The Richmond City Virginia Cooperative Extension Office hosted the Urban Food Desert Symposium on April 29, 2014. The event was held at Fifth Street Baptist Church, a church located in one of the 25 food deserts across the city. The symposium, which was attended by approximately 85 individuals, was intended to promote an awareness of the food deserts in Richmond as well as bringing together resources in an effort to address this concern.
The first lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe gave opening remarks and commended Richmond City for bringing together such a diverse group of participants to collaborate, continue the conversation and to provide resources to work in food desert communities across in the city. She also said that Extension is doing its part in “bridging the gap” by providing a forum for affiliates and partners to help work on this initiative. Delegate Deloris McQuinn, who is a strong supporter of Extension and introduced a proposal at the General Assembly, was not able to attend but sent her congratulations for our efforts.
Two other friends of Extension, City Council Representatives Cynthia Newbille and Ellen Robertson, charged the audience to think outside of the box and find ways to get the food desert community residents involved in this initiative. The VCE educational information used in gardening, agriculture, food nutrition, food preparation, and food safety are ways to engage residents and by doing so, they will find that there are alternatives to corner stores and convenience stores.
Virginia State University’s own Jewel Hairston spoke about increasing access to healthy and affordable foods and how VSU plays an integral part in the fight against food deserts. Following her address, she gave an overview of the Virginia State University’s “Living in a Food Desert” documentary as a preemptive measure to it being view by the symposium participants. During the documentary clickers were used to gauge the opinions of the audience. Marcus Comer of VSU presented an indoor farming model in Petersburg. The VSU mobile lab was on hand to provide any technology needed for the event as well as promoting the lab as a resource to food desert communities.
The day ended with an Ignite Presenter’s panel, consisting of organizations promoting access to healthy and affordable food. This gave the group an opportunity to ask questions about resources, collaboration and working in communities. The organizations represented on the panel were FeedMore, Tricycle Gardens, Renew Richmond, Richmond Health Department and 31st Baptist Church, the first urban church to receive a USDA Farm license. Crystal Tyler Mackey of the planning committee gave closing remarks and thanked the audience for their participation in the event and the electronic evaluation that followed.
Twandra Lomax-Brown, family and consumer sciences agent, and Brittany Council, 4-H/ urban agriculture agent along with the orchestration of the symposium, also presented a poster titled, “Urban Food Deserts: Working Across Disciplines to Address Food Insecurity in the City of Richmond” in Atlanta, Georgia, during the National Urban Extension Conference May 4-7, 2015.