Irrigation System Boosts Volunteer Farms’ Harvest
Posted: November 27, 2012
Bob Blair is founder and CEO of the Woodstock Volunteer Farm. He cited a new irrigation system put in at the beginning of the growing season for this year’s success. (Photos by Kaitlin Mayhew)
The volunteer farm near Woodstock lived up to its mission, with a good crop to help feed the hungry.
Bob Blair, chairman and CEO of the nonprofit farm, attributed this year’s success to a new irrigation system put in at the beginning of the growing season.
Blair started the Shenandoah County volunteer farm on his property west of Woodstock eight years ago.
“I woke up one morning and there was the concept in my head,” he said.
Blair and his volunteers grew 30 acres of vegetables this year at the Woodstock farm, with all the produce donated to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
This year, a new $5,000 irrigation system, purchased with donated funds, helped lead to a significantly greater harvest.
In 2011, the two volunteer farms produced around 10 tons of vegetables: This year, volunteers harvested 82½ tons, according to website of The World Foundation for Children, the organization responsible for the farms’ operation.
Similar to a perforated hose, “drip tape” irrigation allows more acreage to be watered in much less time. The tape was buried underground to prevent weeds from sprouting up around it, and to deliver water directly to the roots of plants.
Blair sits down with organizers for the food banks every January to plan which crops he should grow based on what they find people like.
“Potatoes, that’s their favorite because it can be prepared in several different ways and they are easy to keep,” he said. “We try to grow what they want.”
The farms also grow a variety of seasonal vegetables, from tomatoes and pumpkins to watermelons and kohlrabi.
Cabbage and broccoli, now in season, occupy most of the garden space.
This year, 1,700 volunteers gave their time at the two farms, many coming from church and college groups, including several from James Madison University.
According to the farms, the produce they grow helps to feed more than 150,000 Virginians in need each month.
“They are food insecure,” Blair said of the people who benefit from the produce. “When they wake up, they don’t know if they are going to have anything to eat or not.
“Normally, what they get from the food banks are canned goods. The fresh produce is so important.”
Blair, who retired from working for the federal government in Washington, D.C., has owned the Woodstock property since 1973. He used to run a Christmas tree farm there until he moved there full time.
Most Saturdays in the summer are volunteer days, though Blair said he could still use help harvesting cabbage and sending out donation request letters.
“This is the time of year people are more conscious about helping the hungry, so we try to send out donation letters around this time,” he said.
Anyone interested can register at www.worldfoundationforchildren.com/volunteerfarm.
Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org