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Commentary/Opinion: Food equity should have a place in the Comprehensive Plan

As the critical dialogue around future land use in Charlottesville heightens, Cultivate Charlottesville Food Justice Network  partners reflect on the urban agriculture land lost to necessary redevelopment at Friendship Court, South First Street and, after this season, Sixth Street. In recent years, there were up to 25,000 square feet of green growing space accessible to public and subsidized housing residents. By the end of this growing season, all of that growing space will be lost.

The current loss of land for community food security reminds us of the razing of Vinegar Hill in 1964. The Vinegar Hill community was a thriving hub of Black home and land ownership, as well as Black-owned business, from the 1920s to 60s. Paired with land ownership, many Vinegar Hill residents practiced urban agriculture, by raising farm animals and growing vegetable and fruit gardens on their property (Bingham, 2018). The systemic racism invoked by racist covenants and policies that excluded Black people from owning and renting homes, combined with the demolition of Vinegar Hill, continues to impact the physical, mental and financial health and well-being of the Black community in Charlottesville to this day.

Food Justice Network is working to address the land lost to current redevelopment by advocating for centrally located and suitable city land, specifically for Black and brown residents and those with low wealth, to conduct urban agriculture. Our coalition believes that embedding food equity priorities into the Comprehensive Plan is a core strategy to ensure a city committed to urban agriculture and restoring Black land ownership, in addition to neighborhood food access, transportation food pathways and healthy school foods.

In solidarity with the clearly identified need for deeply affordable, healthful housing options and home ownership opportunities, Cultivate believes that Charlottesville residents shouldn’t have to choose between affordable housing and healthy, local, culturally relevant food. Core to our values is that affordable, healthy food is a human right. While we navigate the comprehensive planning process and land use discussions, Cultivate is eager to advance a plan that places human rights, racial equity and community defined priorities at the center.

Food Justice Network has been bringing together community feedback from the past several years of engagement to articulate recommendations for integrating food equity language and practices into the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The most recent plan, written in 2013, only uses the word food once and doesn’t include a focus on planning for food equity at all. How can it be that we focus on sidewalks and trails; housing and development; transportation and economics; schools; workforce; and arts but not consider how our community accesses our basic need and right to be nourished with food?

There are 25 recommendations in our latest round of collective comments. From including Food Equity as a chapter in the Comprehensive Plan to prioritizing infrastructure for Charlottesville City School kitchens to make food from scratch to ensuring urban agriculture and neighborhood food access, these recommendations are critical to the health and well-being of our community.

Food Justice Network’s collective goal is to amplify food equity as a central practice in building a more equitable and vibrant Charlottesville. And, we have good news:

  • The current drafts of the Comprehensive Plan values and strategies include 31 food equity recommendations that have been prioritized by community members.
  • From the most recent community review period, support for food equity was one of the top 3 key themes under the Environment, Climate and Food Access Chapter and the Food Justice Network recommendations were highlighted!

These recommendations and support can provide the groundwork for future investment in food equity practices and a significant shift in how we think about what matters in our city’s evolving design. As we work to build equity and redress the systemic racism that created ongoing inequities today, join Food Justice Network in advocating for food equity in the Comprehensive Plan. Our Take Action Document details the 25 remaining recommendations with an email template to show your support! Email engage@ or call the toll-free phone line at (833) 752-6428 to share your perspectives and amplify food equity goals. Our next meeting will be Wednesday, July 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information, email gabby@

Signed,

Food Justice Network Planning Team

  • Bria Williams, Gabby Levet, Richard Morris, Aleen Carey, Alfred Shirley, Jeanette Abi-Nader-Cultivate Charlottesville
  • Kristen Suokko, Laura Brown- Local Food Hub
  • Terry Allen, Cecilia Lapp Stoltzfus – IRC New Roots Program
  • Alex London-Gross-PB&J Fund
  • Barbara Yager-Bread & Roses
  • Jane Colony Mills -Loaves & Fishes
  • Michael Reilly – Foodshed Capital