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Seeding Change: A Vision for Local Movements to Reclaim Our Right to a Fair & Just Community Food System

Our movement starts at the kitchen table with families, works its way up to the lunch line at schools, and ignites discussions for a city.

Photo of Shantell Bingham
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Charlottesville Food Justice Network

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Charlottesville Food Justice Network is a coalition composed of members representing 30 organizations from non-profits, city departments, and healthcare organizations. City Schoolyard Garden Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville Local Food Hub Thomas Jefferson Health District International Rescue Committee New Roots Trinity Episcopal Bread & Roses Virginia Foodshed Capital Loaves & Fishes Blue Ridge Area Foodbank New Branch Farm UVA Institute of Environmental Negotiation Casa Alma Virginia Cooperative Extension Piedmont Virginia Community College-Community Garden Market Central PB&J Fund Growing for Change Nourish Our Neighborhoods Charlottesville City Schools City of Charlottesville: Human Services, Parks & Recreation, Neighborhood Development Services, City Market, Public Works-Climate Protection, Office of Human Rights, Office of Economic Development, Social Services Representatives from: UVA Health System, Aetna, and Sentara Martha Jefferson

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The City of Charlottesville is located in the state of Virginia, 27km^2 and home to 50,000 residents.

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

A Tale of Two Cities

The City of Charlottesville is known for its traditional wealth, strong commitment to local food systems, numerous family-owned farms. We're home to two world heritage sites with the University of Virginia's Rotunda and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Our area is known for our robust ecosystem of farms, wineries, and festival. Over the past few decades, Charlottesville has made many national lists as a “top place to live,” “best place to retire,” or “healthy lifestyle community”. 

As a city, we represent a wide array of income and education levels, racial and ethnic backgrounds, accessibility to affordable nutritious food, and significant disparities. We one of a few refugee resettlement cities across the United States and therefore home to hundreds of families who have fled conflict to rebuild their lives. 

While our city boast an image of economic prosperity and diversity, a close look at demographic data and lived experiences of Charlottesville residents uncovers a tale of two cities—one in which health disparities cut deeply across race and class and unequal access to healthy nutritious foods is prevalent. For Charlottesville 17.5% face food insecurity, a trend that outpaces Virginia’s average of 11.9%. Between 2001-2016, the number of households receiving SNAP benefits in Charlottesville increased 160%. People with low economic resources and people of color disproportionately suffers higher rates of diet-related diseases. While the city of Charlottesville has a median household income of $54,029 and a majority white population (78%)5, within many of our low-resourced neighborhoods, the median household income is $28,309 and African-Americans and people of color comprise 47%-92% of the population.

Though inequity in our seemingly wealthy town persists, a concerted effort across multiple stakeholder groups and grassroot individuals and organizations have been working together since 2015 and has become the foundation of vision for Seeding Change.  Our journey looks to advance a more sustainable food system while healing inequities in food access along the way. To do so, our movement meets our community right where they are--at their kitchen table, to ignite dialogue about food access and affordability, local sourcing, farm worker dignity, farm vitality and resiliency, the right to grow in the city as well as race and justice. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Our community has highlighted around advancing food equity. For us, food equity is all about taking an intentional approach to engage key decision makers in our city government around policy and planning decisions to increase access to healthy and affordable food in neighborhoods where access is limited or non-existent. 

1) Environment & Land Access: Residents in Public and Subsidized housing have cultivated practices making them sustainable stewards of our environment. Two decades ago, our low-wealth residents helped to co-found our city's largest urban farms right in their neighborhoods. These gardens make up the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville (one of the Charlottesville Food Justice Network orgs), and worked to produce 17,000lbs of produce during the height of its operations. This produce was distributed free of charge to residents in the neighborhood. In addition to this production, these farms bolstered water conservation strategies, pollinator gardens, and orchards. They were the recipient of many environmental awards. Yet, due to our growing city, these farms are set to be destroyed for redeveloping housing. Our city is currently facing an affordable housing crisis so pressure to develop is strong. However, residents shouldn't have to choose between housing and the land which has been a producer for their community.

2) Diets & Inequitable Food Access: Our community has taken a systemic approach to understand food choice and diets. Embedded in our emerging understanding is the idea that people make decisions based on the choices they have access to. When it comes down to neighborhood food access, maps tell a clear story about the prevalence of fast food restaurants and liquor stores in low-income neighborhoods. Economically, residents also face greater barriers affording food that is good and sustainable. Put simply, the money they make and where they live determines the food they're able to buy.

