Northside Farmers Market Boosts Neighborhood Access to Healthy Foods

A group of area residents saw their three-year project pay off in June when the Northside Farmers Market opened next to Richmond Community High School.

Some areas of the neighborhood were historically targeted for redlining, with federal housing officials marking parts of Northside as “unsafe” due to its predominantly black population, according to University of Richmond research. It left the neighborhood without significant infrastructure. Thus, in 2019, the Northside Food Access Coalition was created to meet a need for access to fresh and healthy food.

Cheyenne Nicholas, spokesperson for the coalition, helped organize the new market and highlighted their belief in access to good food and their desire to serve the community.

“We want it to be just a place where people can come on Thursdays and get the food they need, and people get to know each other,” Nicholas said of the market, which takes place between 4 and 7:30 p.m. each week.

While the market is supposed to provide healthy food for Northside, it also supports local farmers by providing a reliable marketplace where their produce can be sold. Each week, food is purchased by the wholesale market, with farmers setting the price for their goods. And urban farmer Duron Chavis said the coalition was not raising the price to consumers.

There might be a handful of convenience stores in the area near the market, but few places offer fresh fruits and vegetables.

Northside resident Robin Gahan is vice president of health strategies at the American Heart Association of Richmond, one of the coalition’s community partners.

“I think the most immediate impact is again access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those that are locally grown and also support our local farmers,” they said.

Financing, CSA and SNAP

The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund, established in 2020 by the General Assembly, gave $50,000 to the Northside Access Food Coalition to help establish the market.

The bill was created to help low-income areas with limited access to food. Parts of Northside, including the Brookland Park and Highland corridor, meet the criteria, according to the united states department of agriculturebecause at least 33% of residents are more than a mile from the nearest grocery store.

The Northside Farmers Market is distinguished by its commitment to providing Community Supported Farming, an approach to farming and sales, originally conceived by Southern Black Farmers.

CSAs work like this: people pay a fee to farmers in advance in exchange for receiving produce throughout the growing season. The coalition’s CSAs include several farmers who bring their products to market, enabling consumers to receive a range of healthy foods from diverse producers.

The market also accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and participates in the Virginia Fresh Match program, which halves the cost of fresh produce for those who pay with SNAP. However, people using the benefits cannot purchase CSA in advance online.

There are currently 70 CSAs on offer, and Chavis said one of its goals for the market is to grow, possibly offering even more variety.

Local farmers

Although farmers are not required to attend the market, Justin Upshaw, Northside resident and owner of Essential Microgreens RVA, said he chooses to participate.

One of the reasons he joined the Northside Farmers Market was to connect people with low access to healthy food and teach them that they can grow their own microgreens. To further engage the community, Upshaw said it also plans to offer a 25% discount to people who purchase its microgreens using SNAP benefits.

The farmer’s experience at this market, however, was a little different from other markets he attended.

“This one has a more intimate and laid back feel because it’s right in the middle of a neighborhood. I mean, we’re sitting there looking straight at community high school,” Upshaw said. “Then on the other side of me is a neighborhood and the rest of the Brookland Park area.”

James V. Payne