally friendly practices. Collecting donations through a Kickstarter campaign, the Morven Kitchen Garden leadership team hopes to get more students involved.
“Since Morven owns all of the land, they were going to sell it, but we told them we could really use that,” Stadsklev said. “We gave them our plan and negotiated to get the land. They let us have the land if we do what we say we will [by using biochar and growing more fruits and vegetables].”
The Morven Kitchen Garden leadership team plans to take over land previously used by the University’s biology department. Additionally, it will incorporate biochar, an environmentally friendly soil amendment to increase soil fertility and store carbon.
“It’s how agriculture can help mitigate climate change because it keeps the [carbon dioxide] in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere,” Arnold said. “We already don’t use chemicals or pesticides, but this takes it to another level.”
Both Arnold and Stadsklev said the expansion will allow the Morven Kitchen Garden to grow a greater variety of fruits and vegetables. They also hope to increase the size of its CSA, which often has a wait list.
“A lot of people want to do it, and we just don’t have enough space to grow that many vegetables,” Stadsklev said. “At first we’re going to have a lot to do, like putting down the biochar and waiting for the soil to be healthy. Then we will plant all of the new crops and care for them, because we don’t normally grow fruit.”
The Morven Garden Kitchen program, in eliminating middle channels like grocery stores, is unique because students are the sole source of its produce. To Morven volunteers, this provides a healthier and more affordable choice.
“I hope this leaves a legacy because there are a lot of clubs that have the produce and they sell it, but we actually grow it too,” Stadsklev said.
While Morven’s volunteers will be busy carrying out the day-to-day duties of the expansion, the leadership team also has many long-term ideas for bolstering the impact of the garden.
“We’re hoping to partner with bigger organizations so we can reach more and different kinds of people,” Arnold said. “Farther down the road, we want to be able to actually pay students to work on the farm and have it be a bigger farm, acres and acres. Morven has so much land — it could be put to a good, productive, healthy use.”
Both students agree Morven can become a more integral and well-known aspect of the University community. A successful fundraiser will allow the garden to bring out more students, add variety to its agricultural selection and decrease its carbon footprint.
“I truly think that everyone would like some aspect of Morven if they just knew about it,” Arnold said.