A Panel with Farmers and Agricultural Sustainability Advocates
By Kathi Hendrick*
Each month, C&F Bank, in partnership with Ellwood Thompson’s, hosts a breakfast program that’s designed to bring education opportunities outside the realm of banking to small business owners and community members. Just before the 2018 holiday season, the program brought together a panel of farmers, urban farming supporters, and agricultural sustainability advocates to talk about “what’s growing” in Richmond.
The morning kicked off with fresh coffee and light bites, followed by a viewing of the trailer for Farmers for America, a documentary that asks, “Who will be our next generation of farmers?” given that the average age of today’s U.S. farmer is 60 years old – a thought provoking question that launched the panelists, David L. Seward, Horticulture Program Head And Associate Professor – Reynolds Community College (JSRCC), Duron Chavis, Manager of Community Engagement – Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Michael Carter, Jr., Small Farm Resource Center Coordinator – Virginia State University, and Beth Nelson, Fellowship Program Manager – Tricycle Urban Ag, into a larger conversation about how the greater RVA area is responding to the need to rethink and evolve agricultural practices in order to bring healthy, sustainable food to tables in the decades to come.
Here are a handful of takeaways from the conversation:
- Cooperatives are an important part of the agricultural future. In order to compete with large, commercial food production, different actors in the small, organic farming space need to come together and pool their resources, thus acting as a unified, larger group that can produce competitive quantities while maintaining the quality of products.
- Equity in the system must be considered and addressed as we think about the future of agriculture. Controlled environment agriculture and Smart Ag can help us adapt with climate change. However, it comes with a high upfront investment, so cooperative and collaborative efforts are required to bring these technologies to low-income and historically marginalized communities.
- There is the conundrum of investment at the national and state level. At the time of the panel we were waiting for the latest Farm Bill to be passed to free up funds for farming. It has since passed – more details here.
- Marketing is a challenge for small farmers. They currently look to larger distributors fulfill this need, which brings along minimum quantity requirements. This can sometimes cause small farmers to wrestle with the question – should I sacrifice quality to meet distributor’s quantity needs?
- Consumers must participate in order for paradigms to change. Will consumers be willing to pay $4 for celery instead of $2? Will consumers be willing to eat consciously and seasonally, and let go of the commercially produced foods they’ve become accustomed to? The reality is, consumers have to be willing to be satisfied by what can be grown sustainably and locally, and pay for the true cost of their food in order for significant, systemic change to occur.
- We have to reframe how we think about the farmer. When was the last time you met someone who got a 1600 on the SAT and thought, “Oh, you should become a farmer!” We need to help shift the perception of the farming profession by helping people see the complexity, criticality, value, and rewarding nature of the work.
- Large corporations and organizations have an opportunity to uplift local agriculture. Businesses, churches, and community organizations have an amazing opportunity to partner with local food actors in many different ways, e.g. leasing or donating space, promoting local growers, using local ingredients in their products, or buying food for events.
We heard about some inspiring success stories:
- Restorative urban garden spaces are being used to replace traditional detention programs for students dealing with behavioral issues. The spaces help students cultivate mindfulness and healing practices by connecting them with green spaces.
- Sustainable Ag students cultivate mindsets that helps them think outside the box. One student created a mobile bus farm to help move product and demonstrate farming practices around the community.
- Tricycle Urban Ag students start their own farms. Hazel Witch Farm and Creighton Farm came out of the 2017 Tricycle Fellowship program. Another student created Real Roots Food Systems – a company that provides teaching services around growing and composting, as well as other general gardening services – in Philadelphia, PA.
- The Small Farm Outreach Program is working with VA veteran farmers to help them own, maintain and operate independent farms by offering them the opportunity to participate in agricultural programs, thus improving their overall farm management skills.
We learned about some exciting things to look out for:
- Tricycle Ag’s 2019 Fellowship Program: Tricycle Urban Ag offers a 9-month fellowship to those interested in learning about the practice and business or urban agriculture. Applications are being accepted until January 25th!
- JSRCC Programs Expanding: Reynolds Community College’s main agriculture programs are currently operating out of the Goochland campus. A new facility near Nine Mile Road and 25th Street in North Churchill, Richmond, is planned to open in the spring of 2020, which will bring their programs, students, and efforts come even closer to hub of people and organizations thinking about local growing in the Richmond area.
- Ellwood Thompson’s 5% Day Program: One Sunday each month, Ellwood Thompson’s donates 5% of the day’s sales to local nonprofits and organizations. (The next 5% day is on January 20th!)
A big thank you to C&F Bank and Ellwood Thompson’s for making this possible!
