By Max Villegas
JK Community Farm near Purcellville held its fourth annual Plant-A-Thon this weekend, where volunteers planted roughly 30,000 seedlings that are expected to produce 230,000 pounds of organic produce for low-income families.
The nonprofit provides fresh produce and protein to those in need through food pantries and other local food groups. With only two staff members, the farm is heavily reliant on volunteers to support the farm, and ensure food is delivered to the roughly 90,000 people in Northern Virginia. On average, JK Community Farm anticipates 4,500 volunteers per year to make this possible. That makes it the largest volunteer-based and chemical-free farm in the United States.
Executive Director Samantha Kuhn acts as the voice for the farm, organizing how the farm interacts with the public and spreading food education throughout the community.
“Everyone is so incredible,” Kuhn said. She said she is impressed by all of the volunteers, and appreciates their commitment to helping the community. Because of their efforts, the farm has 20 acres in production compared to only four at the beginning of the farm’s establishment.
After working at a community farm in college, Kuhn had a difficult time knowing that food pantries did not have fresh food. To Kuhn, access to fresh food is a human right.
The Loudoun School for Advanced Studies was one of the many organized groups at the Plant-A-Thon on Saturday. Their community service club votes and decides on different activities in Northern Virginia. Yasmine Lahiri, 13, organized the club’s effort to help JK Community Farm again this year. They came back to “build a relationship with the farm,” according to club sponsor Rita Lahiri. Lahiri hopes the students will create a tradition of volunteering at the farm during the Plant-A-Thon.
“I want to help… and I like the mission,” said Joseph Caldwell, 17, from Loudoun School for Advanced Studies. When he learned of the opportunity, he wanted to go. He knows food pantries do not always receive the healthiest options from his experience with scouting for donations with Boy Scouts.
The Plant-A-Thon is not the only volunteer event, although it happens to be the largest one the farm offers. JK Community Farm plants most of its produce for the season during the Plant-A-Thon. To keep local communities in mind, the farm sends out a survey that asks what people want. The most popular food item: peppers.
Last year, the Plant-A-Thon was held over two days, and 16,000 seedlings were planted. With the pandemic still raging a year ago, the farm was supporting quadruple the amount of people they did during pre-pandemic times.
Loudoun Hunger Relief and DC Central Kitchen act as the hubs for fresh food. Smaller food pantries across Northern Virginia can go to the larger pantries and stock up on produce for smaller communities.
Max Villegas is a Freedom High School senior completing his senior capstone project at Loudoun Now.