Food is love. That’s how Amyrose Foll, the visionary leader at Virginia Free Farm describes her motivation to serve hundreds of meals weekly to Central Virginia communities surrounding her farm. Foll, an army veteran and indigenous farmer, runs VFF in Kents Store, Virginia. She has chosen a new call of duty — to protect and care for others through her farm. In a global pandemic and economic crisis, where food donation lines stretch for miles and food pantries have been strained for months, I reached out to the energetic wife, mother and food justice advocate to find out what inspired her to launch VFF and how she maintains her resilience with no end in sight for the heightened demand.
“I was born with a sense of community,” says Foll, who is an enrolled member of the Abenaki tribe. “Everyone was expected to take care of each other and those coming behind you.”
Throughout our conversation, Foll reflected on her grandmother and the women in her village, who she pays homage to through VFF.
“They made sure everyone was fed. They taught us that the community is stronger when it’s fed. Children can learn when they are well-nourished,” she said.
View this post on Instagram
So, every Wednesday, Foll and her team meet at the white board in her barn and go down the list of needs — contacting community partners and families to plan for the next round of distribution. Familiar with the processed-foods inventory at local food pantries, VFF creates food boxes to supplement kitchens with fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats. Everything the farm grows is given away.
Foll has taken VFF beyond just food distribution; she also teaches community organizations, schools, and families how to grow their own food through gardening startup demonstrations and seed and plant donations. Each spring, the farm starts hundreds of plants to be given away.
“Communities are capable of growing and feeding their own. We are putting power in the hands of the people we help start gardens.”
Her farm mimics the diversity of a natural ecosystem, with chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, and polyculture gardens. In a blog post on Mother Earth News, Foll describes: “Virginia Free Farm exists at the intersection of all of those superfluous, and sometimes contrived, marketing buzzwords swirling around fashionable agricultural practices. I’m talking about sustainable, permaculture, and regenerative methods, and countless other movements that will follow in years to come, depending on the zeitgeist of the day. We consider the farm to be all of those and none of those at the same time — a ‘Schrödinger’s farm,’ of sorts.”
When I asked Foll about her farm’s capacity and reaching more families, she smiled.
“Because of our work with community gardens,” she said, “we might get a rejection for produce delivery because they’ve grown enough overflow in their own gardens. This allows us to help more families.”
View this post on Instagram
Whether it’s teaching early-learners the importance of gardening and conservation or offering unused plots on her farm for displaced farming-groups, Foll is considered a matriarch by those she’s provided a hand up to. “I don’t want to grow grass!,” she said, emphatically — meaning that she wants to grow food that will nourish and inspire those in her community.
Sharing her land is her way of offsetting the land access barriers many new and minority farmers are challenged with the launch their farming aspirations. The young farmers she has taken under her wing are learning farming practices through a lens of sharing and community empowerment.
Virginia Free Farm’s leadership and mission embody the best of who we can be — when we put community before self. Amyrose Foll is committed to being the best ancestor she can be. VFF will soon stretch its footprint to four satellite farms across the Maryland and Virginia region. These farms will supply VFF’s prepared meals collaboration with Underground Kitchen Chef Michael Sparks — allowing VFF to feed more families and advance its goal of ending hunger in the community.
“Feeding people is probably the best calling one could ask for. It fills the proverbial tank,” said in the blog post. “But our ultimate goal is to essentially educate and facilitate grassroots food growers until we’re put out of a job.”
Bea Wilson is a diversity strategist and agricultural professional passionate about the next generation of agricultural leaders. She owns IDEATION308, a diversity consulting firm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Twitter: @IDEATION308