Twelve-year-old Kayla sits down to eat dinner with her mother and two brothers. She has herself to thank for much of the food on the table. Before the fresh vegetables landed on Kayla’s plate, they were at a food pantry, and prior to that they were in the dirt at Shalom Farms in Goochland. Just several months before, Kayla had helped plant some of those very same potatoes at Shalom Farms.
A year-old initiative of United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond (UMUMR), Shalom Farms aims to fight hunger in urban Richmond by growing healthy food not only for, but with area families. “We’re doing this from farm to fork,” says Program Director Dominic Barrett. “Sustainability is such a buzz word these days. Sure, it means being sustainable in our farming practices. But it’s just as important that we think of sustainability in terms of how we address food security, education, and nutritional issues in Richmond.”
Shalom Farms is at the intersection of many major issues—poverty, hunger, environmental stewardship, and even obesity. “We are realizing more every day that it’s all connected. What we eat and where it comes from impacts so many things,” says Barrett. The program’s goal is to do more than just provide food for those in need. It seeks to build relationships and break cycles of hunger by sharing the tools to eat healthy for a lifetime.
So while Kayla was playing in the dirt of a potato patch, she was also learning about eating healthy and growing her own food. Dozens of other kids did the same thing last summer and fall and many more will do the same this year.
But Kayla and the other children in her program can’t plant, nurture, and harvest the thousands of pounds of produce by themselves. “This is such a beautifully collaborative effort, and it has to be,” says new farm manager Steven Miles. “We have retirees working alongside college students working alongside families and church groups. We need all the help we can get.”
Almost all the work done at the farm is by volunteer “Shalom Farmers.” A few of those volunteers have gardening or farming experience, but the vast majority has only a desire to make a difference and fight hunger. The collaborative nature of the program doesn’t end with the volunteers. The farm was started with help from Virginia Cooperative Extension and sits on land belonging to Westview on the James, a United Methodist camp and retreat center located in Goochland County. The Central Virginia Food Bank distributes the produce to Shalom Farm’s community partners.
“These types of partnerships and collaborations allow Shalom Farms to grow ‘small potatoes’ that can combat big issues,” says Barrett. “The only way to fight hunger in Richmond or anywhere is to break the cycles and systems that surround it, and none of us can do that alone.”