RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Along Broad Rock Boulevard on Richmond’s Southside is a big parking lot and building that was once filled with shoppers going to Winn-Dixie. Now, it’s filled with parishioners.
“We came into this church because we were a growing congregation,” Deion Coleman said.
There’s no grocery store for miles.
“We are in a food desert,” Coleman explained, as we sat on a picnic table in the beaming noon sun outside of the Second Baptist Church. “Now we’re providing food at a church that used to be a grocery store.”
A few ripe tomatoes hid in the shade of the plants’ leaves. Eden’s Community Garden, as the church calls it, has been here for about three years. Coleman is the director of the project.
It’s teaching garden, that was kick started by a federal grant that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation received to help mitigate storm water. The rain is now used to water the garden.
A Chesapeake farm boy stopped by Thursday to see the harvest.
“There are so many great opportunities to grow food products and you don’t have to be out on a rural farm,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.
Northam’s family had a farm when he was growing up. He knows good pickings.
“I was just tempted to maybe pick a couple of these tomatoes,” he said as he began to signal for people to turn around, “If we could have everybody look over there.”
The parking lot was filled with agricultural advocates, as Northam highlighted the importance of urban agriculture programs like the one at Second Baptist Church.
“Agriculture is our number one industry in the Commonwealth,” he said. “The reality is is that we will continue to have a challenge feeding the population so we have to ask ourselves how do we do that, how do we make sure that our children have good nutrition.”
That’s a struggle for people, in a food desert in Southside and in other urban areas in the Commonwealth.
“They have to catch the bus and go to the grocery store or drive. If you need a tomato, it’s going to be an ordeal just to get one,” Coleman said.
Nutrition is a concern, as Coleman says a lot of people on fixed income cannot afford fresh produce. It’s cheaper to get canned vegetables and fruit.
“As an African-American, we are one of the less healthy groups in the country. We tend to weigh more, we tend to eat more sodium, we tend to have a history of high blood pressure and diabetes. All of those things contributed to by a poor diet,” Coleman said. “If you can provide people with an alternative to fast food and processed food and canned food, you’re making them healthier and you could very well be saving their lives.”
Being able to grow your own food, at home, is something that Coleman thinks could help people bring healthier food to the table.
“So if we can teach people how to grow things like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers on their balcony, that’s one less thing they have to buy at the grocery store,” she said.
Taking the skills from a community garden to their porch. Coleman says it’s possible to feed a family from plants you can just put in a pot or container.
“The beauty of gardening is that you don’t even need to have a plot of land to garden in,” Coleman said.