Long before the pandemic, hunger has existed in our community.
Food insecurity in the locale touted as the wealthiest county in the United States is a reality. It is estimated that as many as 15,000 to 17,000 of Loudoun residents need additional assistance, most importantly food.
That was before Covid-19, and that number has grown exponentially.
Food banks and pantries have tried to keep pace, but the need has doubled already and is expected to continue to rise as unemployment increases.
The alchemy of an impassioned daughter, her community-minded father, and the need for locally grown, organic, fresh produce and protein options for the food insecure community gave rise to JK Community Farm.
Samantha Kuhn was studying for her BCMB (Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology) and environmental sociology at the University of Tennessee when a professor introduced the home-grown Loudoun woman to service-learning. She chose a semester-long program with a local Knoxville community garden, and the seed was planted.
Samantha had been talking about the Knoxville farm with her father, Chuck Kuhn, ever since her college experience. They knocked the idea around for a year or two. As founder and CEO of the country’s leading independent moving and storage company, JK Moving Services had supported many local charities, and the Kuhn family had purchased farms across western Loudoun to put into conservation easements.
In 2018 JK Community Farm was brought to life out of the dust of a run-down western Loudoun 150-acre farm, donated by JK Moving (who continues to provide for half of the operating budget. ) Fields were prepared, high tunnel greenhouses were constructed, seeds planted, volunteers marshaled, and today the farm is the largest community farm in the country.
“That’s partly because there aren’t many,” says Samantha. “But we’re hoping that changes.”
Their first year, 4 acres yielded 30,000 pounds of fresh, organic, nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits donated to Loudoun Hunger Relief for distribution. This year on ten acres of garden and 100 acres for grazing, they expect to provide 135,000 pounds of produce and protein, consisting of grass-fed beef, pork, venison, and eggs.
The high tunnel greenhouses allow for year-round seed starting and growing, and the farm engages in successive planting, composting. Cultivation of cover crops to take the best advantage of the farm and resources. They grow sweet potatoes, lettuce, sweet corn, bell peppers, zucchini, and more and have added melons, thanks to the beehive brought and maintained by a local beekeeper.
With only two staff members, Samantha and farm manager Mike Smith, the farm relies heavily on volunteers. Over 1000 volunteers worked 3000 volunteer hours in the first year.
“We could not do this without our volunteers,” affirms Samantha. On any given day, community members, families, and organizations work side by side planting and harvesting. “They are dedicated and love knowing that 100% of what we grow goes to those in need,” says Samantha.
Concern for the growing need due to Covid is undoubtedly on the minds of Samantha and father, Chuck.
“We have to focus on what we can do here, locally, though,” says Samantha. “We have room and plans to expand the garden.”
The generosity of volunteers and the community is what makes JK Community Farm flourish. “I’m most proud of how selfless so many people have been,” says Chuck. “Everybody has been supportive of the farm.”
“It’s been a game-changer,” says Loudoun Hunger Relief’s Executive Director Jennifer Montgomery, about JK Community Farm’s emergence. “In the types of food and the volume we can now provide. We are so grateful.’
‘It’s Kismet. Six years ago, in our strategic planning, we wanted to add healthier, fresher food,” continues Montgomery. “Everything we think is a crazy idea happens.”
The Kuhns’ hopes for the future of the farm include expansion of the existing farm and the possibility of another farm to add to the production of produce. Samantha is dedicated to the educational side of nutrition and plans to collaborate with area schools to develop service-learning programs in addition to the educational field trips, corporate team building, and camps the farm already hosts.
From the vision and passion of Samantha and Chuck to the employees of JK Moving, who rallied behind the idea even when it could mean their profit-sharing would be reduced. From the donation of 25 head of cattle by a Loudoun resident to the local organizations’ and corporate sponsorships. And most importantly, because of the ongoing, endless stream of volunteers, JK Community Farm is allowing a community to help their neighbors.
The annual Plantation is scheduled for May 18, and though Covid restrictions will be in effect, the event will take place. Volunteers for this event and regular opportunities can sign up on the company’s website.
The farm relies heavily on sponsorships and individual contributions. To donate, visit the website, Jkcommunityfarm.org.