Thursday, May 19, 2022

Grove Community Garden Director’s Mission is About More Than Food

The Rob Till Community Garden in Grove is more than a space for growing food. (Courtesy of Jonathan Costen)

JAMES CITY COUNTY — Terry Lynn Van Arsdale wants residents in the Grove community to have pride in their neighborhood.

Van Arsdale has been a resident of Grove for 16 years and is the current director of the Rob Till Community Garden, located at 8901 Pocahontas Trail in James City County (JCC).

Since taking over as director last year, she has worked to keep the community garden thriving in the middle of a “food desert.”

The Grove community is designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a food desert due to the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods.

Van Arsdale has been part of the community garden over the years since it was first created a decade ago by former director Rob Till, who passed away in 2019.

The quarter-acre of land was a passion for Till, who Van Arsdale said worked hard for the Grove community throughout the years.

Van Arsdale maintains that passion today. Despite her busy life, which includes working as an engineer at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Van Arsdale considers the garden her “church.”

Dominion Energy employees volunteered at the garden to clear it for plantings. (Courtesy of Jonathan Costen)

“God told me to be here,” she said. “I’m grateful and blessed for all of it.”

The Rob Till Community Garden is a space for growing, harvesting and distributing food, flowers, fruit and herbs, and shares its “bounty to those in need,” according to its Facebook page.

Despite its efforts, however, Van Arsdale said that many Grove residents do not know about the garden.

“What I’ve noticed, even though this garden’s been here for a decade now, people in Grove don’t really know it’s there,” she said.

Her hope is for the garden to become a gathering space for the community.

Van Arsdale has set up 10 garden plots for those in the community who are interested in having a designated area for planting and are dedicated to taking care of it.

“A large majority of our planting space is going to be what I call the Harvest Garden, and the Harvest Garden is for people who want to be part of it, but don’t have to be dedicated to a plot,” she said. “You come and help us take care of the garden -weeding, cleaning up – and then you can pick some vegetables to take as a thank you. So they’re still getting rewarded with the gardening aspect of it without the commitment.”

The garden also has a plot for the Grove Community Outreach Center‘s food program. While the garden has donated extra vegetables through the years, Van Arsdale said that this is the first time the Center has had its own plot.

The garden sees a number of volunteers from organizations, as well as college student volunteers, to help maintain it.

Earlier this month, a group of employees from Dominion Energy volunteered to clear and clean the garden to prepare for plantings this season.

Van Arsdale wants the garden to be more than a space for residents to grow and receive fresh produce.

“I want to see the community getting to know each other, and all of us blend together because we’re a very diverse community,” she said. “I would love to have everybody out there, getting together and making friends, and use that field that’s behind it to have picnics and get togethers.”

There is also a youth garden section, for which Van Arsdale said that she hopes to start a youth gardening club in the summer.

For now, help is needed to keep the garden thriving, Van Arsdale said.

“I think I have added enough different ways that the community can get involved that can fit into their lifestyle and schedule once a month or once a week,” she said.

Those who are interested in helping with the garden, which is currently in plant and maintain time, can contact Van Arsdale at (757) 268-7424.

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