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Fifteen acres of untamed grasslands located beneath the power lines splitting the Warhill Sports Complex and Warhill High School will soon have a higher calling.
Local, state and federal officials gathered there Friday afternoon to break ground on the Community Natural Resource & Farm Link Center.
The center is envisioned as a panoply of community garden plots, tilled land where students can learn the basics of farming, landscaped areas providing native flora for pollinators like bees to feed and streams built to help reduce runoff into the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
It is located on land donated by Dominion Virginia Power, one of the entities that put up grant money to help fund the center. The land was cleared of larger vegetation years ago to allow for massive power lines to be built, however it has since sat undeveloped until now.
The heart of the center’s mission is generating produce. Jason Weller, the chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, attended Friday’s groundbreaking and said the center is part of a nationwide effort to address looming issues.
“We’ll have two billion more people in the world in the next 40 years,” he said. “We’re going to have to grow as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the last 500.”
The center will generate produce from plots of land where crops will be grown by students and people training for jobs as farmers. It is also likely to become a supplier of fresh, local produce to Williamsburg-James City County Schools. WJCC began a farm-to-table food program in 2009, and it currently serves up one meal made up of locally sourced produce per month.
“We’re hoping to expand the program,” said Pam Dannon, the school division’s dietitian.
She said the center represents a good opportunity for the schools to find more local food to serve in lunchrooms.
The center will be managed by the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District. The district is a state-run agency that serves all three Historic Triangle localities with resources, educational outreach and on-site assistance for managing drainage, runoff and soil issues.
“I’m hoping this will evolve for many years,” said Brian Noyes, the district manager for the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District.
Noyes, who came up with the idea for the center and has been working for the last year to find grant funding to get it started, said he hopes to have much of it operational within a year.
Noyes has much work ahead of him to clear out the remaining acres of the land and establish them as crop fields and demonstration areas for student farmers. He also plans to use grant funding to install an irrigation system that will draw water from a pond next to Warhill High School.
James City County Supervisor Michael Hipple (Powhatan) attended the groundbreaking and said the center is “very important” to members of the board and to the county’s citizens. He said he has been looking for land in the county to create something similar, so to see a project come to fruition is of special value to him.
“It’s encouraging to know we’ll all have this,” he said. “This stuff engages citizens. They realize ‘I can grow this and I can use this.’”
Hipple was referring to the community garden plots, which should be available at the center in the coming months. The plots will be free, and those interested in reserving space should call Noyes at 645-4895.
Noyes said the project should cost around $80,000 by the time it is mostly complete next year. At least half of that sum will come from grant funding. The center has so far drawn support from Dominion, the USDA, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District.
The center is located off Stadium Road next to the northern parking lot for the Warhill Sports Complex. A patch of landscaped ground full of plants that bees and other pollinators like to feed on has already been installed and is visible now.