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Addressing food deserts a major focus of task force

7/23/2013, 3:16 p.m.
The city is looking to replace food deserts with healthy choices

— The final report of the Richmond Food Policy Task Force has listed a total of 17 recommendations for Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the city in the bid to affect food policy and land use planning issues in the city. These include urban agriculture, development of markets for locally-grown food, food education, child nutrition, and the development of inner-city supermarkets.

Jones established the task force in July 2011 as part of what his administration calls a "multi-pronged approach" to finding ways to address concentrated poverty in the city and advance the quality of life. A number of “food deserts” exist (areas where low-income residents have no access to grocery stores) in the city’s lower income neighborhoods, which have been found to contribute to a continuing cycle of poor health and poor outcomes for segments of the city’s population.

“I want to express my thanks to the many individuals who devoted their time and energies into researching the food system issues that exist in Richmond,” said Jones. “This document will help us chart a course to augment many of the efforts that we have already seen get underway, like the new Get Fresh East End corner story healthy food initiative that was launched last week or the food shuttle service that the city has been providing.”

The task force was comprised of community food advocates representing local government, non-profits, community advocates, urban planners, urban farmers, community gardeners, chefs, public health officials, and others with interests and expertise in the local food system. Focus area work groups were organized around the following topics:

  • Food Security – examining the availability and access to of nutritious food

  • Education and Awareness – promoting healthy eating and its impact on individual and community health and well-being

  • Health and Nutrition – examining the relationships between diet, health and disease

  • School and Community Gardens –reviewing existing initiatives that support the City’s food system

  • Quality of School Food – assessing the quality and nutritious value of school breakfast and lunch

  • Community Assessment- developing an assessment of the city’s food system

A series of community meetings were held and citizen priorities were documented. Top recommendations coming out of the task force where the city said there has already been some movement include:

  • Create a Food Policy Coordinator Position – As a first step, the city is in the final stages of signing an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission for part-time staff support in the role of a food policy coordinator who will be responsible for coordinating food related initiatives in the city and pursuing grant funds to implement other recommendations from the task force.

  • Revise zoning laws for raising fowl – The city has already acted on revisions to the zoning laws to permit the raising of chickens in the city.

  • Establish mobile farmers markets/bus routes to markets – The city has been working to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables through the RVA Shoppers’ Shuttle which provides transportation from food deserts to local shopping destinations.

  • Create edible landscapes on city owned properties - Over 300 edible trees have been planted in Chimborazo Park.

“I look forward to drilling down into all of the recommendations the Task Force has provided,” said Jones. “All of our efforts are ultimately going to empower Richmond city residents and that is how we are going to be able to build the best Richmond.”