July 27, 2010
Whole Foods community garden

Courtesy Doug Buerlein

Some of the produce grown in the Village Garden, Whole Foods Market’s first community garden, will be used in the grocery store’s salad bar and cooking classes.

A store in the Richmond, Va., metro area is giving the term “farm to market” a refreshing new meaning by becoming the first Whole Foods Market in the U.S. to have an on-site community garden.

On June 26, the Glen Allen, Va., Whole Foods Market opened a 37,000-square foot garden—known as the Village Garden—which will supply fresh, seasonal produce to the store and serve as an education center for the local community.

“More and more, customers are becoming vocal about wanting to know the origin of their produce. At Whole Foods Market, we’re always looking to partner with local farmers, but the Village Garden is something very new for us,” says store team leader Joey Herndon in a press release. “We’re excited to see our customers reap the benefits of the Village Garden.”

One such Whole Foods Market customer is Denise Kranich, who lives about 30 minutes away from the Glen Allen Whole Foods Market, but works much closer and has been shopping there since it opened in September 2008.

“I think it’s great for the community, for buying local and learning how to do some of it ourselves,” Kranich says. “I’m hoping I’ll learn about composting and how to treat a garden organically.”

In addition to monthly in-store cooking classes, Whole Foods Market will offer free classes in the Village Garden every Saturday. Open to the public from dawn to dusk, the community garden, located about a 1/4 mile from the store, is nearly an acre in size and features an orchard, production beds, a compost station, 16 community rental plots and an education area. The garden was designed and is being maintained by Backyard Farmer, professional farmers serving the Richmond area.

Whole Foods community garden

Courtesy Doug Buerlein

Whole Foods Market inaugurated its first community garden with a tree planting ceremony.

We know that this first year, things might not look so great,” says Sean Sheppard, Backyard Farmer co-owner and manager. “But everything we’re doing now—tilling, mulching—it’s all designed to build the fertility of the project over the next three to 10 years.”

Sheppard and his team designed everything with sustainable practices in mind, from companion planting and rotating crops to seven 300-gallon rain barrels at one end of the production beds.

“Down the road, our customers will be able to see and buy produce, but by no means are we going to be driving out local producers,” says Linda Thomas, a marketing specialist for Whole Foods Market. “The first priority is education, to highlight what can be done in your own backyard and bring about awareness of locally grown produce.”

Whole Foods Market is still working on securing permits that would allow produce from the garden to be sold in the store, but until then, when items start to pop up, they can be used in cooking classes and in the salad bar. Sheppard said some of it will also be donated to a local food bank—donated food from donated land.

“The developer [Markel-Eagle Partners LLC] knew about the Richmond-area Whole Foods Market’s commitment to community gardening, and offered us space in the development,” Thomas says.

The store and garden are located in West Broad Village, an urban living development on land that was once, coincidentally, a farm.

Filtered Under Urban Farming

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