Real Local RVA is a grassroots group of independent, small grocery stores, restaurants, farmer’s markets, farmers, growers and supporters dedicated to growing the local food scene in Richmond and the surrounding area. The purpose of the group is to organize all participants for purposes of economic and business development.
To educate, support and raise awareness of the local food movement and choices in the Greater Richmond area.
The history behind Real Local RVA is rooted in Richmond, VA with the effort to grow the local food movement. Rick Hood, Owner of Ellwood Thompson’s, started the group as an informal round table in the beginning of 2014, better known then as the Local Food Group. Other early members included Bill Cox of Casslemonte Farm, Sally Schwitters of Tricycle Gardens, John Haddad of Slow Food RVA, Hunter Hopcroft of Stock Provisions, James Wallace of Virginia Community Capital, Anne Darby of Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, Sidney Gunst of Innsbrook Associates, LLC, Barb Upchurch of The Apple Cart and Erin Wright of Little House Green Grocery. A critical aspect was the participation and moderation of the group by Dale Raney and Lou O’Boyle.
Back then the vision was to create a network of informed, passionate, creative farmers, farmer’s markets and nonprofits that work together within the community to increase awareness and knowledge of locally grown food. Networking was the emphasis. As a formed group, the Local Food Group became a participant group with the Richmond Food Collaborative. Eventually it was realized that the Local Food Group was to be most effective by focusing on for profit business.
One of the values brought up from the beginning is that it’s better to collaborate than to compete. A critical turning point happened in 2015 when Michelle Williams and Donnie Caffery join in. Michelle has been able to recruit Southbound and other restaurants to join and she brings a depth of marketing experience. Donnie has been able to help recruit Libbie Market and other grocers and he provides organizational leadership and technology experience. A unique aspect was the enthusiastic collaboration between grocers and restaurateurs; a mentality that was not common place in years past.
The group morphed into advocating for small farms and independent businesses to have a larger economic impact in Richmond, Virginia. Marketing, events and networking based on “local” values have become the main focus purpose of the group. More and more faces began to show at the table with varying opinions of the local food scene. It was clear, there was a need for a real definition of local, a vehicle in which to promote it and a group to support it. Hence the name Real Local RVA was adopted.
Local Food Policy Initiatives
A community’s dollars should be used to support its own people, with particular focus on the areas of food. If we want the majority of people to receive the maximum return on their community’s investment, then small food businesses must be strengthened at every turn. Minority and women ownership should be prioritized to level the playing field. Bigger businesses should be supported in their efforts to transition to employee ownership.
Here are nine ways to start this shift:
- Promote grants/incentives around food hubs. Use incentive dollars from grants, release from payment of business licensing fees to back local food hubs and other networks that are focused on place, health, and equity. These systems of support for locally owned businesses nurture local supply chains, enable peers to support each other, set up forums for candidates to address food policy, and foster the kind of collaboration necessary to make local food distribution viable or renewable energy locally affordable.
- Use city contracts to increase purchases of good food. Local, healthy, fairly produced, humanely raised, and sustainably grown. An example would be requiring antibiotic free chicken. Re-direct corporate subsidies to organizations that provide technical assistance to micro enterprises. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity has shown that if just one in three microenterprises was strengthened to hire a single employee, the United States would be at full employment.
- Allow small food businesses to farm community garden plots through contracts. Invest in shared infrastructure for local “economies of scale.” For example, a foundation might invest in a local grain mill, providing needed processing that would encourage the resurgence of local grain farmers in Richmond.
- Set asides for community land. Require a community garden in Richmond to be in every 5 + acre park. Agricultural and community land trusts preserve affordability for residents, farmers, and local business owners in contrast to speculative gentrification. Land banks to bring vacant and blighted lots under the control of the public authority to redevelop the land for productive uses.
- Support the creation of worker-owned businesses, and support larger businesses, particularly those going through founder transitions, to become employee owned through ESOPs (Employee Stock Ownership Plans), voting incentives and tax. Shared equity can be been a powerful engine.
- Limit the saturation of unhealthy fast food options and encourage small local food businesses to level the playing field. Possible initiatives are taxing soda beverages and voting for zoning restrictions that prevent fast food companies from locating in neighborhoods. Another is to exclude national chains from districts emphasizing independent retailers.
- Sustainability & Ecological Awards: Encourage government agencies to establish sustainability and ecological awards for small food businesses.
- Support laws to reduce food waste. Pass a law banning supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. The beneficiaries of such a law would be food banks and other charitable food organizations.
- Reduce or elimimate the local meal tax.
State & National Food Policy Initiatives
- Tax small business at a lower rate than large corporations. Environmental impacts of industrial livestock agriculture: Encourage policy makers to demand more accountability and bring about more effective regulation of industrial livestock agriculture, which does not pay their costs fairly for the environmental externalities of their operations. Local livestock production, which more often protects its landscape and natural resources, will therefore be on a more level playing field and more competitive.
- Reduce Regulatory Red Tape. A few national initiatives that would be helpful are:
- Strengthen antitrust laws.
- Loosen copyright and patent laws.
- Reduce unreasonable occupational licensing that creates difficulty for startups.
- Reduce or remove unnecessary regulations of small food businesses that create financial burdens.
- Conservation Programs: Encourage state government plans to spend money to create a conservation easement. Pay farmers development value of their land to continue to grow and require deed restrictions to for future development.
- Outlaw Marketing to Children
- Tighten the regulations of the Small Business Administration to prevent large corporations from using so much of its funds.
- Strengthen laws to prevent the exploitation of farm workers.
We need a people’s food plan and it must have health, the environment and justice at its heart.
- STRONG TOWNS: HOW LOCAL CRONYISM HURTS AMERICA’S CITIES
- STRONG TOWNS: THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN SHARK TANK ECONOMY