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PHOTOS: Farms feed food banks to fight hunger

In the past, food banks relied on nonperishable donations from supermarkets and other businesses. Today, many of the contributions are not rejects from retail but fresh-picked from local farms. The farm-to-food-bank movement is helping fight hunger in Virginia, where 10% of the population is “food insecure” — without reliable access to healthy food options.

Capital News Service

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By Kathleen Shaw and Corrine Fizer

Lettuce, turnips, and beets — oh my! Vegetables and flowers sprout side by side in a bountiful garden in Northside Richmond. But the harvest is not going to a grocery store or market stand. Instead, all of the crops will be donated to local food banks so low-income communities have access to fresh foods.

The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden, situated within Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, is a major contributor to Feed More, the parent organization for food banks and other agencies fighting hunger in 34 counties and cities in Central Virginia.

In the past, food banks relied on nonperishable donations from supermarkets and other businesses. Today, many of the contributions are not rejects from retail but fresh-picked from local farms.

Farm-to-food-bank programs bring healthier options to people facing “food insecurity” — living without means or access to nutritious food. Such programs also offer producers an alternative market for the fruit and vegetables they have grown.

A national organization called Feeding America partners with food banks across the state, including Feed More in Richmond and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank in Charlottesville, to create a network of hunger relief. Annie Andrews, director of operations at Feed More, said the movement has redefined the support food banks can provide for struggling communities.

“Ten, 15 years ago, food banks were reliant on shelf stable product; you looked at it as a pantry. We’ve absolutely converted to fresh and perishable food,” Andrews said.

The need for food is not solved by a corner store that sells chips and hot dogs. Farm-to-food-bank programs aim to supply better quality food that doesn’t just fill hungry bellies but also provides nutrition to prevent health problems.

Last year, Feed More received nearly $45 million in donated food — almost 30 million pounds of groceries. While retailers contributed more than 60%, about 12% came directly from growers. Produce accounted for 29% of all donated food.

Greg Knight, food sourcing manager for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, said most people who rely on food banks are not unemployed but rather underemployed. Often, they must choose between which basic needs they can afford, he said.

“We hear from clients that sometimes they have to make decisions between ‘Is it going to be gasoline today, or will it be groceries? Will it be the medication that my son or daughter needs, or will it be groceries or the electric bill?’” Knight said.

“There’s not enough funds to cover the immediate basic needs — so that’s where we step in. At least we can provide a good supplemental box of food that will then be nutritious and alleviate some of the other pressures.”

The state and federal governments have encouraged farmers to help out.

In 2016, Virginia instituted a tax credit as an incentive for farmers to donate crops to regional, nonprofit food banks. In exchange for the donation, farmers receive a 30% tax credit equal to the market value up to $5,000 yearly.

Knight said the tax credit is a great way to support farmers and provide food for those in need.

“What I’m paying for the box is only a portion of what the farmer would get at market. So he can take the difference between the two — market price and what I’m paying — and that difference then becomes a donation for him,” Knight said.

On the national level, Congress passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 to allocate $867 billion in subsidies over the next 10 years to support farmers harmed by fluctuating markets or poor harvests. The food purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from farmers is often resold to food banks like Feed More at a reduced cost.

Community plants seeds for change

The USDA reported that since 2012, about 10% of households in Virginia qualified as “food insecure.” Andrews said the definition of that term is constantly evolving and varies by area.

In a densely populated urban area, she said, it means “there are no grocery stores within a mile.” But in a rural area, food insecurity (or a “food desert”) means “there’s not a grocery store within 10 miles,” Andrews added.

“The gentrification of cities coming into play and people moving into the suburbs — that’s where you’re kind of pushing some of that working poor out,” Andrews said. She said Feed More is seeing a rising need for help in the suburbs — “what you wouldn’t think of as a food insecurity area.”

The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Shalom Farms in Midlothian are among the biggest farm donors to Feed More.

Laurel Matthew, senior horticulturist at Lewis Ginter, oversees the community garden and decides what to grow in collaboration with Feed More.

“We have six varieties of summer squash. We have four varieties of eggplant. Lettuce, beans, peas, you name it — we’re trying to get it in the ground,” Matthew said.

The Kroger Community Kitchen Garden is an urban gardening program that has harvested and donated over 50,000 pounds of produce to Feed More since it began in 2009.

