May 26th, 2017

People with Purpose

Beautiful RVA is made up of Ginter Urban Gardeners an Urban Greening group. Here they are standing in front of Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden's Conservatory. Image by Phuong Tran

The inaugural group of Ginter Urban Gardeners after touring Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Randee Humphrey is in rear, on right with hands up.

Making a Difference with Urban Greening

The last few months have been a whirlwind, as the Garden launched and wrapped up its first training cohort of Ginter Urban Gardeners.  I think back to conversations in 2014, when wise friends pondered together “what would it take to create a more enabling environment for community urban greening initiatives?”  At that time, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden has assumed the role of backbone organization for Beautiful RVA, an informal coalition of like-minded, environmentally-oriented organizations all focused on improving the quality of life in our region through public horticulture, urban greening, and beautiful place-making.  Our collective goal:  use a grassroots, “asset-based” approach to community development, and work in collaboration with others for deeper, more lasting impact.  We imagined that, by training small groups of community-minded volunteers how to serve as urban greening project leaders, we could focus on neighborhood-by-neighborhood results.  In doing so, we would realize the Garden’s mission:  to connect people through plants to improve communities.

Community-based greening projects often address issues that neighbors together want to solve:  how to increase the urban tree canopy and reduce the heat island effect; how to re-engage neighbors in growing and using their own food, especially where there is limited access to full-service grocery stores; how to use plants to filter and slow down storm water, remove pollutants, and improve the quality of the water leaving our streets and alleys and entering our shared watershed; how to help developers engage with residents to plan new parks and green spaces for everyone’s enjoyment and recreation and to build social capital as well as property values.

With support from The Community Foundation, and with Duron Chavis, the Garden’s talented community engagement coordinator taking the lead, we’ve launched into the local landscape an incredible team of people with purpose:  Tia, Randy, Katy, Rachel, Ricky, Nana, Jourdan, Kendra, James, Ram, Kate, Morgan, Tyrone, and Harry.  And the ripple effects of their gifts, insights, and devotion to building a better RVA already are being felt already in multiple urban greening projects across the City, in partnership with Renew Richmond, the Richmond Peace Education Center, Groundwork RVA, Richmond Grows Gardens, and HandsOn Greater Richmond.

You’ll get a sense of the quality of the Ginter Urban Gardener experience by watching this video, produced by volunteer and public relations and marketing intern Phuong Tran.  In addition to learning a lot about gardening in urban conditions, managing volunteers, and designing greening projects, these immensely talented folks shared personal narratives, built a trusting environment for deep self-discovery, and learned about what it means to work with diverse communities toward a common goal:  a healthier, greener, and more socially resilient region.

We’re just getting started!  Beautiful RVA’s next deadline for applicants to the Ginter Urban Gardener training program is August 11:  we’ll be launching a new cohort in autumn, focused on the East End and North Church Hill. To learn more, visit in the coming months.

Randee Humphrey, the Garden’s Director of Education, heads up a team of accomplished educators and program developers who design public, school, and special audience programs, educational exhibits and interpretation, and community engagement initiatives and partnerships. She loves how Beautiful RVA serves as a natural extension of the Garden’s heartfelt mission, as well as her own mission to live fully, be present, and serve others.

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