Through our Certification in Urban Agriculture and Fellowship Program, we are planting seeds and we are planting trees, but most importantly, we are teaching people. And, if you like to eat, you should be glad we are. The average age of farmers in the U.S. is almost 58 years old, and in Virginia, 36% of farmers are 65 years of age or older. Farmers of color and women are vastly underrepresented in the field. As we look toward the future of agriculture in Virginia – one of the largest industries in the state – we must work to address this generational shift in farming in systemic ways.
We also must consider the needs of the Richmond region and how our local food system impacts all of us. It can’t be ignored that collective research tells us that children born in our city are not born into a place of equity – a child born in the East End is predicted to live 20 years less than a child born just a few miles away in the West End. Why is this? It’s not because of the care they receive within the walls of our hospitals – that care is excellent in both locations. Instead, opportunities to play safely outside, to have access to nutritious food, and to have opportunities for a good education and a great job all contribute to healthy and prosperous communities.
We recognize incredible opportunities to bridge these disparities while also cultivating a new generation of urban farmers through our Certification in Urban Agriculture and Fellowship Program. This program is the first program of its kind and was designed in partnership with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Urban Ag fellows dig in with Tricycle staff and subject matter experts, including experts from the USDA, Virginia Tech, the Rodale Institute, Roots of Success, Small Business Association, local farmers, and many others for a 9-month fellowship that provides formal instruction and hands-on experiences grounded in the business of sustainable urban agriculture.
The Certification in Urban Agriculture and Fellowship Program is an innovative approach to learning the business and practice of urban agriculture. Through this program, participants will:
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Our food is grown in concert with nature, using organic methods while emphasizing diversity in our soil life and in our farm ecosystem. We are grounded in a strong environmental ethic which is exhibited through our regenerative urban agriculture practices. By farming organically, we are regenerating the soil and returning the land to its natural state.
Two highly productive, four-season urban farms are local food learning centers located in low-access areas. They showcase and teach multiple methods of sustainable urban agriculture, including: soil health through traditional and worm-composting, greenhouse management and seed starting, crop planning and succession plantings, sustainable and integrated pest management, harvesting, marketing, and the distribution of produce to market. The produce grown is distributed through food access programs, including Corner Farm, Massey Cancer Cancer Farm Stand, and 31st Street Nutrition Center, as well as to local restaurants and grocers.
RVA’s Urban Farm was built in 2010 as Richmond’s first Urban Farm and was expanded to double in size in 2013. RVA’s Urban Farm is located in the historic Manchester district and is in full production all four seasons of the year. This site has provided inspiration and nutritious produce to aspiring urban farmers, gardeners, and eaters across our region and beyond. RVA’s Urban Farm includes 3 hoop houses, an extensive compost and vermicompost operation, a drip irrigation system using city water, a bee hive, an outdoor classroom, a DIY refrigerated shed, a variety of educational raised beds, a terraced garden area, and a team of healthy, strong, and beautiful urban farmers.
31st Street Baptist Church Urban Farm was born out of a collaboration with Tricycle, 31st Street Baptist Church, VSU, Bon Secours and the USDA in 2015 as one of the first USDA-certified, church-owned Urban Farms in the nation. The three sections of the farm include a mini urban farm with a season-extension hoop house, vermicompost operation, bee hive, a meditation garden with a walking stone labyrinth and native plantings, and a state-of-the-art greenhouse for seed starting and education. A hedge grow planted with insectary and food-producing plants borders and beautifies the site.
An orchard is growing in the midst of an urban neighborhood. The orchard was planted in 2012 with a variety of fruit trees, including peaches, pears, pomegranates, cherries, figs,and North America’s largest native fruit – paw-paws. A beautiful selection of herbs, including rosemary, sage, lavender, oregano, and thyme, are growing along the orchard’s hillside to encourage beneficial insects and to harvest for our produce partners. The orchard includes a rainwater catchment system capable of holding hundreds of gallons of water. These tanks are hooked up to a gravity-fed drip irrigation system, so with just a turn of a handle, our plants have free recycled rain water delivered to them from a simple, fairly inexpensive catchment system.
Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in. – Greek Proverb
Tours and field trips are tailored to meet your group’s goals within the context of what our farm provides. Tricycle’s sustainable farming practices are highlighted throughout the tour, including: compost, vermicompost, seed starting, sustainable growing of food and herbs, insects, water systems, local food systems, honeybees, and more. You will experience how and why food is grown within the urban setting of Richmond, VA. We invite participation through question and answer sessions, and give participants the opportunity to taste and touch, smell and see, and even hold some worms for the courageous sort! Tours are tailored to interest and educational goals and include discussions about food access, equitable food distribution, sustainability, farm ecology, and more.
Most soils have lost a huge percentage of the microbial soil life, which is necessary for a healthy soil food web. In the absence of these microbes, plants develop nutrient deficiencies, are susceptible to disease, and are more vulnerable to stressors like drought and insect damage.
To build healthy soil, we work with a network of partners to divert food waste from landfills. Using traditional slow cooking compost systems and vermicomposting (worm composting) methods, we turn waste into a nutrient-rich material that supplies necessary proteins to help sustain proper plant growth.
Since decomposition is a natural process, it will eventually occur, however slowly. The primary objective is to create an optimal environment for the microorganisms doing the decomposing. Bacteria are the first to break down plant tissue. Fungi and protozoans soon join the bacteria. Centipedes, millipedes, beetles, and earthworms also participate by tearing and chewing the materials into smaller pieces, making them more suitable for the microbes.
Although there is no “right” way to compost, the composting process can be accelerated and made more efficient. The microorganisms in the compost pile require the same basic essentials of most living organisms: nutrients, air, and water. If the microbes are abundant, the compost pile will decompose rapidly.
The two most important nutrients that the microbes in the compost pile require for their metabolism are carbon and nitrogen. Carbon is oxidized for energy, while nitrogen is a major component of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.
The speed in which compost forms all depends on the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, surface area of particles, aeration, moisture, and temperature. Controlling these factors, combined with frequent turning and proper management, speeds up the process.
In 2016, Tricycle converted 68,000 lbs. of restaurant waste into nutrient-rich compost.
“The decision to start my business was influenced by the knowledge and experience I gained while at Tricycle. I learned how to construct and maintain vermicompost bins, how to harvest vermicompost, and how to make vermicompost tea. Though I had constructed a worm bin at home prior to my time at Tricycle, these experiences showed me how vermicomposting can be practiced on a larger scale. Through the knowledge I gained from both the readings and the hands-on experiences, I further developed my passion for composting. The healthy soil fellowship introduced me to people who were also invested in diverting food waste and producing healthy soil.”