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Addressing hunger in Richmond, Shalom Farms expands efforts with Massey seed grant

VCU Massey Comprehensive Center’s grant program is growing community-led health initiatives throughout Virginia.

People standing on a farm with a big check Shalom Farms is one of Massey’s 2024 seed grant recipients. (VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center)

By Amy Lacey and Sara McCloskey

Whether you’re a patient, caregiver or VCU Health team member walking through the Adult Outpatient Pavilion in downtown Richmond, you may catch a glimpse of a farm stand with fresh goodies.

The fruits and vegetables are just some of the 600,000 servings of local produce distributed in the metro-area by Shalom Farms, a nonprofit and food justice organization. Since 2018, Shalom Farms has partnered with VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center to make the farm stand happen.

“For many years now, we have encountered cancer patients and survivors through our mobile markets and food skills classes,” said Alistar Harris, the network engagement director for Shalom Farms. “While we are not clinicians or experts, we know that an increase in the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has positive health outcomes.”

Now, Shalom Farms is growing its outreach with a seed grant from Massey’s Community Grant Initiative. Started in 2021, the initiative focuses on promoting health and health equity and aims to reduce the suffering of those diagnosed with cancer, from prevention through survivorship.

“Through the seed grant, Massey is acknowledging and highlighting the importance of diet in cancer prevention and survival,” Harris said.

Getting locally grown produce into people’s hands can be difficult, especially for the 13% of Richmonders who lack access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. This is one of the reasons why Massey is supporting Shalom Farms’ efforts to address hunger in the city. The $5,000 seed grant is funding healthy food and cooking demonstrations, along with a kitchen tool bank at its community-based mobile markets.

“For us, food access and justice means that in addition to the Certified Naturally Grown vegetables and fruits that we grow, we also need to offer kitchen skills, tools, recipes and meet people close to where they live and work,” Harris said. “We know that through collaboration, we can have a wider and deeper impact across the City of Richmond. If we are to improve both food security outcomes and health outcomes for our residents, then we need to work with a wide range of stakeholders. Food systems and health equity systems changing are only possible through collaboration.”

Shalom Farms is grateful to Massey for using its unique position in the region to shift and improve the outcomes for people who live with cancer through treatment, research, training and community-centered models, including the seed grant. Since the program began, 16 organizations have received seed grants.