Petersburg urban farmer trains students in how to thrive in a food desert.
PETERSBURG — Rather than spending their spring break at a beach or another popular end-of-winter destination, several Petersburg students spent the week off getting up at 5 a.m and spending each day learning about urban gardening during a special “How to Survive in a Food Desert” program hosted by local urban farmer Tyrone Cherry.
“I hope they understand what a food desert is, and that they live in one, but that it does not become intimidating to them,” said Cherry. “And I hope they actually feel empowered by what they learn here to live healthy in this food desert, and for their families to be able to sustain themselves.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a food desert as an area where a grocery store is not available within a mile in urban communities or 10 miles in rural areas; and defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Many neighborhoods in Petersburg fall under the category of a food desert.
The program led by Cherry went beyond simply teaching how to plant vegetables, and showed the students how to make all aspects of their lives healthier.
Each day started off with a meditation session and a 1-mile walk or run. Breakfast and lunch were both made with fresh ingredients that you would find in a garden. The students also learned how to make fresh bread, biscuits, tea and other things using only natural ingredients. A special class on urban beekeeping was on the schedule, as well as sessions covering composting and rain barrels. Students also built a chicken coop in Cherry’s yard, which has been converted with many flower beds where area youth have grown crops for several years now.
Cherry also led the students on college tours at Virginia State University and Virginia Union University, and made a stop at the Crater Health District building to get their blood pressure checked.
Local artist Steven Casanova came on Thursday to teach the students how to make fresh biscuits. Casanova had one of the students read out the long list of ingredients in a Popeye’s biscuit to contrast that recipe with the one they were using, with only flour, baking soda, salt, butter and beef stock.
“I don’t need a laundry list when eating,” he said, as he showed students how to roll the dough.
Casanova also talked about knowing where your food comes from, and why it is made a certain way. “It’s important to know the history and to know what you’re eating to participate in the lineage,” he said.
Cherry plans on starting an after-school program centered around urban farming as the weather gets warmer.
“The gardening, the backyard farming, this is how I survived in this food desert,” said Cherry. “I wanted to show them if I could do it, they can do it too.”
John Adam may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 804-722-5172.