Bracketts Farm helps feed the hungry
Interns Mike Thacker and Cody Sprouse labor through another hot day to furnish produce from Bracketts Farm to the Louisa Community Food Bank and its affiliates.
Louisa’s Garden at Bracketts Farm has filled the coffers of the Louisa Community Food Bank and its associated programs with more than 3,000 pounds of produce so far this year. The garden continues to burst with nature’s bounty and is on track to pass 4,000 pounds of harvest.
The garden is under the supervision of volunteer Mark Bailey, assisted by his wife, Lisa, and two interns, Mike Thacker, a rising home-schooled senior, and Cody Sprouse, a rising home-schooled sophomore. It is located at Bracketts Farm which is part of the Elisabeth Aiken Nolting Charitable Foundation whose goal is to encourage sustainable and responsible stewardship of land in a deep historical tradition.
Bailey is committed to his role as volunteer, manager, gardener and teacher.
“That’s what I try to do, to teach the history and how it came to be on our plates,” Bailey said. “I believe a lot of my responsibility out here is not just to teach them about this but how to keep a job and about honesty and integrity.”
The interns are paid for 30 hours per week from a grant furnished by the Bama Works Fund of Dave Matthews Band. Started in 1999, the fund supports area charitable programs, including disadvantaged youth, needs of the disabled, protection of the environment, and the arts and humanities.
The Bama Works Fund is administered by the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation who collects and organizes each grant request. According to Michael Seaton, president of the board of the Nolting Foundation, each member of the band reviews grant applications and, ultimately, decides who to fund.
“I find it very impressive that they get that involved,” Seaton said.
This is the third year for the garden, and the second year that the Bama Works Fund has supported it. The garden includes tomatoes, peppers, cherry tomatoes, corn, squash, pumpkin and beans. All are heirloom varieties that have been open pollinated since 1940 according to Bailey.
The garden continues to produce because of staggered plantings.
“I’ve basically got three plantings of everything except tomatoes and they’ll keep producing,” Bailey said. “We’ve been delivering steady since the middle of June,” he added.
The farm sports specialty gardens such as “The Three Sisters” garden consisting of corn, squash and beans, reflective of the way Native Americans grew their produce.
“I want to teach people heritage and history,” explained Bailey.
Other specialty gardens include the kitchen garden which is located near the home and includes mostly herbs, tomatoes and salad ingredients.
“That’s where you go out and cut some stuff for dinner,” Bailey explained.
He also planted a colonial garden to show what the colonists would have grown in their back garden.
Bailey encouraged everyone to have a garden. He started a container garden to show visitors that anyone can have one, regardless of space.
“We’ve got a real life laboratory out here,” Bailey said.
He strives to educate visitors and the interns.
“I believe in giving a person a hand up, not a hand out,” he added.
Since the current interns are home-schooled, both can continue to work into fall. Thacker started six weeks ago after Bailey told his mother about the opportunity. His cousin, Sprouse, started two weeks ago.
“I’ve just always wanted to do it,” Thacker said, although he admitted that the work can be hard.
“It’s hot,” added Sprouse, even though they start each day around 5 a.m. so they can be finished before noon.
“Mr. Bailey is a good man to work with,” Thacker complimented.
Bailey had his own praise for the interns.
“Working with these two has been a real pleasure,” he said. “They’ve got the love of the place. It’s not just a job. This is our future.”
Bailey would like to have four interns next year.
“We’ve got a lot of neat things going on out here,” he said. “The possibilities are endless. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”