TCC donates plants for Chesapeake community gardens


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — The horticulture department at Tidewater Community College’s Chesapeake is hoping to turn a negative effect of the coronavirus outbreak into a positive one for residents.

Students and staff would normally be getting ready to sell vegetables, herbs, and flowers for their annual spring sale, but students aren’t allowed on campus due to the outbreak.

“I had to start thinking about what to do with all the plants we were growing in the greenhouses,” said Andrea Tomlin, department chair and assistant professor.

Tomlin says the campus has three greenhouses and students are evaluated on how well they can get their plants to grow over the semester. But, they’re currently virtually learning.

The plants produced would be part of their spring sale, which brings in between $6,000 and $8,000 to pay for things like equipment, according to Tomlin.

Since, they couldn’t use them and didn’t want to waste what they had, TCC decided to donate them to local community gardens through Healthy Chesapeake.

“It’s very rewarding because when you’re a grower and an educator too, it’s satisfying to know that you can give back. And there is a need feeding the public right now, especially with how the unemployment rates are, not just in Hampton Roads but everywhere,” she said. “When the students also heard this, they were so pleased and happy that they could somehow contribute to others. It’s very satisfying.”

On Saturday, Healthy Chesapeake staff came to pick up the donated plants.

“We lost count of how many flat (beds) but we know it was five truckloads. That’s a lot of food to help feed the whole entire city of Chesapeake,” Tomlin said.

The donation came at the perfect time for Healthy Chesapeake, which is a nonprofit tasked with helping to improve population health in the city.

Calib Miller, food connection manager for the organization, says they work with more than 40 groups in the community, including the 13 community gardens, to help promote access to healthy foods for those who don’t always have options.

Seedlings for Healthy Chesapeake are grown by Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs (SECEP) students at a greenhouse at the Southeastern Training Center, but coronavirus safety implementations have prevented them from helping.

“We lost all of our seedlings. Fortunately, we had wonderful partners that brought other partners to the table,” Miller said about connecting with TCC.

The plants donated included a variety of tomatoes, peppers, herbs and pollinating plants that will attract insects to pollinate the gardens throughout the summer.

Once the vegetables and herbs are ready to harvest, they’ll be given to local food pantries.

Miller says their organization is a paradigm in the way local governments work with issues like community health. One person is usually tasked with the job, but Chesapeake is funding their organization to work with others in the community, according to Miller — and this project shows how well it can work.

“I think TCC in this one initiative has helped our capacity jump really high. We’re going to get a lot of people fed. I think it’s important what’s been done here, and an example of what to continue to do with more partnerships like this. It’s just a force multiplier,” he said.

TCC says food security is also important to them because studies show that 42 percent of community college students are food insecure, while 12 percent are homeless. The college has held pop-up food markets on campus to help with this issue.

If you are food insecure and need help, Tomlin recommends using the Abba List, which is a website with resources.

For more about their organization, click here.

The TCC horticulture department also donated its flowers to help beautify other TCC locations across Hampton Roads.

Tomlin says they will hopefully have their annual fall garden sale in October. For more information on their program, click here.

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