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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Richmond’s Black Community Addresses Food Deserts

Aug 31, 2020 11:00AM ● By Taneasha White
Nikiya Ellis, an urban farmer, beekeeper and birth doula, says that environmental justice is racial justice, defining it as the regeneration of the Earth. Her hand in this work looks like a push for food justice for communities of color in the Richmond area. Food justice, defined by NYC nonprofit Just Food, is “Communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food.”

Ellis does this work through regenerative agriculture and climate resilience in these same communities. Both practices focus on giving communities the resources they need to be self-sufficient. Climate resilience focuses on preparedness for events that will likely be altered due to the continued changes in the ecosystem. It is often related to short-lived events such as torrential rain and wildfires, but can also apply to more long-term changes like air pollution and rising sea levels. Her regenerative agriculture work focuses on growing native plants and composting, in addition to the development of urban greenspace on empty lots, dismantling the idea that in order to grow our own food we have to own acres of lush, green land.

Black urban Richmonders are not unique in the challenge of access to healthy food. “The origins of environmental justice are found within the work of Black people advocating against the harmful policies enacted against them. The lack of healthy food in communities of color is an act of environmental injustice,” says Ellis. She notes that while her work of environmental justice ultimately benefits everyone, there is an intention to her efforts. “It is explicitly for Black people who have been intentionally harmed by environmental injustice in urban spaces.”

Unfortunately, Richmond is a textbook food desert in several areas. Through her community supported agriculture (CSA) program Diverse CSA, Ellis is able to both support local farmers and deliver fresh produce and eggs to folks throughout the city.

Fresh food delivery and keeping bees is not the only way Ellis gives back to the community. “As a doula, I work with my community from birth, and the world we’re bringing children into is not safe, depending on what your ethnicity is and what zip code you live in. As a steward of the land, I feel it’s my duty in more ways than one to do as much as I can to promote the survival of our pollinator friends, so I’m teaching children to be guardians of the land through beekeeping and farming.”

Ellis plans to continue this work, and wants to see Richmond put its Black communities first in this push for health and environmental justice. “I would like to see communities of color receive resources to address environmental injustice in their own communities first; that way, communities of color can address the inequities on their own terms.”

Taneasha White is a lover of words, inquisition and community, and has used her role within both literary and organizational spaces to make room for folks who are often cast aside. Founder and editor of UnSung Literary Magazine, she also co-hosts the podcast, Critiques for The Culture. For additional information, visit