*Trained as both an engineer and designer, Kathi enjoys combining a social scientist’s nose for weak signals with an engineer’s appetite for rigor as she partners with different businesses and organizations to think about their challenges, identify new opportunities to solve them, and design possible solutions with the people that matter most: end-users. She’s had the pleasure of working with both startups and Fortune 500 organizations in the private and non-profit sectors across a range of industries, such as healthcare, consumer apparel, energy, and law. Kathi’s interest in food systems stems from a deep passion for the environment, holistic health, mindfulness, and social equality. As a new resident of Richmond, she’s interested in engaging with the local community to generate new, forward-thinking ways to cultivate and integrate more sustainable food practices into the lives of more individuals. Kathi continues to consult with organizations interested in understanding their customer’s needs, designing new businesses, and testing their solutions using principles from entrepreneurship, design thinking, and strategic experimentation. If you want to get in touch with Kathi, you can reach her at [email protected]
From L to R – Matthew Steilberg – C&F Bank, Michael Carter, Duron Chavis, Beth Furgurson, Beth Nelson, David Seward, Neil Morrissette – C&F Bank
MORE ABOUT THE PANELISTS
David L. Seward, Horticulture Program Head And Associate Professor – Reynolds Community College (JSRCC)
David Seward is the Program Head for the Horticulture program at Reynolds Community College. A native Richmonder, David graduated from Virginia Tech with a masters in Horticulture. After many years working in landscaping and design, David joined the staff JSRCC in 2006 as the head of the Horticulture Program and is a Certified Landscape Designer and a Certified Horticulturist. The Horticulture program at JSRCC focuses on Landscape Design, Plant Production, Floral Design, Landscape and Turf Management and Sustainable Agriculture. David lives what he teaches on 25 acres in Montpelier, VA with his wife Susan, where he manages his own garden.
Duron Chavis, Manager of Community Engagement – Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Duron Chavis, a native of Richmond, joined the staff at Lewis Ginter in 2016. He is chiefly responsible for the Garden’s outreach and relationship-building across a diverse community, expressly to foster greater collaboration and facilitate neighborhood-based urban greening and beautiful place-making initiatives. A graduate of Virginia State University, Duron previously served as project director of the Harding Street Urban Ag Center, an indoor farming incubator funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chavis is known nationally for his leadership in urban agriculture and is an advocate for community-designed solutions to local challenges. He is a graduate of Hope in the Cities’ Community Trustbuilding Fellowship program (2015) and Leadership Metro Richmond (2011); and is a certified Alternatives to Violence Project conflict resolution trainer. He has served on numerous public advisory councils, including the Citizens Advisory Board to the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty (2013-14); the Capital Region Collaborative Social Stability committee; and the Richmond Food Policy Task Force. He is the founder of the McDonough Community Garden, and has served as project coordinator for Renew Richmond’s community garden start-ups.
Michael Carter, Jr., Small Farm Resource Center Coordinator – Virginia State University
Michael Carter Jr. is an agronomist/ agricultural consultant, husband, father, vegan, part time comic, and spent 5 years learning and sharing organic agriculture in West Africa. After graduating from NC Agricultural & Technical State University, Michael moved to Washington, DC. An immersion in the African Hebrew Israelite Community of Jerusalem led him to invest in and manage several vegan restaurants in the Washington DC area, and spend a great amount of time in Israel studying desert agriculture, organic ‘divine’ agriculture and drip irrigation. He has worked with African Hebrew Development Agency (AHDA) in Israel, where he worked on a development project in Asikuma, Ghana to establish an organic demonstration farm plot along with the Ministry of Health of Ghana. He co founded an alternative energy company, Plantroleum, which converted diesel vehicles to run on vegetable oil. In addition to his work with VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program he sits on the board of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) and is working to reestablish his family farm in Orange, Va.
Beth Nelson, Tricycle Urban Ag – Fellowship Program Manager
Beth Nelson is the Urban Agriculture Fellowship Program Manager for Tricycle, a non-profit organization in Richmond that is on a mission to grow a healthy future through urban agriculture. Beth joined Tricycle in 2016 to design the curriculum and program for Tricycle’s Certificate in Urban Agriculture that is offered in partnership with USDA-NRCS and Bon Secours – Richmond. Upon completing the program, Certified Urban Agriculturalists enter the field of urban agriculture by way of starting small scale commercial farms, community gardens, or by other activities that facilitate the connection of people and food. Beth holds a Master of Arts in Education, with a focus on adult education, from Central Michigan University. Her 25 year career in education, training, and program development is a reflection of her belief in the power of lifelong learning and her enjoyment of facilitating meaningful learning experiences and community engagement.
MORE ABOUT THE BUSINESS BEYOND BANKING SERIES
C&F Bank’s ‘Business Beyond Banking’ Speaker Series is a monthly breakfast program designed to provide small business owners access to information and education outside of the realm of banking. Each month will feature a different expert from various fields including branding, succession planning, organization, and now through their partnership with Ellwood Thompson’s, health and wellness!
Breakfasts will take place monthly and are free for anyone to attend. Registration and breakfast start at 8:00am, and the speaker runs until 9:15am.
If you have additional questions about the event, please email Neil Morrissette at [email protected]