Sunday Story: Feeding the community –


On a Wednesday afternoon, the Fonticello food forest in Carter Jones Park on the South Side is alive and festive. Half a dozen volunteers push wheelbarrows full of chocolate loam toward empty raised beds. There are tables lined with boxes and coolers full of food, free to take away, donated by the online farmer’s market Seasonal roots and by Hatch helps, a donation-based program that prepares 1 liter frozen meals for nonprofits in the area. For two hours from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., a few people stop to stock up on bags of groceries to take home, but most of the time it’s impossible to tell who is there to help and who is. there to help you. And that, says Laney Sullivan, co-founder of Fonticello Food Forest, is the whole problem.

Inspired by their years of working with self-help organizations such as Richmond Food no bombs, Sullivan and Jameson Price, the musical duo known on stage as Høly River (formerly Lobo Marino), went through the process of claiming the land as a community garden after learning of its availability in a Richmond 300 Meet. Now the space is the site of the weekly Free Farmstand Wednesday food redistribution program which works in partnership with Food Not Bombs and RVA community refrigerators.

The food is for anyone who wants it, says Sullivan. “Sure, it’s for the people who need it, but we don’t want to stigmatize it. It is not the haves who give to the have-nots. We are all a human family in this broken system, and the more abundance we can create for one another, the better off we will all be.

This day is also Sullivan’s birthday, and there is energy to be saved from a group of children led by local artist Lily Lamberta in an impromptu ‘Circus of the Sun’, parade and a performance that the children together invented honors this star that gives life.

The food forest is an oasis for the youngsters of the neighborhood, with a strong secret hidden among the brambles and an open circle of logs to gather and perform. Puppets and giant flags dance against a cotton candy cloud sky as children’s voices ring out.

On a nearby picnic table, there’s an assortment of seedlings, in Dixie and Solo cups, set up for a seed swap. RVA Community Fridges founder Taylor Scott combs through the seedlings and awaits the boxes of food she’ll pick up and redistribute among her organization’s three free fridge sites in Richmond and Petersburg. Scott has set himself an ambitious goal of opening one refrigerator site per month in 2021, and connecting with the food forest takes him even closer to that goal.

Although a community garden in spirit, the food forest of Fonticello is more than raised beds and redistribution. It’s a gateway to thinking about food differently, with a permaculture-based design that includes native plants, fruit trees, and other perennials.

“People only think of certain plants as food – tomatoes and cucumbers and things like that,” Sullivan says, “but there is an abundance of native plants that are edible: violets and dandelions, chickweed, all kinds of things that are in abundance all around us. that we can eat. As she speaks, Sullivan reaches out and plucks a cluster of buds from a tree. It’s black locust, she explains, native, edible, with a heavenly floral character – a culinary wonder that grows wild for all to enjoy.

As for the garden itself, these raised beds will be planted with an assortment of herbs and vegetables. Volunteer Vanessa Kennedy has been working on the flower beds for the past few weeks. For her, it’s about creating something meaningful for her neighborhood; this is her seventh year living half a block from the park. “I want to be a part of this project because it is so worth it,” she says. “We have to be able to feel what we’re doing and let our people understand where food comes from and that eating food that grows on earth is better for you than a bunch of junk food. If we can get the word out by doing this project and getting the kids involved, it’s worth it. “

Co-founder Price notes that creating spaces like the food forest is a process open to everyone in the city. “If people, through their neighborhood associations and their parks department, occupy these plots and use them as community gardens, we create long-term green spaces,” he says.

Sullivan and Price categorically agree that the Fonticello Food Forest is part of a larger ecosystem, which relies on self-help work carried out across the city, and which they hope will become increasingly community-powered.

For anyone interested in participating, says Price, find the nearest community garden and lend a helping hand. “We didn’t start here,” he says. “We had worked with Earth and with community-led organizations and in partnership with the city before that. It is the manifestation of what we learn from these experiences to make our community better. “

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