Personality: Duron Chavis

Spotlight on Resiliency Garden project leader

5/21/2020, 6 p.m.
Hundreds of raised garden beds distributed throughout the region, ready to house healthy crops. Hundreds more in de- mand by ...

“So many people are losing their jobs and are immunocompromised right now,” Mr. Chavis says. “Being able to grow your own food helps ensure that, no matter what happens with the food system, you will be able to feed yourself.”

Meet a back-to-the-earth advocate and this week’s Personality, Duron Chavis:

Occupation: Urban farmer.

Date and place of birth: Sept. 24 in Richmond.

Current residence: North Side.

Education: Virginia State University, mass communications.

Family: My partner, Nikiya Ellis, and our children, Asaun, Zion, Kinyasa, Tahja, Kai and Mali.

Volunteer position with Happily Natural: Founder and director.

When and why Happily Natural was founded: To celebrate blackness through the promotion of holistic health, cultural identity and social change. Founded in 2003 while I worked at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, the event started as a festival celebrating blackness that instilled pride in being of African ancestry.

How Happily Natural has evolved: Happily Natural has grown to be more than a festival through its promotion of reconnecting people of color back to the land through sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. When COVID-19 dies down, we look forward to getting back to delivering the festival. But in the meantime, we are planning for a virtual version.

No. 1 objective: Right now our focus is on building food security.

Strategy for achieving it: Our primary work is urban farming and teaching people how to farm sustainably to feed their families. Our main initiative today is the Resiliency Garden project where we deliver raised beds to the community at zero cost to help increase access to healthy food for food insecure communities throughout the Richmond region during COVID-19.

Number of people you serve and how: So far, we have re- ceived more than 300 requests for raised beds across the region. To date, we have delivered more than 100 raised beds since April 1. We have developed a system of socially distanced volunteerism where folks deliver wood, build boxes and provide soil and seedlings to folks in need. We also provide online videos and instruction to help build folks’ skills in growing their own food.

We could do more: If we had more funding and volunteers, we could do more faster. As a nonprofit, specifically a black nonprofit, we know the studies show that we get less funding than our white counterparts. We also are an all-volunteer run effort so we don’t have a development staff or grant writers on our payroll to assist in our fundraising efforts.

How Happily Natural is financed: We are funded in this work through the generous contributions from community members.

Happily Natural COVID-19 response is providing: Support for the community in becoming resilient through the act of growing your own food. Farming and gardening are ways to build self-sufficiency and relieve anxiety during this stressful time. So many people are losing their jobs and are immunocompromised right now, and being able to grow your own food helps ensure that no matter what happens with the food system, you will be able to feed yourself. It’s really important. Even before COVID-19, communities of color struggled with lack of access to healthy food, but now that issue is even more amplified.