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VCU Summit Tackles Richmond's 'Food Deserts'

Sign in front of community garden
The McDonough Community Garden in Richmond's Southside is one example of efforts to expand access to fresh produce. (Photo: Jakob Cordes/VPM)

On Friday, public policy researchers, government officials and local food bank leaders convened remotely to discuss ways to improve food access for Richmond citizens.

The summit, hosted by VCU, offered recommendations for public policy, including developing mobile applications to connect farmers to buyers and partnering with nonprofits to improve the availability of fresh food.

According to data collected by the USDA and the Reinvestment Fund, a neighborhood revitalization nonprofit, Richmond has several neighborhoods with limited access to groceries. Often, this is a result of inadequate public transportation and so-called ‘food deserts’ - areas with no grocery stores or other sources of fresh produce. This can be a major health issue, because people in these areas are forced to rely disproportionately on fast food and convenience stores.

Sarin Adhikari, an economist at VCU, recommended finding new uses for abandoned plots in the city. “There is a possibility that small-scale hydrocultural industry as such could be established in poor city areas by reusing disused industrial parcels,” he said.

Similar proposals to encourage urban farming were part of a 2013 city-backed study, which identified a few vacant city buildings for potential development. As of 2020, those projects haven’t been pursued.

Sherif Abdelwahed, an engineering professor at VCU, said the group would convene again next year, and that in the meantime they’re soliciting research proposals to seek grant funding from the National Science Foundation. The group will publish a complete report on the summit later this year.

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