Black-Owned Farmer’s Market Debuts in Richmond Food Desert

Courtesy of Navi Johnson

By Arianna Coghill

August 14, 2020

The city has had problems for years with fresh food accessibility in Black communities.

Food accessibility in minority communities, particularly areas with more Black people, has been a problem in Virginia for years. But one Richmond native is teaming up with other growers to bring fresh produce to the people who need it the most. 

Navi Johnson, a Virginia State University journalism graduate also known as V the Writer, joined together with a family friend, Pastor Ellis Henderson, to bring the idea of a Black-owned farmer’s market to life. 

RVA’s Black Farmer’s Market will debut Saturday and will feature Black farmers and growers from all across the state in a celebration of resiliency and sustainability. 

“I put this together to celebrate us getting back to our roots and taking care of each other in the most natural way,” Johnson said in an interview. 

After the pandemics and protests began, Johnson noticed that many people had turned towards growing their own food. 

“Right after the riots and the protests, a lot of stores began to close at around five and six o’clock. So we noticed people, especially African-American people, started building resiliency gardens in their own yards,” said Johnson. 

Johnson, a grower herself, spent a lot of her childhood outside in her grandmother’s vegetable garden. But she was born and raised in the East End, and is more than familiar with the inaccessibility to fresh produce in these areas. 

“A lot of times in these predominantly Black neighborhoods, the grocery stores are the gas stations, convenience stores or the corner stores. And that’s really it,” said Johnson. “Some people don’t have the luxury to hop in the car and go miles up the street to Walmart. It’s a lot to do to take one or two buses just to go to the grocery store.” 

Several regions in Richmond are considered food deserts, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as an area with no grocery stores within one mile in urban regions and within 10 miles in rural communities.

According to 2018 data from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, 18 percent of Virginia’s population lives in a food desert. The USDA reported in 2015 that Richmond had over 60,000 people living in food deserts. Richmond’s Black population makes up almost 50 percent of the city, according to 2019 U.S. Census data

 And the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. 

Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore explained that COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders and fears of spreading the virus have severely reduced mass transportation ridership, like buses. 

RVA’s Black Farmer’s Market will make it easier for people to buy, sell, and trade fresh fruits and vegetables in their own communities. The market will not only showcase the Black agricultural scene, but will also include many local, Black-owned businesses, as well as live music. Richmond favorites like Sweet T’s Cakes will also be there.. 

“There’s a little something for everyone,” said Johnson. 

The event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 1700 Blair St. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Face masks are required and social distancing will be practiced. Admission is free. If the event is canceled, it will be moved to Aug. 22. 

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