RVA Community Fridges is ‘rocking on community strength’
The local organization brings fresh food to vulnerable neighbors.
The organization RVA Community Fridges is outgrowing founder Taylor Scott’s Richmond apartment. The New Orleans native, who recently made Style Weekly’s "Top 40 Under 40" list, is tackling food waste and expanding access to healthy food in Richmond.
She spoke to Morning Edition host Phil Liles recently about how her project is expanding to feed the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. This past weekend, the organization installed a new refrigerator, filled with free fruit and vegetables in Southside at Fonticello Food Forest, a community garden in Carter Jones Park.
The organization is applying to become a full-fledged nonprofit and will soon be opening a Northside kitchen that allows for more food storage and prep.
Here’s an excerpt from that conversation. It's been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Editor's note: Style Weekly is owned by VPM Media Corp., the parent company of VPM News.
VPM News: Taylor, as you know, some neighborhoods in Richmond are considered food deserts, meaning that there's no affordable sources of fresh, healthy groceries in walking distance. So how [have the refrigerators] helped that?
Taylor Scott: We aim to deter food deserts — what we like to describe as food apartheids — by putting up 24/7 accessible community fridges. And those are free food just like the ones you have in your home. And we go and stock them throughout the week with free, fresh local produce from our community partners. And we aim to put them wherever there is need in our community.
Now, who are some of those community partners that you were speaking of?
We enjoy partnering with local farms: Shalom Farms, Seasonal Roots and Shine Farm. And we also partner with the local community gardens.We partnered with Duron Chavis and his Happily Natural Day and Sankofa Community Orchard as well as Broad Rock Community Garden.
Now this all started because you were growing tomatoes in your apartment. And you had so many, you decided to share them?
Yes, I started growing way too many plants. [There are] too many tomato plants to even count at this point. I had a hydroponic planter. It grew 30 plants. And I was like, "Let me start growing tomatoes because I wanted to reduce my own carbon footprint, learn about how plants grow, where plants come from, just more nutritional facts about what I eat and consume." And when I harvested those tomatoes and realized that I didn't really know much about cooking, or preserving or canning or any type of methods of actually eating those tomatoes — besides trying to smash them up in a pasta — I didn't know what to do.
I ended up being on the phone with one of my friends in California. And she mentioned putting them in a community fridge. I knew what they were because I grew up in New Orleans where there are community fridges. So I was like, "Let me look for community fridges here." And I didn't find any, so I reached out to the community that was nearest to me out in Church Hill, and they were like "We would...we would love a fridge." So we band together as a community and we put one up in 2021 Jan. 28. We now have 13 and it is crazy.
How would you say your work is helping to solve the issue for those in need in the area?
I would say it is a great resource because we're not really asking questions or policing. For a lot of our community members that come to the fridge, and they discuss why they are so appreciative of the fridges, it really is a main point that we didn't have to ask them about their situation, where they came from, their economic status, how old they were, any questions like that. We also provide a range of produce, whereas a lot of times in the food banks, they get the same exact thing over and over again. And a lot of it may just be pantry goods. So they're looking for more variety in the fresh local produce range. We're working together to get a kitchen now to have a way for the community to come together and make prepared meals.
So how easy is it to set up free fridges in the different areas that you go into?
It's actually physically rather easy to just move the fridge and tell the community, "Hey, we have a community fridge here, please come by take whatever you need, leave whatever you can." For the actual behind the scenes of setting up a fridge, I would say it is a little bit of work. Outside of making sure there's a proper, working outlet, keeping the fridge running does take work outside of keeping it stocked, keeping it clean. Right now, we actually have a fridge that's down because of the heat. So now we put up fridge shelters so they don't overheat.
How do you decide where they go?
Most of the time, the community tells us. A lot of the time the community suggests host location sites. So, we have a website and on our website you're able to sign in and become a volunteer. You can let us know if you also want to paint a fridge on there as well.
What about vandals? Have your fridges been vandalized at all?
Yes, we actually had a vandalism this past week. It happens very seldomly and generally it happens from community members who are in need of resources and assistance. And a thing that we are big on is not policing. So, we don't try to make it like a big deal or to have repercussions happen to the person that vandalizes the fridges. We've had extension cords taken, just for the copper. So just finding ways to provide those resources to people who I guess vandalize the fridges and really work together and form a better community, I guess, is our goal. It really has only happened like three times.
Now, does the city of Richmond help you in any way?
They do not. We are fully volunteer-ran by our community of Richmond. We are currently in the steps of filing to be a 1023-EZ to be a nonprofit, which I'm sure will provide a lot of opportunity for more community partners. But currently, for the last two and a half years, we have just been solely rocking on community strength. And it's been wonderful.