Vote for RVA Farms April 16th

Vote for RVA FARMS April 16th for the i.e. Startup Contest at Richmond Center Stage!

RVA Farms will operate an urban farm in the city of Richmond, Virginia that sells fresh organic fruits and vegetables in food deserts. The urban farm will feature hoop houses, an outdoor demonstration garden and learning pavilion.

The mission of RVAFARMS is to eliminate food insecurity in low income communities in Richmond Virginia through urban agriculture.  They will operate a 1/2 acre urban farm within a food desert within the Richmond Metropolitan area that grows organic fruits and vegetables for inner city residents who have limited access to healthy food options.  To read more about RVAFARMS click here.

Here is a great YouTube that gets at the heart of this, click here.

Interview with the founder below.

We ask Duron Chavis, founder of RVAFARMS, and this is what he had to say:

1. Where are you from?

I am Richmond Virginia born and bred. I grew up in Southside Richmond. I graduated from George Wythe High School.

2. What have you been doing prior to starting RVAFARMS?

Prior to starting RVAFARMS I started Happily Natural Day; a grassroots festival dedicated to holistic health and social change. Happily Natural Day is now in its 11th year and we celebrate the festival in Richmond and Atlanta. I also managed a pop up farmers market called Richmond Noir Market that provides healthy produce to food deserts throughout the city. During the daytime I work for Richmond Department of Social Services as a benefit worker, administering SNAP benefits, Medicaid and TANF or cash assistance.

3. What inspired you to start RVAFARMS?

While managing the Richmond Noir Market, I would talk with to the farmers about farming and growing food. Salim Akmed of Salim Farms is 70 years old but looks like he is 50. The conversation would drift into growing food in an urban area like in your yard or on your front lawn. We’d talk about how insane it is that we would grow grass, flowers and shrubs and not food for your family. He’d give us the wisdom of his experiences of farming every week, like 8 hours a day every Saturday at the market. He taught me when to plant, how to organically manage pests and gave me insight on farming as a business. Once we got access to land through the Richmond Grows Garden program – we started the McDonough Community Garden in Manchester in May 2012 as an allotment garden to create a space to promote urban agriculture, environmental awareness and gardening as therapy. The garden has been a success and I have been working to start an urban farm ever since.

4. Why is it important people vote for your startup?

It is important for people to vote for RVAFARMS because our startups measurement of success is not in our ability to make a profit alone. We have a profitable business model that will ensure the sustainability of our business but that is insufficient for us in terms of measuring whether we are successful or not. What is more important to RVAFARMS is fulfilling our mission to mitigate food insecurity in the city of Richmond and to eradicate food deserts. Richmond has a poverty rate of 25% and it is highly concentrated and systemic. These are the communities I grew up in – I just didn’t understand why everyone I knew had somebody in their family with diabetes, stroke, congestive heart issues, or had died from cancer when I was growing up. People do not have access to healthy food options and it is a human rights issue. Church Hill used to have a grocery store that is now a dialysis center. People in our community are dying from diet related illnesses such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, cancer not to mention are suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a wide array of behavioral disorders that are inextricably linked to diet. So by voting for RVAFARMS you are literally voting for a solution that will grow a greater richmond and grant access to healthy food for the rest of the city.

5. Why do you think it has taken Virginia so long to support local farms?

I think Virginia as whole is an agriculture state. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry something like over 50 billion dollars. The problem lies in the fact that most of major grocery stores are importing produce from everywhere but Virginia often times from thousands of miles away. However the consciousness of the people has changed and people are more health conscious. The want to feed their family in a healthy way that is also affordable. By purchasing local foods you are cutting out the transportation bill and your food is getting on your plate from the farm in the shortest amount of time possible and you are supporting your local food system while building your local economy. People want that now. Grocers such as Ellwood Thompsons make a very specific effort to purchase local foods from local farms and this is something Virginia sees as more than a trend when you consider the Virginia Finest and Virginia Grown programs of the VA Dept of Agriculture. Even the big box stores are buying local now. I think that as the needs and desires of the consumer have shifted back to wanting the freshest food possible – the state has shifted along with it.

6. How will Richmonders benefit from your business?

Richmonders will benefit from the increase in access to healthy organic local produce we will have available year round at our urban farm. We will also provide nutrition education, urban agriculture classes and culinary arts programming for the community on a regular basis. As a result of our work we will help inspire healthier lifestyles in urban communities while also creating careers by providing training in urban agriculture in addition to jobs as we grow organically in response to the demand for RVAFARMS produce. We will operate a CSA at the farm that Richmonders will be able to buy into. We will provide a space for the community to recycle waste through our community composting programs. We will have pop up markets that target food deserts throughout the city. RVAFARMS’s mission is to grow an even greater Richmond.

7. What did you want to be as a kid?

When I was a kid I was really into art so I wanted to be an artist or an architect. I do graphic design now for all of the projects I do in the community whether it is designing marketing materials or websites or even the landscape design for our garden. So I am kinda living my dream in a way. As I have gotten older I learned use my talents to serve the community and that honestly makes me happy.