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Lynchburg Grows provides food, education to its community

As one of three founders of an urban farming initiative in Lynchburg, Va., Scott Lowman has seen how the stewardship of land, food, and crops can change lives. Lynchburg Grows is giving hope and purpose to others, Lowman said.

   

Winter lettuce grows in a Lynchburg Grows greenhouse. Winter lettuce grows in a Lynchburg Grows greenhouse.

After earning his undergraduate degree in biology from Virginia Tech in 1994, Lowman spent a decade working in the pharmaceutical industry. When he lost his job to corporate cutbacks, he teamed up with childhood friend Dereck Cunningham and environmental lawyer Michael Van Ness to create Lynchburg Grows. 

They were inspired by the story of the late Paul Lamb, who was disabled and lived in a Lynchburg group home. Lamb had a garden, but because of a communication breakdown with work crews, the garden was destroyed. The organization's mission, influenced by Cunningham's experiences with spina bifida, is to provide an urban setting for growing food, providing education, and developing job skills, especially for those living with disabilities or on a low-income.

Depending on the season, you could see lettuces, kale, Swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers, and other crops growing in greenhouses in the middle of the city.

Lowman, Cunningham, and Van Ness purchased and refurbished nine greenhouses a few hundred yards from Lynchburg Stadium, where the Hillcats play their baseball games.

   

Scott Lowman is a co-founder of Lynchburg Grows. Scott Lowman, a co-founder of Lynchburg Grows, is working toward a doctorate in horticulture at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va.

The property had been a flourishing rose business but sat unattended for six years. When the trio bought the land in 2004, it was a tangle of maintenance issues and environmental concerns, Lowman said. The owner was willing to sell the property to Lynchburg Grows for about $300,000, far below market value, because he believed in the mission of an urban oasis that could provide food, education, and hope, Lowman said.

The partners were able to raise the funds in about two years and began repairing the greenhouses. In all, more than $2 million has been raised in donations and in-kind labor since the organization started. 

Lynchburg Grows has received support from surrounding colleges, churches, and the community in general, plus more than 70,000 hours of service donated, Lowman said. The staff includes nine part-timers who have some form of disability. “They are the backbone of the operation,” Lowman said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”

Lowman is now pursuing his doctorate. in horticulture at Virginia Tech’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, Va., working under advisors Chuansheng Mei and Jerzy Nowak.

Lowman studies the role of beneficial bacterial endophytes in the growing of plants. The research enables him to lend technical expertise to Lynchburg Grows, which works with other farmers to supply vegetables to low income families through a Community Supported Agriculture program. About 120 families pay $15 a week to share in the harvest, and some of the bounty is donated to a Lynchburg food kitchen.

Lowman said he sees Lynchburg Grows continuing to grow and provide food and training for those hungry for purpose in their lives. “It has totally changed my life and changed my direction.”

  • For more information on this topic, contact Chris Horne at 434-766-6717.

About Lynchburg Grows

  • Lynchburg Grows is a 7-acre urban farm and center for education and skills training. Its facilities are just south of Calvin Falwell Field and Lynchburg Stadium in the city of Lynchburg, Va.
  • Lynchburg Grows has raised $2.6 million since 2004 in donations and in-kind labor from federal, state, local, and private sources.
  • Lynchburg Grows is part of a program that feeds about 120 families. They pay $15 a week to share in the harvest, and some of the bounty is donated to a Lynchburg food kitchen.
  • Lynchburg Grows has benefitted from more than 70,000 hours of service donated by educational, community, and religious organizations.

Local authors recognize effort

Lynchburg Grows is mentioned in two books: "Greenhouses of Hope" by Dori Grinenko Baker and "Reclaiming Our Food" by Tanya Denckla Cobb.   

Baker lives near Lynchburg, Va., and writes that she sees Lynchburg Grows as a spiritual metaphor for new life emerging from old structures.  

Cobb writes in her book that Lynchburg Grows is “creating innovative pathways into the community for disabled and at risk youth. ... Lynchburg Grows proves that a farm can grow far more than food.”

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