Local farm grows produce for low-income individuals
Lynchburg Grows, a seven-acre farm in Lynchburg, is committed to providing affordable produce to the community along with on-site vocational training for individuals with disabilities and low income.
“We want to afford purposeful employment to individuals with disabilities and also help people in our community gain access to fresh produce at a reasonable price,” Shelley Blades, executive director at Lynchburg Grows, said.
Lynchburg Grows partners with Stand Up, a Virginia-supported employment service, where individuals are placed at various organizations and supported daily by a job coach.
“It is just a matter of reminding them and showing them a technique that works best for them,” Blades said. “It’s really just like any other job training would do.”
The Morris Campus Farm at Liberty University works alongside Lynchburg Grows through donations to the Veggie Van. The program was formed by volunteer drivers and helpers,who work to bring fresh fruit and produce to food deserts in Lynchburg. Farm manager Chris Marvel said he would like to get involved with a similar outreach program.
“We want to build community with the university but also with the surrounding community,” Marvel said. “I think we both have a desire and passion to grow really good food, feed the community with it and make it available to be affordable as well.”
The Veggie Van allows Lynch- burg Grows to go mobile. The van brings produce to the “food deserts,” such as downtown, in the city of Lynchburg.
“Everything we grow is organic,” Blades said. “Everything that we sell, especially in our Veggie Vans that go into the food deserts, is at a price that people in those communities can afford.”
Along with the Veggie Van, Lynchburg Grows uses veggie boxes during the winter and sum- mer months. The summer box averages 90 memberships while winter membership estimates are around 40 boxes.
Blades began working with Lynchburg Grows in December 2015 and said she learns some- thing new every day.
“I mean it’s great, but it’s all circular,” Blades said. “It’s not just me helping people. I learn some- thing new every day. People help me all the time, and people help Lynchburg Grows.”
The community of Lynchburg supports the organization through donations, volunteering and veggie boxes.
“We’re giving to the community, but the community also gives back to us,” Blades said. “It’s re- ally wonderful, and I really love being a part of something that the community loves.”
Blades said she is encouraged by the different abilities that each worker represents. Since December, she has watched the workers become experts in their assigned jobs and accept more responsibility.
“I just think that calling someone an expert who probably hasn’t been called that before has to be empowering,” Blades said.
Marvel said he is thankful to be involved with something that is giving back to the community and has Liberty’s name on it as well.
“Personally, I believe in what we’re doing,” Marvel said. “I believe it’s an act of service and an act of love and we are able show that to the community through donating to Lynchburg Grows’ Veggie Van.”
Along with employment opportunities through partnerships, Lynchburg Grows welcomes the community through volunteer opportunities, internships and community service.
“Everyone is welcome here,” Blades said. “Everyone has a place.”
Conley is a news reporter.