Why Southside farmers market is moving to Northside park

Farmers react after South of the James market moves to Northside
Posted at 7:00 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 19:07:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For more than a decade, Black Creek Farm has been situated on ten acres in rural Hanover County. Farm owner Matt Powell said he’s never worked harder before -- 14 hour days, seven days a week just to make ends meet.

Powell, alongside his wife Kim and son Sage, have been hit hard during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They decided against hiring extra hands this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to their family members.

“Restaurant sales are nonexistent, as well,” Matt Powell explained. “Things still are not in the ground when they should be. So, we are a little bit behind, but we are catching up.”

Black Creek Farm makes about half of their income from the South of the James Farmers Market in Forest Hill Park.

Thousands of people fill the popular market on a typical Saturday. But, when the pandemic hit market organizers were forced to get creative to continue serving their customers and vendors.

Karen and Doug Grisevich run GrowRVA and founded the open-air market 13 years ago.

“South of the James was built on community,” Karen explained. “This is about food access and providing the families of Richmond with food that’s safe.”

They organized a drive-thru style of market to continue serving their customers while accommodating the small businesses and social distancing guidelines. Customers pre-order with the farmers and have a two-hour window for pick-up before walk-ins are allowed inside.

“We did a very, very effective drive through model,” Doug Grisevich said. “We hired RMC events to manage our parking and our now traffic control and we hired an RPD police officer.”

But, starting Saturday morning South of the James will move to Bryan Park on the city’s Northside.

“This issue has come up that we had not managed it well, or it wasn’t managed well when it was,” Doug stated.

On Thursday, Richmond 4th District Council member Kristen Larson posted on Facebook that she was “a huge supporter of the South of The James (SOTJ) Farmers Market and have been since the market started 13 years ago.”

“I received numerous complaints from our neighbors about the crowded situation and the increasing number of vehicles lining up outside the market,” Larson wrote. “On the same day there were 800+ vehicles that accessed the market through the surrounding neighborhood. This presented public safety concerns for residents who need to be able to enter and leave their homes safely.”

GrowRVA said the push to move the market stemmed from concerns voice by park neighbors and the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association.

CBS 6 reached out to association president Whit Clements for a comment. As of Friday afternoon, we haven’t heard back.

But Clements told Richmond BizSense on Thursday that the decision to move the market was made by the city and suggested that the move would likely be temporary while the pandemic plays out.

“Covid-19 has been a disruptive factor for the lives of all and for the market, the FHNA looks forward to getting back to normal and hopes for the quick return of the South of the James Farmers Market back to operating in Forest Hill Park as soon as possible,” Clements said in an email.

GrowRVA has since worked with city leaders to choose the new location. Bryan Park fit with the group’s insurance plan with the city’s Parks and Rec and the existing roads that flow through the park.

“We can’t speak high enough of the City of Richmond and Parks and Rec,” Doug said.

A Parks and Rec spokesperson declined to comment.

“This is about providing the farmers and their families an opportunity to grow and continue to grow their businesses at a time when the future is unknown,” Karen said.

Council member Larson said the move was temporary.

The Powell’s now estimate they’ll earn about 10 percent of their original income at the market on Saturday.

“The unknown is scary, you know," Kim Powell said. “But in the end, I know it’s all going to work out. We will be OK.”

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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