The Collegian
Monday, November 28, 2022

Local food activist creates community gardens to combat lack of access to food

<p>&nbsp;Local food activist Duron Chavis talks to students at the Gambles Mills Eco-corridor on Oct. 26.</p>

 Local food activist Duron Chavis talks to students at the Gambles Mills Eco-corridor on Oct. 26.

Local food activist Duron Chavis creates access to sustainable and reliant food systems for low-income communities in Richmond through community gardens in order to reconnect people with their land and culture. 

Chavis, founder and director of Happily Natural, began his career in community advocacy in 2003, founding the Happily Natural Day Festival which focuses on cultural awareness, health, wellness and social change.

He then shifted his advocacy to food security, hosting a farmers' market in Richmond every Sunday. Now, he is creating sustainable community gardens in low-income communities in Richmond.

“It was like a lightning bolt struck when I started these gardens, and when I say that, I mean in terms of the amount of impact we were having in communities,” Chavis said. “We weren’t just talking about access to healthy food, we were actually increasing people's access to healthy foods.”

Chavis created his first community garden, the McDonough Community Garden, in Reedy Creek in 2012. He now manages eight community gardens. 

When he first began the community gardens, Chavis and a couple of other farmers were tending to the garden and growing the crop. He quickly realized that this was not sustainable and created community gardens in which the people in the community could take ownership of the plots and grow the crops themselves, he said. 

The lack of access to food is an issue that many in the African American community face, Chavis said. The purpose of the gardens is to reconnect the community with its history and the land through sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. 

Rick Mayes, chair of the health studies department at UR, said he had been following Chavis for a while because he sits at the intersection of health, food and housing.

“He’s involved in a lot,” Mayes said. “Invite one speaker and he can talk about housing, health, food, and he can bring in the element of race, which in the city of Richmond is massive. As one person he touches all of those topics.”

Chavis believes advocacy and direct action need to be blended to create change and transform communities, he said.

“I’m just trying to plant seeds,” Mayes said. “Like he was saying you have to get outside of here. I want to start encouraging [students] to meet people who want to not just know about something but they want to start doing something about it.”

Through his work, Chavis has been able to teach people in Richmond about the benefits of fresh vegetables and show them how to garden themselves. 

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“I think it's incredibly important, obviously everything he said really nailed home. I am an environmental science major,” sophomore Abby Fuller said. “We should be opening this land up for agriculture use just for people in the neighborhood.” 

Contact news writer Seraina Caviezel at seraina.caviezel@richmond.edu.

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