3) Our local culture is ripe with diversity and a commitment to support our local farmers. We've been defined as a "foodie town", putting a high value on the local and sustainable production of food. However, culture around food marks it as an asset that's available for those with pockets to afford. This culture contributes to the presence of a "counter-culture" where big box stores such as Walmart, are necessary to offer prices for those that can't afford to participate in the high cost of our local food economy. We need to build a culture where everyone has the right to locally-grown and raised, produce and meats. Where farmers aren't dependent on a hand-full of high paying few, the the whole body of affordable paying many.

4) We see policy as the remedy to our local challenges. However, local food policy does not exist nor has it ever existed in our city's comprehensive plans (the document that drives development).

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

As a city, we're making progress towards understanding that disparities in health and diet-related diseases are not random phenomena, but actively created overtime. The Charlottesville Food Justice Network has sparked this progress through shifting our historical narrative and the way our city talks about the root causes of food insecurity and diets. We're working hand-in-hand to guide our community through conversations that consider race and racism's role in designing our city and the inequities we see today. The challenges we seek to tackle in 2020 to achieve our goal of a food secure future in 2050.

Our vision is one that utilizes movement building to spark change from the bottom up. We do this by engaging youth in our city schools, parents in every neighborhood, and organizational partners across our city. To date, the Charlottesville Food Justice Network has hosted more than 20 roundtables to spark dialogue on the history of our local food system that has laid the foundation of what we see today. Not only have we taken our community on a journey to uncover the whole narrative of injustice in our foodshed, but we've also engaged governing officials in discussion about policy that can make a change. 

Our coalition of organizations is effective because we meet people where they are. We have organizations like City Schoolyard Garden that have engaged youth in the cultivation of gardens in every public school in our city. Organizations like City Schoolyard Garden have begun seeding change with our city's youth. These youth are growing up questioning the state of their environment and the source of their food.

Our coalition is inspirational because we have members like the Urban Agriculture Collective that are growing in the communities most impacted by structural inequities. This organization is resident owned, and bolsters neighborhood traditions of environmental stewardship. 

Our coalition is unique due to organizations like Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes, service oriented food pantries that seek to not only provide food to feed families today but contribute participation to our network so we can grow self-sustaining families of tomorrow. 

The 30 organizations of the Charlottesville Food Justice Network are informed by the people. We have built people power to solve the challenges plaguing our inequitable food system today. We envision shifting our local culture through narrative change as a core strategy in our movement. We utilize collaboration as a mechanism to build political power through partnerships with city council. And we invest in our people and political partnerships to drive long-term systemic change through policy action. We believe we will see change in our local food system, one that tackles the challenges we see in the environment, economics, and culture. And once everyone is at our table we believe we'll be able to meet the other challenges that lay ahead in cultivating a sustainable nourishing food system for all.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email


Join the conversation:

Photo of Dr. Kelly Gehlhoff

You have a great scale to work with and excellent culture to build upon! Kudos

Photo of Mildred Mayondi

It's a good idea

Photo of Lisa (Hughes) Warren, MLA

There is something powerful about the idea of meeting people where they are to help resolve food insecurity that is also akin to the idea of decentralization. We applaud your efforts to insure community ownership of Charlottesville's future Food System and commitment to insure your solutions have real, lasting, and valuable impact. Great work!

Photo of Simone Silotti

Boa sorte! Shantell. Seu projeto me me refletir sobre cidades melhores para se viver.

Conheça o meu projeto: Sal da Terra (Latim América). Agradeço sua opinião

Photo of Shantell Bingham

Sal da Terra is awesome! Thank you for sharing your project it is similar to mine in ways! I have liked your contribution!

Photo of Vicent ST

Hi there !! Who are the stakeholders whose actions/decisions most affect the performance of the system?

Photo of Shantell Bingham

Great Question Vicent!

For our community food system, our city council lays the foundation for the type of development that happens in our city. So if our local food system isn’t performing equitably, it’s because key documents, like our City Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance, aren’t driving the food-oriented development our community needs in the way we need it.

Some examples of how this has worked:

Our city council works with our city manager to guide what our city departments do. In the past, many organizations have tried to work directly with departments like Parks& Rec, to set aside land for urban agriculture. However, without the direction of city council we were ineffective in getting the parks department to listen to our needs. With the city councils food equity initiative, we’ve been able to build out our influence and collaboration with Parks & Rec Planners in order to protect and preserve urban agriculture in our city.

Housing developers that are creating affordable housing are now considering interventions for affordable food markets and community gardens in their housing developments and collaborating with charlottesville food justice network organizations to envision that with residents.

So by our City Council making a commitment it’s had a ripple affect across our entire community.