RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Food insecurity rates in Virginia are increasing, with an estimated 445,000 additional Virginians experiencing food insecurity because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Before the start of this public health crisis, approximately 850,000 Virginians were food insecure, including 250,000 children. According to Feeding America, one in ten people are going hungry in the commonwealth.  

A nonprofit in Richmond created and delivered over three hundred garden beds for community members who don’t have access to healthy, safe food. Going into the colder months, it can be tricky for people to plant produce in the commonwealth.

But Duron Chavis, founder of  The Happily Natural Day, the nonprofit responsible for creating the garden beds, is ready to help.

Chavis said families in the Richmond area are deprived of fresh and safe food. He said he believes it’s the community’s job to help those who can’t help themselves.  

Chavis transformed a vacant lot outside the Institute of Contemporary Art in Richmond (ICA) into an urban garden to highlight issues of food security and the importance of Black and brown community spaces.  

Duron Chavis turned a parking lot into a green space for the community. (Photo: D’Andre Henderson)

“When I found urban farming, it was like lightning struck,” he said. “I was able to be creative, I was able to get outside of the box of just talking about social issues, and really put something practical, tangible and applicable in our community that people can use on a day-to-day basis.”  

The Happily Natural Day stewards several urban green spaces and farms across the city. They currently farm on three-fourths of an acre at Farm the Family on Mechanicville Turnpike. Chavis said now that the weather has changed, things will start to look different for him, and other local farmers.

He said over the winter months, the farm will be receiving updates, like new greenhouses, amending the soil and purchasing a new planter for seed distribution. He said all the prep work is so they can start as early as possible in 2021.  

Chavis said just because it’s getting cold outside doesn’t mean seeds still can’t be planted. He said winter is the season for growing greens, and he described how everyone could successfully do it. 

Chavis has been dedicated to urban farming for over 18 years. He said he became involved in the industry by way of his relationships with Black farmers. His early work in the 2000s revolved around connecting food desert communities or communities that don’t have access to healthy food to African American farmers. He would go into the communities, sell products and then watch people leave with a little more hope than when they got there.

For him, he said, farming and being a liaison for the community is his passion and it’s fun.  

He said he gets something healthy out of it, and he knows thousands of people across central Virginia will too.  

Chavis said the coronavirus pandemic has caused people to really open their eyes to see where their food is really coming from and he believes that’s for the best.  

“I think the pandemic has really awakened people’s desire to get closer to where their food comes from. People lost their jobs,” he said. “On top of the stress of not having a lot of money, the fact when people go to grocery stores it was all these limits on how much you could buy when you went to the grocery store. People started to feel the pressure of food insecurity.” 

He said that lead to a nationwide push to help those in need.  

“I saw an explosion of people all across the country, clamoring to get involved in this type of practice,” he said.  

Chavis said the produce that’s currently at the “Black Space Matter” exhibit at the ICA is open for the public to take.  

He said The Happily Natural Day will be back out in the community, delivering garden beds to people in the community, starting the beginning of spring.