Thank God for people like Toby

Yesterday I was one of 180 volunteers from my company who spent the day at the Cornerstone Farm, behind Fairfield Middle School, in eastern Henrico County, clearing fields, planting hundreds of plants, building a greenhouse and compost beds, creating Teacher Appreciation kits, and rehabilitating a riparian zone around the watershed area for Gillie Creek, which feeds into the James River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.

But this post isn't about what my colleagues did yesterday (although I'm very proud of our efforts and my employer's willingness to put 180 employees out in a field for a full day). 

My post today is about this guy, Toby Vernon, and the people like him who make RVA such a special place. Toby is executive director of The Community Food Collaborative (, which is dedicated to redefining communities' relationships to food and farming and improve community health, wealth and vitality. Yesterday, Toby was cheerfully running all over that 5 1/2 acres, directing our efforts, teaching us food and farm science, and coordinating other community leaders from collaborating organizations.

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The Cornerstone Farm is a 5 1/2-acre living laboratory where students learn about sustainable food production and environmental stewardship, and the farm produces more than 10,000 pounds of food a year to address food insecurity in the school’s eastern Henrico County community. It is an amazing project. For more information about the Cornerstone Farm and the Community Food Collaborative, check out this 2017 Paul Michael Williams article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

There are hundreds of people like Toby in RVA. I've seen them running other volunteer events. A lot of them resemble Toby - young, tattoos, comfortable shoes, casual clothes and beards. You might be tempted to write them off as hipsters. But they are smart, motivated, dedicated people, eschewing the comfortable corporate life to live close to the bone on a non-profit salary in order to improve our city, one community farm, stream clean-up or after-school program at a time.

And thank God for them.