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Lots of people at table in fight to end food insecurity

An estimated 10% of Virginians were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic; that percentage increased to 22% between April and May 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.



By Grace Bost and Katharine DeRosa

The founders of Fonticello Food Forest bent down under the picnic table to pick edible chickweed leaves and lavender flowers. Moments later they were running to their neighbors’ aid – some of their chickens were loose.

Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan founded the outdoor space, which serves as a free source of fresh and perishable food for community members. The food is donated or grown on site, the pair said. The property is located in Carter Jones Park, south of the James River in Richmond.

“This is not charity work,” Price said. “This is just work.”

Price and Sullivan are part of a larger effort to mitigate food insecurity and food waste across Virginia.

Food insecurity means a household lacks access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An estimated 10% of Virginians were food insecure before the COVID-19 pandemic; that percentage increased to 22% between April and May 2020, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.

Grassroots efforts

Nationally, food insecurity went unchanged at 10.5% between 2019 and 2020, according to the USDA. However, food pantry usage increased between those two years.

More than 4% of families used food pantries in 2019 and, almost 7% of families reported using a food pantry in 2020, according to USDA. The 2021 data was not available as of mid-April, according to USDA.

Food pantry usage is higher among those who experience food insecurity, according to USDA.

Local grocery stores and nonprofit organizations such as Feed More food bank provide food for the Fonticello Food Forest, Price and Sullivan said. They have built contacts with store employees to help acquire leftover food; one method also deployed by the food sharing organization Food Not Bombs where Sullivan also works.

“We’re trying to go and establish relationships and understanding of what we’re trying to do, and the impact that it’s giving to families and to folks that need the food,” Price said, “Especially as cost continues to rise but waste doesn’t seem to be decreasing.”

Over 816,000 tons of surplus food was sent to the landfill in Virginia in 2019, according to data from ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste across the U.S. That includes food surplus from manufacturing, retail, food service, farming and residential sources. The food that Fonticello Food Forest saves from waste is a tiny piece of the billions of pounds of food thrown away every day, Sullivan said.

“This is not the better world,” Sullivan said. “This is better than it would be if it was all going in the trash, but it’s not the ideal.”

RVA Community Fridges works to increase access to fresh, locally-grown food, according to Taylor Scott, the mutual aid nonprofit’s founder. The program works to keep 10 established fridges in the Richmond area stocked with free food. Scott founded RVA Community Fridges in 2020 after wanting to redistribute surplus tomatoes she grew in her home garden.

Mutual aid is the principle of serving one’s community to meet the immediate needs of community members, according to GlobalGiving, a nonprofit organization that connects other nonprofits with donors and companies.

The goal is to add more fridges in food deserts, areas that are far from grocery stores and have limited access to affordable and fresh food.

The newest fridge was established at Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen—a restaurant in the Fulton Hill neighborhood—after community members highly requested it. The area is a food desert lacking basic infrastructure, according to Scott.

Providing food for the Fulton Hill community has been rewarding, Scott said. Over 60% of the neighborhood’s population is Black, and 10% are over age 65, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Scott wants to add more fridges in communities of color. Black individuals make up 29% of the population of Richmond and Petersburg, but account for 48% of people experiencing poverty, according to United Way, an organization that funds nonprofits in the Richmond area. Latino individuals make up 6% of the population but account for 15% of individuals experiencing poverty, according to the same data.

Black Space Matters

The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in 2020 started a collaboration with Duron Chavis, an urban farmer and community activist, to highlight issues of food insecurity. Chavis grew food in the vacant lot outside the museum that was later distributed. The project also highlighted the importance of Black community spaces to have conversations about food justice.

People cannot discuss food insecurity without discussing the issue of land use, Chavis said, because those who do not have access to healthy food often don’t have access to land to grow that food.

“Our work is about reaching people’s dignity and their ability to be self-determining and to make decisions for themselves that increase their health and increase access to healthy food without hoping on some outside resources to come in and make everything better for them,” Chavis said.

Governments could create something like an office dedicated to urban agriculture, but Richmond hasn’t established such an office, Chavis said.

Mark Davis, founder of Real Roots Food Systems, also is working to expand access to locally-grown food. The organization’s goal is for people to know where their food comes from and experiment with ways to obtain food that doesn’t involve purchasing items.

“I think it’s a special thing to be in a cashless exchange in times like these, to create a resiliency in communities like this,” Davis said recently when interviewed for the “Black Space Matters” Season Two documentary series. 

Davis said that he grows food on land in Hanover County, owned by Richmond-based First Baptist Church. The church then donates the food to food pantries and other outlets. RealRoots wants to create less waste in landfills and meaningful collection of research around waste diversion.