The community garden is one-third acre funded in part by Kroger Mid-Atlantic under the company’s “Zero Hunger | Zero Waste” initiative. A volunteer base of 700 worked last year with on-staff horticulturalists to practice organic management of the garden and sustain a healthy harvest for the food bank.

Food banks tackle food-related health disparities

Feed More’s agency network involves almost 300 nonprofit organizations such as soup kitchens and emergency shelters. Healthy Harvest Food Bank joined the network in 2010 and last year became Feed More’s first Partner Distribution Organization, which aims to distribute food across 24 of Virginia’s rural agencies. The agency network distributed 19.3 million pounds of food during the past fiscal year.

Healthy Harvest Food Bank serves 12,000 people every month through 25 locations across six counties. In 2012, the food bank conducted a survey and found that 32% of its clients had diabetes.

The food bank partnered with Northern Neck-Middlesex Free Health Clinic and Virginia Cooperative Extension to begin a Healthy Food Pharmacy to teach clients with Type 2 diabetes how to prepare flavorful, nutritious meals to combat health issues. Participants in the eight-week class on average lowered their blood pressure by 17% and low-density lipoproteins cholesterol by 26%. (LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol because of its artery-clogging properties.)

Mark Kleinschmidt, president and CEO of Healthy Harvest Food Bank, said the Northern Neck and Upper Middle Peninsula region suffers from a culture of genetics and a lack of resources to escape the health crisis trap.

“We got a Food Lion and a Walmart, and there’s not that healthy options to eat at whatsoever,” Kleinschmidt said.

He said people want to eat healthy foods but often can’t.

“For one, it’s not available. And two, it’s a cost issue,” Kleinschmidt said. “I think there is always going to be this issue. The Northern Neck will never be big enough to have a Kroger or a Harris Teeter or a Wegman that does have healthier options.”

Legislation to create the Virginia Grocery Investment Program and Fund was introduced to the General Assembly this session. It aimed to provide financial incentives for grocery stores to expand in food deserts.

After passing unanimously in the Senate, the bill died in the House of Delegates. A similar House bill was killed in a House subcommittee early in the session.

Food banks rescue food from waste

According to the USDA, 30-40% of food is wasted in the U.S. annually. Grocery chains such as Lidl have joined the movement against food waste by selling 10-pound crates of “ugly” produce for $2. Food banks are incorporating the “ugly food” movement into their means of sourcing quality food for people living in food insecure areas.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Cooperative was created by Feeding America and stretches from New England to Virginia, providing nearly 1.5 million pounds of produce to food banks each month. The cooperative works to minimize food waste by purchasing “ugly,” rejected food at a large produce market. That produce is then sold back to a network of 23 food banks, including Feed More, for a reduced price.

Andrews said the rescued, unsold produce purchased from large companies along the East Coast saves the stores money, reduces food waste and increases food bank access to resources.

“We offer the opportunity for [grocery stores] not to have an increased trash bill and to be able to do something good with the things that they aren’t able to use and sell,” Andrews said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Crime

Victim identified in Arthur Ashe Boulevard homicide

At approximately 1:43 a.m., Tuesday, June 2nd, RPD officers were called to the Rodeway Inn in the 3200 block of N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard for a report of a person shot. They quickly located a victim, Jermaine R. Stroman, 30, of Chester, VA lying in a third floor hallway. He had been shot.

RVAHub Staff

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The Richmond Police Department is investigating a homicide that occurred last night on the city’s north side.

At approximately 1:43 a.m., Tuesday, June 2nd, RPD officers were called to the Rodeway Inn in the 3200 block of N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard for a report of a person shot. They quickly located a victim, Jermaine R. Stroman, 30, of Chester, VA lying in a third floor hallway. He had been shot.

He was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:55 a.m.

Anyone with information about this homicide is asked to contact Detective G. Bailey at (804) 646-6743 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or www.7801000.com or the P3 smartphone app. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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Northside

Richmond Flying Squirrels looking to recognize community all-stars making a difference during pandemic

The Squirrels are partnering with Elephant Insurance to recognize individuals in the area making a positive difference.

RVAHub Staff

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The Richmond Flying Squirrels and Elephant Insurance have launched the Community All-Star of the Week program, and they are turning to fans for help in finding nominees. The Flying Squirrels want to recognize members of the local community, such as healthcare workers, first responders, and teachers, helping to ease the impacts of COVID-19.

