Amy’s Garden receives award for outstanding stewardship

Amy’s Garden

2019 Carl G. Luebben Award recipient Amy Hicks of Amy’s Garden shares the moment with Carl’s son Dan and Virginia Cooperative Extension Community Viability and Food System Specialist Eric Bendfeldt.

Amy’s Garden, a Charles City County cut flower and organic produce operation, has received the sixth annual Carl G. Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Award for contributions to conservation in Virginia.

Luebben, who passed away in 2015, was known for his passion for agronomy, sustainable systems, soil health research and mentorship of conservation professionals. He received a 2013 lifetime achievement award for his positive impacts on Virginia soil health and water quality. Houff Corporation sponsors the Luebben award for their former salesman to help carry on that tradition.

Amy’s Garden is a family venture for George Ferguson and Amy Hicks, a married couple who began growing organic produce in their suburban Richmond backyard more than 20 years ago. After an interim move to a 3.8-acre property in New Kent County, they established Amy’s Garden on its current location near the small community of Sandy Point in 2004. Hicks and Ferguson purchased the 70-acre farm in 2009, finalizing their “all-in” commitment to their former sideline.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office in Quinton offered planning and financial assistance to the beginning farmers, helping to fund a high tunnel system and various cover crop and crop rotation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The couple also established trees and shrubs through the former Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative as well as pollinator habitat and edible woody buffers via USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Hicks and Ferguson employed soil health management practices on fields where almost every square inch was lacking in critical organic matter and no thought had ever been given to organic production. They established three-year crop rotations, typically cultivating only about 12 acres, with another 20 acres resting beneath various cover crops. The couple also used a spader to prepare plots to keep the soil structure intact.

Today, Amy’s Garden sells a wide variety of certified organic produce at farmers markets in Richmond and Williamsburg and directly to regional farm-to-table restaurants and grocery stores. Hicks and Ferguson also offer a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) option, which allows paid subscribers to receive shares of whatever’s being harvested in a given week. Cut flowers, grown outdoors and in a greenhouse, remain a significant revenue source.

NRCS and the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) independently nominated Amy’s Garden for the 2019 award based on its outstanding management practices and commitment to regenerating their soils. The Colonial SWCD also cited the couple’s generous spirit and community service. Hicks and Ferguson share their organic produce with local food kitchens and host farm visits for various groups like Shalom Farms and Tricycle Gardens. They also partner with Virginia State University to bring dietetic interns to their farm and markets to learn about locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

Hicks was a featured speaker at the 2019 Virginia Farm to Table Conference, sharing her insights on soil management and pollinator habitat for organic farmers. Virginia Cooperative Extension and USDA/NRCS jointly presented the Luebben award to Hicks, who accepted it on behalf of Amy’s Garden.

Virginia producers who have previously received this award include Mike Phillips (Rockingham County), C.J. Isbell (Hanover County), Kevin and Steve Craun (Augusta County), Ryan Blosser (Culpeper County) and Daniel Austin (Franklin County).

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