A view of the farm from above

CAMPUS FARM AT COVENANT WOODS RETIREMENT COMMUNITY | MECHANICSVILLE, VA

Growing food. Building community.

The campus farm at Covenant Woods is an expansive garden — some 20,000 square feet to date — that forms the heart of our farm-to-table program. Each year, the farm produces thousands of pounds of fresh, organically grown vegetables, berries, figs, and herbs for use in Covenant Woods’ restaurants. In fact, during high season, the farm supplies as much as 30 percent of the produce used by our restaurants.

But food isn’t the only thing grown on this farm. Its operation relies on volunteers who help with everything from sowing seeds and planting seedlings to weeding and harvesting. Along the way, skills are learned and honed, neighbors get to know each other, friendships form, and a true sense of community spirit is built. Even residents receiving health care at Manor East enjoy an occasional outing to the farm to pick fresh figs when they’re in season.

The campus farm also makes these wholesome foods available to residents and staff seasonally in The Market convenience store on our campus and to people in need in the surrounding area through donations of produce to the Mechanicsville Churches Emergency Functions food pantry. Now that’s how you grow community.

“My favorite volunteer duty for this garden is harvesting some of the produce because I know it’s going into Covenant Woods’ kitchens, and we feel like we’re eating so much better. It’s much more flavorful than what we can buy at the store.”

— Lee B., resident and campus farm volunteer

See our campus farm featured on PBS’ “Virginia Home Grown”

Covenant Woods’ campus farm is an innovative program that’s unique among senior living communities. So, it’s no surprise that it caught the attention of PBS and the “Virginia Home Grown” producers who came out to learn how our farm operates and how it benefits all residents at Covenant Woods. Click here to watch the episode.

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Sustainable farming practices at Covenant Woods

The Covenant Woods campus farm is a strictly organic, no-till operation. All crops are grown from seed, without the use of herbicides or pesticides. Integrated pest management techniques are employed as are practices such as using worms to aerate the soil, and strategic placement of crops on both sides of the fence to deter wildlife from gorging on the day’s labor. These sustainable practices not only produce healthier food for residents to eat but also contribute to healthier soil.

The farm has expanded over the years and, in 2024, the total yield exceeded 7,000 pounds. Each summer, the farm produces more than 1,000 pounds of “Hanover” tomatoes that make their way into a variety of scrumptious dishes in Covenant Woods’ restaurants. Residents enjoy gazpacho, tomato pies, made-from-scratch Bloody Mary mix, and more.

In addition to making significant culinary contributions to Covenant Woods, the campus farm helps beautify our campus by planting blooming flora such as butterfly weed, mountain mint, goldenrod, and asters. Plans for a new greenhouse are in the offing, which will allow the farm to grow mums, pansies, landscape plants, and native trees for the grounds.

Local and organic. Good for you, good for the planet.

The farm-to-table and “eat local” movements have highlighted the benefits of eating the freshest food possible. From better nutrient profiles and sustainability to less use of fuel for transport, it’s a way of eating that’s not only better for us but also better for the planet.

Each season, Covenant Woods’ farm manager and executive chef work together to choose which crops will be planted. Choices are based on preferred ingredients as well as varieties that grow best in our area. Selections typically include multiple varieties of tomatoes – this is Hanover County, after all – buttercrunch lettuce, kale, onions, swiss chard, peppers, eggplant, red and gold beets and Chijimisai, a Japanese green similar to spinach. Recently, pumpkins and watermelons also have been added. Once you’ve experienced this way of eating, you’ll agree – there’s nothing better than knowing the food you eat has been grown in a healthful, sustainable way.

Get a little dirt on your hands and make friends along the way.

In addition to the opportunity to tend their own personal garden beds, many residents find friendship, fulfillment, and a good outlet for exercise by volunteering at the campus farm. They choose their own schedule and work as much or as little as they like, helping with seeding trays, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Some residents also contribute in other ways. Our woodworking group has built seedling frames, birdhouses, bird feeders, and specialty garden tools. One crafty resident even crocheted false wasp nests that hang in the shed and greenhouse to act as a deterrent to insect pests. And a good number of residents bring fruit and vegetable scraps from home for composting, bringing our farm-to-table program full circle.

Have you heard the buzz?

With a little help from Arissa Lopez, Farm Manager, and 11,000 honeybees, Covenant Woods is excited to begin the journey of producing local honey. Surrounded by seasonal wildflowers, clover, and hyssop, these gentle bees will be hard at work producing approximately 60 pounds of fresh honey over the course of 12 months. 

Faces of the field: meet our farmers.

Arissa: Farm Manager

Arissa grew up in a family of farmers. Her father’s family grew orange groves and  orchards in Mexico, Texas and Florida. Her mother’s family farmed and cultivated squash in the Midwest. Throughout her childhood, she moved from farm to farm, eating and selling all that was grown. Now as a full-time farmer herself, Arissa enjoys the everyday abundance provided by the Covenant Woods farm. “The residents are the best part of the Farm-to-Table garden. I work alongside them and It gives me a level of customer service that is fulfilling.”

 

Madison, Farm Technician

Madison found her way to horticulture through an interest in environmental conservation. She began volunteering with the James River Association working to restore public trails and remove invasive species within the James River Park System. From there, Madison began working with local Richmond community gardens and learning the ways of the broad fork tool, vermicompost (worm soil), and tractor life. “I love the idea of furthering our self-sustainability and improving our organic practice methods to be even more efficient here at Covenant Woods.”