The American Heart Association is dedicated to increasing nutrition security and eliminating barriers to increase access, affordability, and healthy eating. Anchored by the Brookland Park corridor, the Northside community is home to over 35,000 residents of which 56% have low food access in zip codes 23222 and 23223.
As a result of historic disinvestment and gentrification, Brookland Park Boulevard is a central corridor of Northside Richmond that has long been a food insecure and historically marginalized community. Access to food is limited to highly processed food sold at convenience stores and corner markets. Local developments in the area do not meet the needs of all residents equally. Dollars spent on food do not stay within the local economy and the nearest farmers markets are not within convenient walking distance.
In the Summer of 2019, neighbors, farmers, and community organizations came together to host monthly meetings with the goals of
1) increasing community access to fresh food in Richmond’s Northside;
2) control over a local food system;
3) equitable engagement opportunities for community members;
4) building relationships throughout the entire food system value chain to ensure sustainability.
Community partners include the American Heart Association, Happily Natural, Historic Brookland Park Collective, Nomad Deli, Richmond Community High School, Richmond City Health District, Richmond Food Justice Alliance, and Virginia Community Capital. What began as a conversation about the lack of a grocery store, later formed the Northside Food Access Coalition (Coalition).
In November 2020, the Coalition successfully secured one of 15 inaugural statewide grant awards from the Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) to create a farmers market/community supported agriculture (CSA) hybrid on the Brookland Park Corridor. Beginning in 2016, the Association led the statewide advocacy campaign to create a state healthy food financing model, initially proposed at the Virginia Grocery Investment Fund (VGIF). Thanks to the efforts by the American Heart Association volunteers, coalition partners, and Advocacy staff, the campaign was successfully adopted as the VFAIF in 2020. With the awarded funds, the Coalition then hired a Community Food Fellow to assist in the planning and implementation of the market. The Fellow’s responsibilities include engaging farmers, community members about healthy food access, and operating the market. Through the Community Food Fellow’s outreach, the Coalition prioritized that most neighbors benefiting from the market be those with limited access.
Additionally, it was anticipated that individuals with higher income who can purchase CSA shares in advance, would allow the market to provide produce at a lower cost to reach those disproportionately impacted.
In securing funds from VFAIF, the Coalition was able to access a low-interest loan to ensure the market’s sustainability and charges vendor fees for added revenue. In the spring of 2022, the Coalition built a cold storage unit adjacent to Richmond Community High School. Partnering with local farmers, the Fellow purchases freshly harvested and culturally relevant produce in bulk midweek, providing cold storage to extend produce freshness. This strategy increases equity and is beneficial to Black and Latinx farmers as it enables them to drop off produce easily and increases opportunity for their farm to prosper.
On June 16, 2022, the Market officially opened for the season. Neighbors can purchase produce directly at the market or in advance through the CSA. The market accepts SNAP and offers the Virginia Fresh Match program to double the value of SNAP on fruits and vegetables. With the local growing season, the Market will be open from June to November. The Coalition anticipates reaching as many as 500 neighbors in the first year with even greater potential in years to come. By continuing to plant seeds that sow community trust and increasing the yield of local farmers, the Northside Farmers Market and CSA will only continue to grow in its ability to increase nutrition security for Richmond’s Northside. Said Willie Hilliard, Executive Director of the Historic Brookland Park Collective, “The Northside Farmers Market will be the conduit that helps build a healthy and equitable reality for the entirety of the community”.