The program is open to nominations of anyone who is making a positive impact around the greater-Richmond community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nominations can be submitted here.

“While there is no action on the field at the moment, there are plenty of All-Stars working in our community keeping us safe and healthy,” Flying Squirrels VP & COO Todd “Parney” Parnell said. “We appreciate Elephant Insurance joining in our program to showcase these Community All-Stars with this great program. Stay positive and we hope to be back together soon physically. In the meantime, we will continue to do all we can to bring our fans and community together any way we possibly can.”

“We really value our partnership with the Flying Squirrels and we are proud to support the team’s efforts to recognize our local heroes and support local businesses during this time,” said Alberto Schiavon, CEO of Elephant Insurance.  “This is a fun way that we can work together to give back to deserving community members and we’re looking forward to the weeks ahead.” 

The selected Community All-Stars will be recognized across the Flying Squirrels’ social media channels, and they will be presented with a gift card to a local restaurant as well as a Flying Squirrels prize pack.

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Government

Belmont Golf Course renovations in motion in Lakeside

Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

RVAHub Staff

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Site work started in early May as part of a $5 million project to revive Henrico County’s landmark public golf course in Lakeside.

The Board of Supervisors approved a 20-year lease in December, allowing The First Tee of Greater Richmond to upgrade and operate the facility. The agreement ensures Belmont will remain affordable and accessible to the community while freeing the county from operating losses due to years of declining play.

“We’re just thrilled to see the project move forward,” said Neil Luther, director of Henrico’s Division of Recreation and Parks. “The last thing we wanted to see was to have the lease take effect and the property sit fallow for months and months on end because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

“With work underway, it’s evident that the project is moving forward and will be done this time next year.”

Belmont is being restored in the tradition of architect A.W. Tillinghast, who designed the course – then-known as Hermitage Country Club – in 1917. It hosted the 1949 PGA Championship, which was won by Virginian Sam Snead.

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Under its new design, Belmont will feature 12 championship holes created by restoring existing holes 7 through 18. Holes 5 through 6 will be converted into a 35,000-square-foot putting course plus a six-hole, par-3 “short course.” Each hole will range from 80 to 170 yards and be based on Tillinghast holes throughout the country.

Existing holes 1 through 4 will be turned into a driving range, wedge range and short-game practice area. The project also includes an upgraded pro shop, improved concessions and space for youth programs.

“The course, when it comes back, is going to be brand new in terms of quality,” Luther said.

Brent Schneider, CEO of The First Tee of Greater Richmond, envisions Belmont being an inclusive place “where the history of American golf meets the future of American golf.” The nonprofit is a chapter of The First Tee, a national organization that promotes youth participation in golf and values, such as honesty and integrity.

“Our vision is to strengthen the character of our community, and we feel like, with this property, we’re going to be able to do that,” Schneider said.

“Whether you’ve been playing all your life or you’re brand new and want to come try it out, there’s an entry point at this facility for everyone,” he added.

The First Tee of Greater Richmond expects to invest $4.25 million in Belmont, with Henrico contributing $750,000 previously set aside for course improvements.

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Established in 1998, The First Tee of Greater Richmond operates the Tattersall Youth Development Center at The First Tee Chesterfield Golf Course in Chesterfield County and the Elson Redmond Memorial Driving Range in Richmond.

The group enlisted MacCurrach Golf and Love Golf Design as the contractor and architect, respectively, for Belmont. The first phase of work is focusing on restoring the championship holes, with renovated greens, improved bunkers and better drainage and irrigation.

Scot Sherman, lead architect with Love Golf Design, said the underground systems will be “light years beyond what was here before.”

“You see the turf. You see the bunkers, but you don’t often see what’s underneath,” he said.

With its improvements, Belmont will be designed to challenge experienced golfers and nurture the next generation of players. In addition to the community, the facilities will be available to Henrico’s high school golf teams, the Henrico Police Athletic League and other community groups.

“This is obviously a historic golf course, but there wasn’t a lot of variety here,” said Mark Love, a principal with Love Golf Design. “There wasn’t an opportunity to hit balls on the driving range and take lessons. All of the programing that First Tee does involves all aspects of the game. I think the kids have an opportunity to learn in a nonintimidating environment and work their way up to the bigger golf course, and I think that’s a great opportunity.”

The First Tee of Greater Richmond detailed its plans and answered questions from the community in a presentation delivered in March via YouTube due to the coronavirus.

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