Charlie Collins began his farmer training as an undergraduate student at Arizona State University. Having grown up in an extended family of organic backyard gardeners and dairy farmers, he chose to major in Botany with an emphasis on Urban Horticulture. His B.S. degree required an internship and his introduction to market gardening began at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona. Taking over the management of the 2-acre farm, Charlie expanded the variety of crops grown, developed an efficient irrigation system, revamped and revitalized an abandoned greenhouse, designed a clean and safe preparation area, set up an onsite weekly market, and cultivated a cadre of restaurant customers.
Branching out on his own in 1996, Charlie sub-leased 1 acre from a local farmer and began to develop his own techniques and business plan. He retained relationships with the city’s finest restaurants, expanded again the selection of crops he grew, and experimented with new procedures, materials, and products. His post-bachelor’s degree studies included reading, researching, and travel to numerous farms around the country and beyond.
Moving to a 1 ¼-acre horse property in north Phoenix in 1999, Charlie had reached a level of knowledge and skills honed by 4 years of active, hands-on learning complemented by his science background and thorough understanding of soil, composting, watering systems, and seed propagation. His organic growing methods and simple, natural techniques produced some of the most flavorful, attractive, and productive vegetables, vining fruits, and herbs the chefs in Phoenix had ever seen.
Selling to 20+ restaurants, with twice-weekly deliveries, 4 farmer’s markets, and, by 2003, a 100+ member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program – all supplied from a now 3 ½-acre mix of owned and leased land - Charlie had become a popular, recognized, and sought-after farmer and small business owner in a city greatly lacking agricultural, and especially vegetable, growers.
In 2006, we moved to Virginia and began farming on our rental property in Hanover. Starting with 1 acre and a small hoop house, Charlie chose to focus distribution on a CSA program as well as cash sales at a farmer’s market booth with supplemental sales to Ellwood Thompson's, a natural foods market, and occasional restaurants. By the 2008 season, the farm had doubled to 2 acres and the CSA to 200 members. More crop varieties were an option in the temperate Virginia climate and Charlie learned new techniques as well as adapting to a different growing cycle than in Phoenix where the high season is the winter.
By 2009 the farm doubled again to 4 acres and the CSA to 300 members. The popularity of the Victory Farms booth at markets such as the South of the James in Forest Hill Park (where we were a founding vendor) brought more sales from the general public and an increase in our wholesale sales as well. The 2010 and 2011 seasons saw an expansion of the farm to 6 acres and a 400+ member CSA. FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank, through a generous donor, purchased an additional 50 shares in 2011, for which an acre was devoted to growing some crops such as potatoes and greens in larger quantities. The produce distributed to FeedMore went into their Kids Café after-school program and Summer Feeding Program (serving 2,500 children) and their Meals on Wheels deliveries.
In 2011, after a year of training one-on-one with Charlie, our farm manager, Alistar Harris, expressed an interest in taking over the Hanover farm as we were simultaneously looking for a break to develop new projects. We handed over the reins to Alistar and his wife, Rebecca, in late 2011 and provided assistance as they embarked on the 2012 season. In October of 2012, Alistar and Rebecca unveiled their new farm name - Origins Farm - and a new website, orginsfarm.com.
During 2012, we developed the project Victory Boxes (victoryboxesrva.com), building school gardens in a flexible, container garden style at Patrick Henry School for Science and Arts and Mary Munford Elementary. This project included several Harvest Days where we worked with the students to harvest and then partake in what they grew in their gardens.
2013 ushered in new projects for us, including the purchase of our new farm on historic Osborne Turnpike in the Varina area of Henrico County. We were excited to move into the city of Richmond on a beautiful, 1-acre property in the Forest Hill Park neighborhood. Charlie built a greenhouse here in early 2012 and retains a small leased site in Hanover as well where he maintains a large composting operation. Gina accepted a position on the Board of Directors for Certified Naturally Grown and actively assisted in the national marketing of this wonderful program.
Renovation of the 1880 farmhouse on the Varina farm continued from 2013 into 2014. Completion of the project was put on hold to focus on the development of the Varina fields and a restart of our CSA in 2014. Gina accepted a position as Exhibitions Coordinator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in early 2013, but continues to serve as Vice President and CFO for Victory Farms in her spare time. The 2014 season saw an expansion of the garden into our neighbor's property, additional focus on serving RVA's restaurants, and the development of an Urban Farmstand in the Forest Hill Park neighborhood.
The 2015 season offers new opportunities at the farm including an onsite pickup for CSA and cash customers, an expanded CSA, more acreage for crops, and a burgeoning new events site for meetings, parties, and other celebrations (email us for details!).
Please visit our Photo Gallery page to see images of the farm, the farm family and the markets over the years. Thank you for your interest in Victory Farms!