Important Updates

An Update from our Executive Director:
June 12, 2020

Two weeks ago I put on hold our normal schedule of social media posts. I wanted to pause and put out a statement of solidarity and support for what was happening across our country. I wanted to acknowledge the pain and suffering we were witnessing, and remind our white supporters that the weight of racism, white supremacy, and oppression is a daily and ongoing part of the Black experience in Richmond and beyond. I wanted to say Black Lives Matter, Black Land Matters, Black Futures Matter. But many days have passed and we haven’t said anything. I’ve managed to create various excuses for myself. “Well, it’s important we listen right now.” “What if our response feels (or is) performative?” The list goes on. But I’ve started to run out of excuses.

The fact of the matter is we’ve been too quiet for much longer than two weeks. For over 10 years Shalom Farms has been a predominantly white-led organization working in predominantly Black and Brown communities in the former “capital of the confederacy.” And for much longer than a decade, these same communities have experienced significant racial health disparities. To grossly oversimplify things, this health inequity was a big part of why Shalom Farms was started in the first place. But these disparities haven’t just happened by accident. The racial health disparities in the communities in which we partner are a direct result of the same systems of oppression and racial injustice being protested today.

To be clear, this is not news. Unfortunately, we have long been aware of the ways in which individual and systemic racism affect our Black communities – and aware of some of the ways in which an organization like Shalom Farms may actually benefit from these very systems. We’ve had multiple conversations as an organization, particularly over the last two years, about wanting to look at our work through a racial equity lens. We’ve looked at various racial equity assessments and even talked to a couple consultants. But for me, like so many others of privilege and comfort, it has been easier to put off doing the hard work. Talk, much like this statement, is cheap.

We can do so much better. I can do so much better. Shalom Farms can do so much better. We will do better. “Better” will need to mean many things. For Shalom Farms it will need to mean developing new hiring and compensation policies. It will need to mean examining our organizational norms and culture to ensure this is a place where everyone can thrive – particularly Black and Brown folks. It will mean looking at our board structure and governance priorities. It will mean examining the ways in which our budget does or doesn’t reflect our values. It will mean publicly stating our values, especially those related to racial equity and justice. And it will mean many more things, including asking you to help hold us accountable.

If social media posts are to be believed, many people of privilege are experiencing what might be described as an “awakening” in this moment. Folks are questioning systems and policies of oppression that have existed for so long. They are examining how they spend their time, talent, and treasure…and asking whether those places share a commitment to racial equity and justice. I expect and hope that our donors, volunteers, partners, and participants are and will be examining our work through that same lens in the coming months.

In the meantime, there continues to be important and powerful food justice work led by Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. In fact, throughout history the most important and powerful work to dismantle racism in the food system has been led by Black communities and other people of color. We will continue to seek ways to better support and compliment that work, and we encourage you to do the same. A couple places to start include:

Richmond Food Justice Alliance
Resiliency Gardens
Jackson Ward Youth Peace Team

In addition to financial resources, all three organizations could use additional volunteers at their gardens and farms right now. We hope you will consider supporting their work.

If you have questions or if you want to check back in the coming months on the sincerity of our words, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly at dominic@shalomfarms.org.

With Gratitude,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

 

An Update from our Executive Director Regarding COVID-19:
April 17, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are so grateful for all the ways folks are supporting our work at this critical time. Last night we just received our first gift from someone paying forward their stimulus check. She wrote, “Thanks friends for all you do! Feds gave me $1,200, so I’m giving it to you. xoxo.” Someone else chose to start a monthly gift of $10/month to support our work through this challenging time, and in the months ahead. Whether you are able to give $10 or $1,200, we are grateful for your investment. Know that we are putting it to use right away growing and sharing healthy food with those who need it most right now.

For those of you who give by volunteering, we can’t wait to have you back with us. For now you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram for video updates from the farm! And for those of you who may have supported us in the past, but are facing new barriers and new challenges… know that we are thinking of you. Many are facing food access challenges for the first time. If we can be helpful in connecting you to resources, including our own programs and food distribution networks, please let us know. You can call 804-266-1914 or email programs@shalomfarms.org.

As things continue to ramp up, we are committed to providing ongoing updates on our work. Below are just some of the ways Shalom Farms is rising to meet the growing need for healthy food in our community:

Our Farms:
Thanks to your generous support and a grant from the Central Virginia COVID Response Fund at the Community Foundation, we have been able to hire temporary farm help during this critical time. We were honored to be among the 25 organizations funded in the first round. To date we have put 41,416 plants in the ground with many more to go! And we’ve been able to donate more than 1,000 transplants to community partners, most going to the Resiliency Garden Initiative. As our harvests start to pick up considerably, we are developing new systems to ensure we can safely harvest and pack thousands of lbs. of food each week with less volunteer labor.

Our Nutrition Distribution Partnerships:
We have been in frequent conversation with our partners at FeedMore and we anticipate growing over 250,000 servings of produce for them in the coming months. We continue to talk with FeedMore and community-based food pantries about the safest and best way to distribute this food. Among the immediate challenges is developing a plan to pack our produce in smaller units. This will reduce the amount of sorting and re-packing that volunteers at FeedMore and other agencies need to do.

Our “Grown to Go” Mobile Market:
With unemployment and underemployment growing at record rates, we are looking at ways to use our versatile Mobile Market vehicle to get healthy food to more people than ever before… including many who have never previously needed our services. We are exploring ways to get pre-bagged and/or pre-ordered produce safely to our most vulnerable neighbors. We are also in conversation with community partners about ways the market locations can be used to distribute other critical resources and information. If weather and resources allow, we hope to move up the start of our Mobile Market season from June to May!

