RVA Mag: Fighting for food justice in a gentrified Richmond

RVA Mag, April 23, 2019: Fighting for food justice in a gentrified Richmond

Across the city, gardens have emerged in communities of color, but the stewards don’t always match the neighborhood demographic. Without representation and community ownership, are these spaces making the food system more equitable? Not according to food justice activists like Duron Chavis, Manager of Community Engagement at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Food justice, says Chavis, necessitates equity and ownership. It’s not just about building gardens; it’s about empowering communities with the tools to take control of their own food system, which includes helping establish grow-spaces.

To understand the relationship between urban agriculture, gentrification, and food sovereignty, we have to step back to the 1930s, when redlining effectively made it impossible for black families to get home loans and amass wealth. As a result, few could afford to purchase, rehabilitate or repair their home, explains Brian Koziol, Director of Research and Policy at Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia. Even after the Fair Housing Act made housing discrimination illegal in 1968, white flight and systemic racism served to perpetuate the wealth gap that exists today between whites and people of color.

In Richmond, 86 percent of communities redlined with the label “hazardous” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s remain low-to-moderate income; 90 percent of these neighborhoods have majority-minority populations, according to researchers at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“Historically, over time, people of color in this country have been a vehicle for wealth extraction, either through labor or paying rent,” Koziol explains. “Systemically, it’s an issue of keeping people in a state of poverty through wealth extraction and resource extraction.”

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