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Doctoral Student and Master Gardener: Amanda Hall

It has been a successful summer for the garden located in the courtyard at West Grace South Residence Hall. The sunflowers and zinnias are still in full bloom, and the containers of mint and cilantro are overflowing. Although ASPiRE students help with weeding, planting and harvesting, the garden would not have been possible without the expertise and green thumb of Amanda Hall, a full-time doctoral student in VCU’s School of Education and an adjunct professor. Hall is a master gardener who uses her skills to share her love of gardening and to teach local youth and young adults, like the ASPiRE students, how to grow their own food.   

Hall is known through her work with the Community Food Collaborative, a nonprofit she co-founded. According to Hall, the Community Food Collaborative resulted from a service-learning project she led while teaching science at Fairfield Middle School. The project focused on the design and construction of a community garden on the grounds of the school. Since 2011, the garden has been producing vegetables. Today, Hall and the students at Fairfield Middle School sell the produce in a student-run market and use the proceeds to sustain the garden.

The area surrounding Fairfield Middle School is considered a “food desert,” which the U.S.Department of Agriculture defines as a neighborhood where at least a fifth of residents live in poverty and 33 percent live more than a mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store. In 2012, Richmond was identified as the largest food desert for a city its size in the United States, according to the Community Development Financial Institution Fund.

Aquanetta Scott, vice-president of the Mosby Tenant Council and a resident of Mosby Court, says that being able to buy fresh food is important. 

“It would be nice if a community garden and market could be started at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Middle School, [in the Mosby neighborhood]” she said. "At this time, convenience stores are the closest places for Mosby residents to walk to buy food."

Hall said that the Community Food Collaborative will provide an opportunity to expand the concept of a garden and market to other schools, including MLK.

For more information, contact Nannette Bailey, community partnership coordinator for ASPiRE, at nabailey@vcu.edu.

Photo credit: Style Weekly