Although Shantell Bingham, of the Charlottesville Food Justice Network, has been meeting with area nonprofits and low-income neighborhoods for three years, drafting an action list for achieving citywide food security took just two days.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Local Food, Local Places program facilitated the two-day workshop. On Tuesday, event attendees toured urban agricultural initiatives in Charlottesville. Attendees sat down to draft the plan on Wednesday morning.

“I think this is one of those first events where we’ve all been on the same bus together, at least that I’ve been a part of. To be able to have community voices in the same room, sitting at the same table as us [nonprofits], has taken a lot of time and energy to cultivate,” Bingham said Tuesday. 

Bingham works as the CFJN program director under City Schoolyard Garden.

Charlottesville was one of 15 communities selected in May to be part of Local Food, Local Places. The workshop facilitators noted that Charlottesville’s relative affluence makes it an unusual recipient of the award, but ongoing disparities in the city made it eligible.

The income of one in four families in Charlottesville is too low to afford food, housing, clothing, transportation and childcare, according to Piedmont Virginia Community College’s 2018 Orange Dot Report. The number of households relying on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which does not cover hot food or toilet paper, has not decreased significantly in Charlottesville since 2005. 

The facilitators also said that they see Charlottesville’s efforts to combat these disparities as a model for other communities.

The EPA contracts Charlottesville-based community planning firm EPR RC to run Local Food, Local Places. Jason Espie, of EPR RC, said that he has used the Local Food Hub as a case study in other presentations.

“There are many things happening in this community that would be the best practice, the poster child, in another community. I love the fact that what you were doing is still not enough, that you’re striving always for something more,” said Holly Fowler, a Boston-based sustainable food systems consultant.

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On Tuesday evening, roughly 65 people gathered at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to eat dinner together and start imagining what the plan’s success would look like. 

Several grassroots organizations were present, including the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville and the Public Housing Association of Residents. Refugee farmers with the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program alone accounted for approximately 10 attendees on Tuesday and more on Wednesday.

The workshops on Wednesday produced recommendations like permanent fresh markets for and by low-income communities, a city planner focused on urban agriculture and a goal that the city would use 3% of its land — perhaps including part of Washington Park — for community gardens.

On Tuesday evening, New Roots farmer and CFJN community advocate Rebecca Jacobs read a news headline the diners at her table hoped to see as a result of the food justice plan. 

“Charlottesville preserves land for food access for residents forever,” Jacobs read. 

The headline would be achieved by the city purchasing land and preserving it for urban farming groups, Jacobs said.

“Effect: Gardeners could all access their land on foot. Charlottesville urban farmers are able to improve their businesses, and Charlottesville becomes a model city,” she said.

Bingham said that she was most excited to see city employees like parks and trail planner Chris Gensic actively participating in the planning process. She also said that the workshop attendees came up with similar plans for healthy food access in the Charlottesville City Schools as students have, so attendees volunteered to support students at public hearings in the future.

Bingham said that the Local Food, Local Places team will help CFJN finalize a plan from the recommendations over the next three months.

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Attendees of the Local Food, Local Places workshop serve themselves dinner on Tuesday evening.

Credit: Emily Hays/Charlottesville Tomorrow