This installment in our #WarriorCrushWednesday series spotlights someone who truly saw a need in her community and addressed it head on. We met Alia Chambers when she spoke on a panel about food justice and shared all about her urban farming practice and educating youth about nutrition and farming from her backyard.
Last August, I sat at my desk at work and listened to a podcast by pastor Devon Franklin called “Reclaiming My Time” in which he referenced congresswoman Maxine Waters’ famous proclamation in which she literally repeated “reclaiming my time” until others started to take notice and respect her time. Tears started to stream down my face as it felt like the message was just for me. For so many years I sat at this desk giving my time to someone else. I was angry, depressed, unfulfilled, and stressed out because I was completely over my job. I would get to work, turn on my computer, read my first couple of emails and just cry because I felt so trapped.
I’ve always felt that I was destined to do some type of work for my community but for a long time I couldn’t figure out what that work was. I spent nearly ten years employed by the federal government as a contract specialist buying parts for the military. During that time, I bought a house on Richmond’s Southside. It was close to my job, but after moving in, I quickly realized how far I’d have to drive to get to a quality grocery store. This really mattered to me since I care very much about nutrition and fresh, organic produce.
A year later, my boyfriend moved in and we started growing vegetables in containers and pots in the backyard because we were over the lack of access that we had to fresh organic produce. We started frequenting local farmer’s markets and building relationships with local farmers. It was around this time that we watched a documentary produced by Virginia State University entitled, “Living in a Food Desert” and it made us fully aware that we were living in the heart of the nation’s largest food desert per square foot.
I felt compelled to do something about it; I had found my purpose. I took a leap of faith, quit my job, and withdrew my life’s savings to start an urban farm in my backyard. Sun Path Family Farm was born.
My goal was to not only provide community members access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables, but to educate as well. We recently partnered with the Girls For a Change summer program, Camp Diva. This nonprofit camp empowers girls of color to visualize bright futures for themselves through programming. The girls came to our backyard farm where we gave them a tour and introduced them to urban farming and the powerful benefits of it. We also had conversations about wellness and nutrition and the importance of growing your own food. They even drew designs of what their future farm would look like.
Everyday, I actively choose to be a part of the solution, instead of complaining about the problem of how and why we got here. I’ve only recently learned about all these trendy terms like “food deserts” or “food justice.” I’m just following my heart, doing what I feel is right. I’ve discovered a way to combine my passion with a purpose and it feels great. My life finally has the meaning and sense of fulfillment I had been longing for. Through building an urban farm system that will eventually expand into other plots and backyards in the city, Sun Path Family Farm will be a source in the city for fresh, local produce. I envision that our farm will become a learning center and will employ those who may not be able to get traditional employment elsewhere.
While I don’t have all the answers, I feel like the first step is educating the community about health and nutrition and attempting to reconnect individuals with their food and where it comes from. The biggest challenge we face as an urban farm is simply that we are carving out our own paths. We are in uncharted waters, and there is no template or roadmap to follow. We simply want to be a part of the local food movement that is brewing across the country. I realize that we can’t save everyone, but I just want to be an inspiration to others who might be interested in gardening or farming and I also want to instill in our youth a connection with nature and the benefits of growing your own food. At the end of the day, I’m just following my dad’s mantra who so lovingly challenges his children to “be the one.”
You can learn more about urban farming and the amazing work of Sun Path Family Farms here.
Need more inspiration? Read more inspiring #WarriorCrushWednesday stores here.