Legislative action

Virginia legislators are also enacting laws to help support access to local agriculture. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, introduced House Bill 2068 in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly session to connect local farmers to local consumers, he said.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by both chambers in 2021, established the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Grant Program. The program created grants to support infrastructure and other projects to support local farming. The grants are available on a competitive basis and award up to $25,000 per grant, according to the bill.

Some examples of ways the grants have been used include flash freezing produce, canning farmed food and transferring farmed food to wholesale markets, Rasoul said.

“So, it’s all about trying to get that local food from the farm to the market, and at the same time reducing our [carbon] footprint,” Rasoul said.

Rasoul introduced HB 323 this past session to double the program’s available grant money from $25,000 to $50,000. Both chambers in the General Assembly also passed this measure unanimously.

The grant program awarded eight grants in December 2021 to various food infrastructure projects. Two of the projects involve improving farmer’s markets, two involve meat processors and two involve upgrading local canning systems, according to the Virginia Department for Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Campus connections

Food insecurity worsened because of COVID-19, according to data from Feeding America. However, data suggest food insecurity was a problem among college students before the pandemic.

Youngmi Kim, associate professor of social work at Virginia Commonwealth University, researched food insecurity among college students before the onset of COVID-19. She found that 35% of VCU students experienced food insecurity.

This finding inspired environmental studies professor John Jones to dream up a miniature version of the main food pantry on campus, which began in 2014 and is located inside the University Student Commons at VCU.

Little Ram Pantries launched in October 2021 in various locations around campus. People can take however much of the nonperishable items they need and donate as much food as they can. Jones had the idea for the effort when he came across a small food pantry in the Church Hill neighborhood in Richmond, he said. The effort mirrors the “little free pantry” movement spawned from little free libraries seen in neighborhoods around the U.S.

One aspect preventing people from using the main food pantry on campus is the stigma associated with food pantries, according to Jones. He wanted to employ the Little Ram Pantries as a way to eliminate the stigma surrounding using resources, he said.

“Let’s try to make this so visible on campus that it fades into the background,” Jones said.

Jones received program funding from the Office of Community Engagement and VCU Service Learning, and has support from the school’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry, and Innovation. Each box has a sensor to track when the boxes are opened and closed for Jones’ research.

Jones found students interact with the Little Ram Pantries at over twice the rate they visit the main campus food pantry. The main food pantry on campus receives about 34 visits per week, Jones said, while the satellite version he launched receives about 75. This success led to him expanding the program by creating more locations.

“I think that the data that we have is very promising,” Jones said. “And I think that with some tweaking, I think the model could be very effective on other campuses.”

Professors from the University of Alabama and the University of West Georgia reached out to him about starting their own version of the program, Jones said. He wants to launch a website that details best practices for miniature food pantries, he said.

Despite the success of the Little Ram Pantries and other food pantry models, Jones said food pantries are not a solution to food insecurity.

“If our society wants to be serious about fixing the underlying issue as to why people are hungry, then we need to look at the issue of why people aren’t being paid enough,” Jones said.

Fonticello Food Forest founders Price and Sullivan helped round up the neighbor’s loose chickens and returned to finish the interview.

Efforts to combat food insecurity are notable, they said, but shouldn’t be necessary.

“In a truly just world and a truly reciprocal, mutual-aid world, there wouldn’t be this food waste to be redistributed and folks would be more connected to the food process,” Price said. “We understand that that’s not such an easy thing, to just suddenly flip a switch on, so you do what you do in the meantime.”



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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PHOTOS: Green infrastructure projects completed at three Richmond Public Library branches



Richmond Public Library, City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities/RVAH2O, Four Winds Design, and the James River Association is celebrating the completion of green infrastructure projects that manage stormwater at three Richmond Public Library branches.

Implementation of green infrastructure plans for Broad Rock Branch, North Avenue Branch, and West End Branch, all approved by the City of Richmond’s Urban Design Committee and Planning Commission, occurred this spring. Each of the three projects features bioretention basins that capture and absorb stormwater runoff from library buildings and grounds, thereby reducing the amount of stormwater pollution entering the James River and its tributaries.

“After spending a few years securing funding for the Greening Richmond Public Libraries initiative and developing green infrastructure plans with community input for Broad Rock Branch, North Avenue Branch, and West End Branch, Richmond Public Library is thrilled to celebrate the completion of these projects,” said Scott Firestine, Director of Richmond Public Library. “These projects are the result of collaboration with committed partners like the James River Association and Four Winds Design and interdepartmental cooperation within City Hall. We’ve reimagined how library campuses can serve the city, from adding Bike Share stations and outdoor reading benches to new methods of landscape maintenance.”