Earning and maintaining trust has always been one of our top priorities. That is especially true during these extremely challenging times. For those of you who trust us to provide you with access to safe healthy food, please know that you are our top priority, now more than ever. And for those of you who trust us with your resources, know that your support is valued, now more than ever, and that we will continue to carefully steward your investment in building a healthy community.

For those of you still in a position to give, whether it is $10 or a $1,200 stimulus check, please know that we are grateful for your generosity and will be putting it to use right away.

With Gratitude,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

An Update from our Executive Director Regarding COVID-19:
March 26, 2020

Dear Friends,

We are extremely grateful that we can continue to do our work in these uncertain times. It seems so obvious that food production and food access work would be deemed “essential.” But how often have we taken it for granted?

For many of us this recent panic over empty grocery store shelves and shuttered farmers markets is a tiny glimpse of what thousands in our city have dealt with everyday for years… not knowing if they can access or afford nutritious healthy food. And as many of us turn to online grocery shopping, thousands who participate in SNAP (formerly the food stamp program) aren’t so lucky, as SNAP can not be used for online purchases.

It is an understatement to say that things are rapidly shifting. But we wanted to give you all a few quick updates on where our heads, hearts, and hands are as of today:

Our Farms:
If you have ever volunteered with us, then you know firsthand that volunteers are the engine behind our farming operation. Because of cancellations and safety restrictions, we are anticipating a reduction of 12,000 volunteer hours over the next three months. Some of that is being made up by increases in our Lead Volunteer program and by shifting our program and admin staff to more regular farm work. But this is all happening at a critical time for the farm when 35,000 spring plants are set to go in the ground in the next 4 weeks. We will continue to use best practices and consult experts about how and when to safely increase the use of volunteers. But in the meantime, we will need to hire more seasonal staff.

Our Programs:
We have streamlined our winter distribution efforts and are carefully assessing where we might need to shift our food access efforts over the next three months. We want to be prepared to meet the growing need for our services while complying with all safety regulations. This means listening carefully to our community partners and program participants to ensure we are getting the right food, to the right place, in the right way. And it means we are working closely with state officials to ensure that our mobile market and other distribution efforts are able and ready to operate under any restrictions that may be put in place.

Our Finances:
Our top financial priority is to secure the $25,000 needed to hire 4 additional temporary farm staff to fill gaps over the next 2-3 months. A request to meet this need is currently being considered by a local foundation. Beyond that our focus is on securing funding to ensure we can respond to whatever the unpredictable and unprecedented need looks like this spring and summer. We know that we may need to distribute food in more costly ways to ensure the most vulnerable still have access.

It is too early to know how much the need may increase or how many of our traditional funding streams may dry up in the coming weeks. As we know more, we will share more. But if you are in a position to, please consider making an investment in this work. And know that your gift today means we can respond to the needs of our community tomorrow.

If you have questions about our work, our safety measures, or our financial needs please don’t hesitate to email me at dominic@shalomfarms.org or call me on my cellphone at (336) 263-3654.

With Gratitude,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

A Letter from our Executive Director Regarding COVID-19:
March 17, 2020

Rarely have the simple words “we belong to each other” felt more true or more complex. We take very seriously our privilege and role in providing healthy and responsibly grown produce to the communities that need it most. And we have every reason to believe the need will only grow in the days ahead. However, we also take very seriously the role each of us play in “flattening the curve” and curbing this crisis. So for us “belonging to each other” means carefully balancing the demands of food production and distribution with the urgent need for social distancing.

To that end, we will not be scheduling any additional volunteers through at least May 17th. We hope that can change, but we want to err on the side of caution as well as avoid unnecessary scheduling and rescheduling. In the meantime, farm work will be limited to our staff and a small number of previously scheduled adult volunteers – mostly our vetted and trained “Lead Volunteers” – and never more than 7 volunteers on the farm at a time. This means we will be reaching out to many of you to cancel or reschedule your group for a later date.

We will continue to take extra precautions to ensure the long term safety of our community as well as the health of staff, volunteers, and the food we produce. In addition to our pre-existing food safety handling protocols we are also adopting enhanced protocols during all work, especially harvest and packing. These measures include but are not limited to, daily screening of anyone on the farm, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces (like bucket and tool handles) after every use, requiring the use of gloves where appropriate, washing all fabrics daily including gloves after every use, and organizing/assigning work in a way that allows workers to maintain a safe distance from others.

Currently the FDA says there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. We will continue to closely monitor updates from CDC, VDH, VDACS, and FDA. And we will continue to think strategically about the safest ways to get our produce to the community. We have already begun consolidating deliveries, shifting to a drop off system that limits human interactions, and increasing sanitation during delivery.

Most importantly, we recognize the importance of staying home if anyone displays ANY symptoms of COVID-19 or has any reason to believe they may have come in contact with someone who might be carrying COVID-19. To that end, we will continue providing paid sick leave to all employees including part time and seasonal farm staff.

We don’t want to overwhelm your inbox or newsfeed, but we will provide additional updates as appropriate in the coming days and weeks. If you have any questions or concerns, I can be directly reached at dominic@shalomfarms.org. For those currently experiencing food insecurity or looking to volunteer, we recommend our partners at:

Richmond Public Schools: https://www.rvaschools.net/Page/7351
Feed More: https://feedmore.org/

Be good to yourself and each other in the coming weeks…and remember that in almost all cases “being good to each other” right now means avoiding each other and finding other ways to build community.

Thank you,

Dominic Barrett
Executive Director

 

 

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