Urban Agriculture + Biodiversity Education: Under the leadership of Todd Niemeier, and under the umbrella of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, this collaborative project was a first of its kind in Charlottesville. Not only did it pull together a very diverse set of people, skills, and organizations, but the project introduced a fruit orchard with colorful native pollinator habitat to the downtown area. Those involved in the project included Friendship Court residents and community volunteers, Cville Foodscapes, UACC, private donors and grantors, and Center for Urban Habitats.

Native Habitat: Center for Urban Habitats created the native habitat portion of the project. In doing so, it experimented with using local natural plant communities as reference sites for species selection. Elements of prairie, woodland, and even Basic oak-hickory forest, were considered. Many of the plants were grown from seed by UACC and CUH, and many were donated. Our goal was to create long garden beds that would run a significant length of the public sidewalk along 6th street southeast, allowing for passers by to observe closely the natural beauty of native plants and animals. Small gaps, aligning with trails that descend the slope and cross the gardens below, invite one to come in, have a look around, and perhaps pick some blueberries for a snack.

Monarchs and bumble bees proliferate, skinks scurry among the rocks of the retaining walls, and red-backed salamanders hunt beneath the leaf litter of the garden beds. Large “bee poles” rise as monuments to natural decay, offering habitat for native bees before decomposing in a natural manner and supporting beetles, fungi, and mosses. There are small and graceful flowering plants covered with bees, and towering giant flowering plants reaching to nearly 10 feet tall. This garden has a little bit of everything. That said, an overarching theme and goal was to provide healthy habitat for a diverse array of pollinators.

CUH’s Rachel Floyd produced the content for a sign that stands among the gardens. It offers the following message to those that visit:

“We humans are part of an intricate interwoven food web. From hawk to spider, we all rely on other animals within the web to provide us with the food that we need to survive and thrive. Even vegetarians must count on little animals (insects) to pollinate their food crops! We tend to think first of the European honeybee when we think of pollination, but research is revealing that our 4,000 species of native bees are even better at this critically important job. These native bees are specifically adapted to make use of local native plant communities like this one for supplemental nectar and pollen and for shelter. Look closely and you are sure to find them foraging here along with birds, bats, toads, lizards, snakes, butterflies, dragonflies, ants, mites, microbes, and more!”