Harbor Dredge & Dock was selected as the contractor to implement the three projects and volunteer assistance was used to install trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses. A total of 173 trees and shrubs were planted alongside hundreds of perennials and grasses at the three library branches to help manage stormwater and green library grounds. The landscapes were designed to be habitats for pollinators and are complete with interpretive signs for visitors and expanded water-wise irrigation systems. As the trees and shrubs grow, they will help reduce the amount of stormwater runoff leaving library grounds and expand Richmond’s tree canopy. The Richmond Public Library Foundation funded new outdoor seating areas featuring pervious pavers that reduce stormwater runoff near the main entrance at Broad Rock Branch.

“It really is remarkable what public-private collaboration can achieve,” said Justin Doyle, Director of Community Conservation with the James River Association. “My James River Association colleagues and I are grateful for Richmond Public Library’s commitment to the Greening Richmond Public Libraries initiative and their willingness to install green infrastructure on library grounds to reduce stormwater runoff. We are excited to conduct community engagement activities at East End Branch this month and work toward developing a community-supported green infrastructure plan for the library.”

Community engagement activities including a public meeting and rain barrel workshop are scheduled for East End Branch Library this month. A questionnaire available at the library and online is also being used to gather input from library users and residents of Richmond’s East End. A public meeting will be held at the library on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at 5:00 pm. Attendees will be asked to share thoughts on outdoor spaces at the library and input on where green infrastructure should be installed around the library. On Tuesday, June 21, 2022, the James River Association is partnering with Richmond Public Library and the Department of Public Utilities/RVAH2O to hold a rain barrel workshop at the library. During this workshop, participants will learn how to assemble, install, and use rain barrels to harvest rainwater at home. Participants will also learn about the benefits of native plants and receive a native perennial to plant at home.

Stormwater pollution poses one of the biggest threats to the health of the James River by carrying pollution to its tributaries and green infrastructure helps reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The Greening Richmond Public Libraries initiative, a collaboration between Richmond Public Library, City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities/RVAH2O, JRA, and Four Winds Design, launched in 2019 with the implementation of a green infrastructure plan at Westover Hills Branch Library. Since then, the partners have worked together to engage library users and stakeholders in planning and design processes that resulted in the implementation of green infrastructure plans at Broad Rock Branch Library, North Avenue Branch Library, and West End Branch Library.

The primary goal of these plans is to manage stormwater on library grounds through the installation of green infrastructure. The initiative is funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under a 319 grant to the James River Association. Additional support is provided by Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Altria, City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities/RVAH2O, James River Association, Richmond Public Library, Richmond Public Library Foundation, and Virginia Department of Forestry.



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Gift Moves The Green Closer to Fundraising Goal

A tree-lined allée paralleling Broad Street will enhance the pedestrian experience along this busy thoroughfare while buffering traffic activity, sequestering carbon and managing stormwater.



An update from the Science Museum of Virginia on their latest project.

The Science Museum of Virginia is taking a major step forward on The Green, the 6-acre community greenspace in front of the historic building along Broad Street. Thanks to a $500,000 challenge grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, the Science Museum can maximize the impact of future financial support.

“This challenge grant comes at a critical time in our fundraising efforts to build this amazing community resource,” said Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti. “With the successful completion of the match, the Science Museum will be able to enter phase two of work on this native, urban park that will serve as both a community gathering space and showcase examples of natural solutions to address the impacts of climate change.”

Founded in 1988 by Richmond philanthropist Mrs. Mary Morton Parsons, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation is a private, non-operating foundation supporting the capital needs of charitable organizations. To date, the Foundation has awarded approximately $143 million to qualified grantees.

The Foundation has been a Science Museum champion for several decades. The Mary Morton Parsons Earth-Moon Sculpture — which includes the 29-ton granite floating globe located in front of the building informally known as the Kugel — was made possible through a Foundation challenge grant in 1999. The Foundation supported the Science Museum again in 2013 during its Inspire the World Campaign, which produced the first new permanent exhibition in over a decade, “Boost,” a new approach to human physiology and the science of staying healthy.

Thousands of native trees and plants will play a key role in achieving The Green’s design goals and desired environmental and health benefits. A tree-lined allée paralleling Broad Street will enhance the pedestrian experience along this busy thoroughfare while buffering traffic activity, sequestering carbon and managing stormwater. The Green, which is being completed in three phases and projected to be fully realized in 2025, will include walking paths and public art while complementing architect John Russell Pope’s iconic design of Broad Street Station.

The Green aligns with the city’s Richmond 300 development plan, which prioritizes green infrastructure for Greater Scott’s Addition. As one of the fastest-growing, high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods in the city, the district has one of the lowest levels of urban tree cover in Richmond.

For more information about The Green, please visit or contact the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation at 804.864.1540.



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RVA Beer Explorer: Comedy, Salsa, Big Gay Weekend Market

A little light on the events this week as everyone is recovering from the extra day off.



