Virginia Home Grown: Urban Agriculture & Food Justice

Virginia Home Grown: Urban Agriculture & Food Justice


>>We’re in a beautiful
garden in this urban space. Shantell, thank you so
much for having us.>>Yeah.
>>Can you tell us a bit about what this
plot of land is?>>So this is the Urban
Agricultural Collective of Charlottesville. It’s our Friendship Court Farm. We also have farms across
the street at Sixth street, and then a little bit
down at South First. So there are farms at
public housing sites as well as subsidized
housing sites.>>And you’re from the Charlottesville
Food Justice Network. So what do you all do and
why and how were you founded?>>Yeah, so the Network is
a growing organization, about 40 different
nonprofit partners, city departments, business
partners, as well. We came together in, around 2015 for Community Food
projects grant. And that was more about us
being able to collaborate for food systems
change instead of, you know, being
more competitive. There are so many non-profits
in Charlottesville. We’re all doing
very similar work and we’re all going
towards a similar goal so we thought, how can
we be more collaborative and work together
to meet our goals versus competing
over resources, and–>>The gardens are thriving.>>Our gardens are thriving.
>>I’ve seen this just growing and
blossoming over the years. You’ve got some mature
fruit trees now–>>Yeah!
>>And stone gardens. And it’s really amazing
how far you guys have come.>>Yeah, and this is just
one program out of many.>>Can you talk about
that? Shantell, so you guys are kind of part
of an umbrella organization in Charlottesville that’s doing
a lot of really great work.>>Yeah, City Schoolyard Garden. So we’re in all of
the city schools, there’s about eight
different gardens there. And then we also have
expanded our per view to be a community action based. UACC is how we can
touch communities, and then the Charlottesville
food justice network, is really how we can have
a city wide view and touch. So that’s that is
the City School Yard
Garden in a nutshell.>>Yeah, and so the way that
you function in your role as the director of the
Food Justice Network is leans to a little bit more on the policy end it sounds like. So what kind of policies
existed when you started? What’s the climate like now? And then what is your
hope for the future of food equity in
Charlottesville?>>Yeah, well, (laughs)
it’s funny, you said that, ’cause when we first
started, one of the thing, the Network wanted
to collaborate, but then we started to do more
of this policy action work. And one of the first
things that we tackled was Charlottesville City
Comprehensive plan, which–>>What was that like?>>It has no mention of food. It doesn’t really speak to all of the community
and urban gardening that’s been going around, a lot of it that’s
been community led. And so in that,
while that’s like, not so much of an okay thing, the network partners took
that as an opportunity for us to just like, elevate our
work, work with the city. And in 2018, we
were able to pass the first ever Food
Equity Initiative, which is just a local
appropriation bill that it allowed city
council city departments to look more at our food system, more at issues of
food insecurity that’s happening
in Charlottesville. So it’s just one of those things where if you’re a
nonprofit working and doing grassroots work,
you see it and you feel it. But we realized that it
wasn’t really being felt or understood at the city level. And that’s where it kind of, I don’t know, the, the
rubber hit the road for us is like, how can we
do this systemically?>>You’ve got work to do. Well, Shantell, with
such important work, I think that I’d imagine most of the community would
ideologically be behind this, but you’ve met some roadblocks, as far as the logistics of
making plots like this happen. So what are some
of those roadblocks and some of the solutions
that you’ve come up with to work around this?>>So one approaching
roadblock is redevelopment. So Friendship Court,
as well as a lot of public housing
sites where UACCs farms are are slated to be destroyed. And this is a whole conversation that’s bigger than, you
know, just food access. It’s also about
housing affordability
in Charlottesville. And I guess for the Network, one of our values is saying, we shouldn’t have
to have a community where people have to choose
between housing and food. Like these are both very
necessary human rights. And because we weren’t thinking
about food for so long, it’s not like I said, it’s not in any city
comprehensive plan, the city hasn’t really
been thinking about it. It’s kind of been
left to nonprofits, and all of us are doing this
good work to uphold that. That now that we’re pushing
it to the forefront, that’s where the
tension is coming from, ’cause they just
didn’t see it coming.>>And every good conversation is gonna have a little bit of that.>>Yeah.
>>But you did find a potential liaison in the parks and rec department–
>>Yeah, yeah.>>Is that right, so what are some of your
thoughts around that?>>So I think that’s one of
the really great examples of when a city starts something like a Food Equity Initiative, and they become involved
in protecting those rights. It opens up the
conversation for us to now collaborate
with city departments, and Parks and Rec was one of those really awesome partners that we’ve been able to find. There’s some city parks
that we could think about utilizing to potentially grow our urban ag base. So that’s been really great. And that would not have
happened without city council just opening up that corridor. So we’ve been fortunate enough to have city
councilors cheer for us and be open into
those partnerships.>>So sounds like working with
plots that are available, and potentially
through Parks and Rec, you’re considering places that are gonna be
there for a while. So that we’re not in the same development
situation that’s here. But they also need to
be accessible to people. Because a big part
of your program is the experience of the
guests and residents. And so what feedback
have you gotten from them about their experience
growing their own food and being able to
have this provided for them right in
their backyards?>>Yeah, I mean, it’s
across the board. We do surveying quite frequently
with the UACC community. And it’s like 90%, it’s the same figures we see
and see City Schoolyard Garden. And when we’re doing surveys with youth about
their school gardens, it’s 90%, people
value this asset. People are aware that their
environment means something to them, green space actually
means something to them, it’s more than food. It’s also mental health,
it’s also community, it’s also environmental,
like cultivation and ecological sustainability, they love being able
to see butterflies and birds and like,
natural things.>>All over the place here.
>>Going on in that community. Yeah, it’s beautiful.
>>Yeah, it really is.>>So I mean, across the board, the community loves this. And it’s not something, if you’re not really
in low income areas, you may not really
see or recognize that, But they have a lot
of the same values that anyone else has. It’s just that they
don’t necessarily have the same resources and power
to protect it themselves.>>Well, Shantell we
would love to know what can we do as individuals and collectively
in Charlottesville to help you all
move forward with this very important work?>>Well, I think the major
thing that’s happening is city council writing
comments about your support for food systems change, for Charlottesville
Food Justice Network, for the Food Equity Initiative. Other things that you can do
is invest in volunteering, like we need people to
maintain these lands, you know.>>It’s a lot.>>It means a lot. And we count that, we count
those things in report, we count volunteer hours, we count how much the community is coming out and
engaging in these gardens. We do it in the city schools,
we do it in the community. And so if you can
just spend two hours a week or every other week, bringing your family out
to a UACC volunteer day, or a City Schoolyard
Garden volunteer day. Those are amazing, like what
you could do every single week to just show your support of it. And it really does
send a message.>>Absolutely. Well, Shantell, thank you
so much for your time. It’s really incredible
what you guys have done and I hope it just
continues on and on. Thank you.
>>Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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