When the pandemic started in March, Navi Johnson and her family were busy putting in a garden behind her mother’s house in Church Hill. They planted okra, cucumber, squash, kale, cabbage and tomatoes into the three raised beds, filling up the entire backyard.
“As it grew and progressed, I started to notice that more African Americans were growing gardens after the pandemic. It seemed to spike during the protests and riots, when stores were looted or had to close early. Many of us are located in food deserts, where the only access to food is a gas station or fast food. It seemed like people were learning how to be self-sufficient with their own gardens,” Johnson said.
“I thought, ‘Let’s celebrate it. Pool our resources together and put it in one place so that we can take care of one another,’ ” she added.
And that’s how the RVA Black Farmers Market was born.
Last Saturday, the RVA Black Farmers Market had its first public market in the pouring rain. Roughly 10 local vendors brought kale, mint, basil, squash and tomatoes, and people showed up in the driving rain to support them.
“We had so much success, we decided to have another one this Saturday,” Johnson said.
This Saturday, she hopes there will be double the vendors — around 22 — selling everything from fresh produce to fresh baked bread, homemade cookies, vegan dishes, arts, crafts and jewelry.
A recent story from CNN News noted that there were only 45,500 Black farmers — roughly 1.3% of all U.S. farmers — in the United States in 2017. Over 100 years ago, that number was quite different. In 1920, the USDA reported 925,708 Black farmers, roughly 14% of all farmers at the time. According to the article, Black farmers have been driven off their land over the years and faced discrimination from the Department of Agriculture.
“The goal of the RVA Black Farmers Market is to communicate with one another. See who’s growing what and meet each other,” Johnson said. “It creates a trust in the community, taking care of each other via food.”
Last Saturday, one of the vendors brought a tray of vegan macaroni and cheese to share; another made fresh home fries from his home-grown potatoes to sample. Several vendors sold out of their produce.
Normally, the RVA Black Farmers Market will be held the third Saturday of every month — that’s Sept. 19, Oct. 17 and Nov. 21, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The market is held in the parking lot at The Way of the Lord Fellowship at 1700 Blair St. in Randolph, near Virginia Commonwealth University.
“My hope is that every time, the market will be a little different and offer something new,” Johnson added.
Growers and vendors interested in participating can email Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org. While the market seeks to highlight Black growers and vendors, all are welcome to attend.
More information on the RVA Black Farmers Market can be found on its Instagram page at www.instagram.com/rvablackfarmersmarket.