Well, as predicted last week Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield all have high COVID-19 Community Level. 7-day case rates per 100,000 people in each of the localities are 274, 297, and 309, respectively (the threshold for a high level is 200). The 7-day rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people for the whole region is 10.5 (the threshold for a high level is 10). At this level, the CDC’s guidance for individuals is that Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public.


First Saturdays Stand-up Comedy at Legend Brewing
June 4th, 7PM, $5 Tickets

Get laughing and get drinking as my granddaddy used to say. He was an alcoholic clown so it made sense he’d say things like that.

NYC and RVA stand-up comedians live at Legend Brewing on Saturday, June 4th at 7pm

On Saturday, June 4th at 7pm come see some of the best local and visiting comedians on stage for First Saturdays at Legend Brewing!

Advanced tickets are highly recommended for this event.

Claim your tickets on Eventbrite to save your place on the deck. A $5 per person charge will be added to checks at the venue.
Will Purpura is a stand-up comedian based in New York, NY. His high-energy act features an offbeat sensibility and unique timing. Will has performed in the Westside Comedy Festival (LA) the North Carolina Comedy Festival (Greensboro), and Devil Cup Comedy Festival (NY). He was a finalist in the 2019 NC’s Funniest Competition at Goodnights in Raleigh and the 2019 Ultimate Comedy Challenge in Greensboro, NC.

Raised in Richmond, Apple Brown Betty performs all over MD, DC, VA and the Carolinas. Her honest, audacious humor inspires not only laughter, but human connection. An evening with Apple Brown Betty leaves audiences feeling a little bit better about themselves, and the state of the world we live in.
Now residing in RVA, Montana’s own Cale Moore likes turning big rocks into small rocks, has over 40 books on his Goodreads list, and is the proud owner of over three band t-shirts.
Your host for the evening, Ant Perez, is a native of the 757. He has performed on Kill Tony, is a regular at Cozzy’s Comedy Club and Virginia Beach Funny Bone, and is a showrunner at 1865 Brewing Co. in Hampton, VA


Salsa Night Social at Strangeways (Dabney Road)
May 4th, 8PM, Free

If you see me dancing you know I’ve had too much to drink. Perhaps if I took lessons it wouldn’t be such a trainwreck but I’m doubtful. For those with normal feet and rhythm, this is a perfect opportunity to work up some sweat and move.


PRIDE Richmond Makers Market at Basic City Brewing
May 4th & 5th, 12-6PM

As I’ve said many times nothing puts you in a buying spirit like a couple of pints.

It’s BIG GAY WEEKEND and we want to celebrate the beginning of Pride month with you 🌈
Saturday and Sunday shop with your favorite LGBTQ+ makers at our indoor. + outdoor Market.
Market Hours
Saturday and Sunday, 12-6pm
Stay after 6pm to have a beer or three and show off your finds. Basic City’s tap room closes at 9pm
Angry Black Gxrl Art
Black Moon Candle Co.
Fat Girl Media
Caught My Fancy Co.
Cheek Cases
Crystal Quietude
Dayum Jam RVA
Throws like a Girl
Guy Piper Handmade
Heartspace Hydration
Inner Raediance LLC
Jguthrie Works
Katastrophic Creations
Lend Handmade Soaps
Less Than Ladylike Candle Co
Mae’s Magick
Moonhanded Studio
Paws that Heal LLC
Project CommuniTEA
Rachel Mohan
Red Willow Jewelry Co.
Ryan Myers Prints
Spooky Unicorn
Tempest and Spark
The Asylum LLC
The Divine Chalice
Wigglebutts LLC
Willow Sage & Soul
Throws like a Girl
Three to the Em Prints
The Patchwork Punk
The Curio Fairy
TGI Studio LLC
Sassy Hound
Raven Conjure
One Eyed Raven Gifts, LLC
Oh Craft
O Wisteria
Nectar and Hive Glass
Moonhanded Studio
Merrins Art
Katastrophic Creations
Griot Goods
Glow Friend Designs
Funky Friend Jewelry
Foxy Epoxy
Eclectic Vintage
Dogwood Boutique
Death by Glitter
Dayum Jam RVA
Cut teeth creations
Blair Family Woodcraft
Atelier Owens
Angry Black Gxrl Art
A. Muse Henna and Glitter Body Art



Strangeways Brewing headed to Williamsburg for newest taproom – Richmond

The idea for a Williamsburg spot was prompted by The Lamar Cos., the New Jersey-based owner of The Shops at High Street, reaching out to Burton and Strangeways.

The 4,000-square-foot Williamsburg location is expected to open sometime this summer. Much like its other locations, it’ll have dozens of beers on tap — 48 this time around. It’ll also have a food menu offering pub staples like Bavarian pretzels and chips and queso.





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