Historic Summerseat Property Repurposed Into Agriculture Hub

(Above) VSU staff and faculty are joined last fall by Sabra Dipping Company volunteers in building raised garden beds at Summerseat. (Below) The “raised cottage” style building on the Summerseat property is believed to have been constructed between 1850 and 1875 and used in the summer for a court by the local magistrate, hence the name “Summerseat.”

(Above) VSU staff and faculty are joined last fall by Sabra Dipping Company volunteers in building raised garden beds at Summerseat. (Below) The “raised cottage” style building on the Summerseat property is believed to have been constructed between 1850 and 1875 and used in the summer for a court by the local magistrate, hence the name “Summerseat.”

Four years after publishing the groundbreaking study, Food Deserts in Virginia, VSU continues to identify ways to raise awareness of the commonwealth’s food security issues and to provide fresh, affordable food to all residents. The university has partnered with Sabra Dipping Company to develop the Summerseat Urban Garden Project, an initiative that will transform a historic 2.2-acre parcel on the VSU campus into a food and agricultural hub to address food security issues within local schools and communities, enhance nutrition and food education, and bring people together.

The first phase of the Summerseat Urban Garden Project got underway on June 11 with volunteers from the community, Sabra Dipping Company, and VSU staff and faculty. They constructed 10 raised bed gardens that included shorter ones accessible to children and those in wheelchairs, and waist-high beds, providing easy access for those who find it difficult to bend over. The beds will hold a wide variety of crops throughout the growing season and will have a twofold purpose: to teach members of the community how to successfully grow their own healthy food; and to harvest the crops for donation to food distribution centers for residents in and around Ettrick who have low access issues to fresh and nutritious food.

The project is an initiative of VSU’s Sustainable and Urban Agriculture Cooperative Extension Program and is part of Sabra’s Plants with a Purpose program, which addresses the needs of communities living in food deserts. The historic Summerseat land parcel is located on the VSU campus at the corner of Chesterfield Avenue and River Road, across from Ettrick Elementary School and next to VSU’s Multi-Purpose Center.

Sabra Dipping Company shares VSU’s commitment to resolving food desert and security issues and its belief that everyone should have ready access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. Both entities are confident that together they will be able to create a recreational, historical and productive green space at Summerseat that will provide maximum benefits to the public. Later phases of the Summerseat Urban Garden Project may include a certified kitchen, nutrition and cooking classes, the development of a historical museum within the Summerseat building and K-12 educational programs.

In addition to the Summerseat collaboration, Sabra is providing tuition assistance for students of VSU’s Sustainable Urban Agriculture Certification Course, which aims to increase competence and marketability for a career in urban agriculture. Students will have an opportunity to apply their skills in Sabra’s 340-square-foot employee work-share garden installed on the Sabra campus in Colonial Heights.