Art Burton of the Food Justice Corridor: There is No Such Thing as a Food Desert

Beautiful RVA: Community Story Telling: Art Burton of the Food Justice Corridor

by Lauren Francis

Arthur Burton smiles, recalling his second day in Virginia. Fresh out of Youngstown, Ohio, he hopped  in the back of his grandfather’s ‘68 Cheverlote with his head down. “He asked what was wrong with me,” Burton recalls, “and put a hoe fork in my hand — right here where the potatoes used to grow — and he said I’m going to show you how to dig potatoes, and every potato you hit, you have to eat tonight.”

The Burton family purchased the land in 1896 through the sons and Daughters of the Union Star. Arthur’s grandfather owned 13 acres total. After he was struck and killed by a car in the early 1900s, each of his six siblings received a plot of 2.5 acres of land. Arthur lives and works on the only remaining plot.

When you stand on this land, he says, you could be in 2019 or you could be in the 1800s. The land was a Civil War battlefield and in a clearing beyond what eyes can see on the farm, all of the Burtons are buried. As a boy, he would work the land with his family early in the day and then they would eat, clean up and get dressed to go into the city to fight for housing equality with his father.

“He always allowed me in the room when the men and women who were deciding and firuing out what to do were doing that work,” Burton recalls.

As a boy, he helped fight for black political representation in the City of Richmond. A fight that was led by public housing leaders. 

“A lot of organizing black people to vote was about organizing public housing residents,” he says, “The foundation of black political power in the city of richmond is public housing.”

Now Burton is a part of a vibrant network of organizations and collectives that aim to empower those most affected to create and sustain their own solutions to issues of housing and poverty. As the executive director of the Kinfolk Collective, which focuses on organizing and empowering public housing residents, he manages the food justice corridor. The corridor a robust network that disrupts the “cradle to prison pipeline” in the city’s southside and East End through urban agriculture. 

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