Community Storytelling: Sunpath Family Farm
by Lauren Francis
Four years ago, Alia Chambers started growing cucumbers and tomatoes with her son. They started small, just growing in cups on their deck. They’d just moved to Southside. It was an invonvient drive to the grocery store — at least twenty minutes each way — but not impossible, since she had a car. But over time she started to notice that her neighbor, Mr. Green, was going to the convenience store for all of his food.
“We would see him walking back and forth to the convenience store up the street and that was his only access to food,” she explained to me at the garden’s first Harvest Party last November. “He didn’t have a vehicle so he would just constantly walk back and forth to the convenience store for his food and he eventually fell ill.”
A few months into potted tomatoes and cucumbers, she quit her job and transformed her entire backyard into a farm.
“[He] disappeared for like six months and we didn’t know where he was until he eventually ran into his family and they said he had been in the hospital sick with high blood pressure because of his diet. That was a huge inspiration for me,” Chambers says, “because it actually happening because here you have a man – -a gentleman — who has no access to fresh, affordable produce. He literally fell ill within a few months just by surviving off of convenience store food. So that really inspired me to say okay we’re going to create access for the people at least in my neighborhood and our block and go from there.”
To keep the effort economically sustainable, she focuses on high volume micro-gardening where she is turning over beds within thirty days of planting seeds.
As the agrilcutural consultant for the Richmond Food Justice Alliance, she now helps manage gardens across the city in addition to her backyard garden and upstairs grow room.
“The Food Justice Corridor is an overarching project with thirty plus organizations with people in housing, social work, farmers, churches — all towards creating a different and local food system. We do have a focus on empowering residents,” outreach coordinator Victoria Lynn explains, “We don’t have to rely on certain services and programs that have been more of a bandaid.”
In her role as an agricultural consultant, Chambers is assisting with creating farms at nine different Richmond Public Schools and six churches throughout the designated corridor that the organization has outlined, spanning through the city’s Southside and East End.
Chambers and Lynn have just returned from planting seeds in the new garden at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School garden when we meet up. They are turning crops in the micro-farm for their bi-weekly garden box, featuring fresh produce from the farm and homemade kombucha from Lynn’s company, come’bucha. After we leave the interview, they go to Arthur Burton’s farm just outside of CHesterfield where they are growing more produce to include in their garden boxes and share with neighbors.
“We used to be the farmers and a hundred years later,” Chambers says, “it’s like we’re not anymore.”
Through her many efforts with Herbal Worx, a program with Lynn that teaches people how to use herbs and spices from the garden holistically, the garden boxes and gardens she’s helping to start across the city, Chambers helps to return Black people to being self-sufficient off of the land.
Sunpath Family Farm
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