ROANOKE, Va. – Sam Lev got his green thumb when he first started gardening in college.
Lev works for Roanoke’s Local Environmental Agriculture Project, LEAP. The nonprofit connects people to local produce, supports local farmers and offers discounts so the community can afford fresh fruits and veggies.
“I think it’s really valuable for people to know where their food comes from,” said Lev. "And to be able to take part in that, is hugely powerful.”
That’s why he said the four community gardens in Roanoke are so beneficial. For $30 a year, you can rent a plot with the tools, water, seeds, and expert advice you need to grow your own garden.
When LEAP discovered that the Roanoke Community Garden Association—which has run the gardens in the city for the past 11 years—would have to shut its doors, they leaped into action. The nonprofit started a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 in 10 days, looking to have the needed funds by February 29, Leap Day.
“It’s too valuable and too important for us to let it slide by,” Lev said.
The need for these community gardens is there. Southeast and Northwest Roanoke are food deserts, meaning people can’t easily get to a grocery store to buy nutritious, fresh produce.
Carilion Clinic’s latest Roanoke Valley Community Health Assessment found that 29.6% of the people surveyed said they struggled accessing healthy foods and 86.9% of Roanoke City students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Last year, Carilion started Morningside Urban Farm, which offers free classes and produce to the community. Community health and outreach director Aaron Bush said it’s about more than just food.
“We also have yoga, we have block parties and really the point is to get neighbors talking to one another, to create social relationships," Bush said. "But, to also show the connection between your body and food and how what you’re putting in your mouth is really important for your overall well-being.”
So far, LEAP’s raised nearly more than $6,700. Lev said he’s confident they’ll reach their goal, but no matter what, they will figure something out to keep the gardens open.
“We’re growing food either way," said Lev.