First-of-its-kind program in Richmond teaches farming: 'This is exactly what I want to do'

Posted at 6:30 PM, Jan 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-30 13:41:50-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- On a cold, rainy Sunday morning, Duron Chavis and Senija Davis prep for the upcoming planting months at the Brook Road Youth Farm.

Though most of the plants at the community farm are brown and withered, there's still work for the two, as they dig up soil and nail down tarp. Chavis leads as the teacher, and Davis follows, as the student.

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Chavis is the director of Happily Natural Day, and the leader of the Central Virginia Urban Farm Fellowship, a 12-week program teaching a diverse range of Virginians about building and maintaining community farms.

Davis is one of 10 newly named Urban Farming Fellows, a first class of its kind in the Richmond and Petersburg area.

"I came across the fellowship application and thought, 'OMG, this is exactly what I want to do,'" Davis said.

Senija Davis
Senija Davis

Davis said she wanted to start a community garden on her own but had limited knowledge and resources to start.

"Being from the city, I was never exposed to the farming aspect. I don't know what it looks like to grow food to eat. And although I was very curious about it, I was very hesitant," she said.

"We provide them the tools, resources, land, capital, so they can develop their own efforts out in the community," Chavis said.

Duron Chavis
Duron Chavis

Those efforts, Chavis said, are about more than teaching others to grow their own goods.

"It's tapping into our health through food, our environment through the provision of more greenspace. But also on a very personal level, our own individual stress and mindfulness needs are met through the creation of spaces like this," he said.

Chavis said the creation of urban farming spaces can help alleviate communities struggling with lack of access to affordable, healthy food options.

"Communities that don't have access to healthy food often don't have access to greenspace. And there's also transportation issues. So how do we get multiple bangs from one buck by transforming vacant lots into food producing spaces for communities that have been marginalized?" Chavis asked.

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Even though the greenspace at the Brook Road Youth Farm is mostly brown right now, soon, the space will be used for youth agriculture and mental health programs.

Davis said she's excited to bring life to her own community garden, encouraging others to do the same.

"Just get started," she said. "Just get started. What's the worst that could happen?"

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