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Activist Duron Chavis Revitalizes the Hood with Urban Agriculture

Duron Chavis is an advocate for the African community and coordinator of innovative and dynamic initiatives on the topics of poverty, urban agriculture, and food security.

Duron Chavis started his career in community advocacy as first a volunteer, then an employee of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virgina. He worked as a museum coordinator developing programs and conducting guided tours for groups of all ages and backgrounds. In 2003, he founded the highly acclaimed Happily Natural Day Festival as a grassroots effort to supplement the summer jazz concert that was held annually at the institution. The festival is a weekend long experience held annually in both Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA that focuses on cultural awareness, health, wellness and social change. Chavis has worked with Dr. Llaila Afrika, Dr. Phil Valentine, Hakim Bey, Dr. Neely Fuller, Queen Afua, Runoko Rashidi, Ashra Kwesi, Ashanti Alston, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, dead prez, Popmaster Fabel and several other community activists, scholars, and organizations from all over the country.

Currently, Chavis is engaged in coordinating innovative and dynamic initiatives around the topics of urban agriculture and food security in a culturally relevant way. In 2009, Chavis launched the Richmond Noir Market, a Saturday Farmer’s Market targeting low income communities located in what the USDA has designated as food deserts in Richmond, Virginia. 2012 marked the development of the McDonough Community Garden, an urban agriculture project that promotes sustainable food growing, horticultural therapy and environmental stewardship. 

Chavis has received numerable accolades for his work. In 2011 he served as a Clean Air Ambassador on behalf of Earth Justice and the Hip Hop Caucus. He is an alumni of Leadership Metro Richmond’s class of 2011. He also received Style Weekly’s Top 40 under 40 award in 2010 and the Style Weekly Power List in 2014 and 2015. Chavis served as the inaugural director of the Harding Street Urban Ag Center; a recreation center repurposed into an indoor farm by VSU. Currently, Chavis serves as Community Engagement Coordinator for Lewis Botanical Garden.

I recently had the opportunity of interviewing Duron about his endeavors and community efforts. Check out the interview below:

Earlier this year in October Mr. Chavis you helped the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden win a $10,000 prize awarded to projects aimed towards increasing community health & wealthness in which you are the community engagement coordinator. How was this experience for you?

The experience of winning the 10k United Healthcare funding for Lewis Ginter was great. In the larger scheme of addressing food insecurity in marginizalized communities, it is definitely a step forward in a great direction. The idea will require collaboration with municipal and corporate partners and therein lies the challenge. Collaboration takes work, time and compromise. 
The award was given to the garden for it’s special “Grow Box” can you explain how this invention works?
The “GrowBox” is an indoor growing space on wheels. The plants are grown without use of soil in an aeroponic system. Aeroponics is a growing method that suspends the roots of the plant in air. The plant receives its nutrients through a mist of water that is enriched with the elements the plant needs to grow. The plant gets its light from lamps that allow for production all year round. 
It is said that this will provide a mobile vegetable garden to low income communities and to provide access to those who aren’t near organic vegetables?
The mobility of the Growbox system will allow it to be transported anywhere there is space to park it. However, the effort is a collaboration with Richmond Virginia’s Office of Community Wealth Building and will operate primarily at the Conrad Center Culinary Arts Center during its pilot.
Do you believe that the Growbox is a sustainable revolutionary invention that will rekindle the love for agriculture and organic growth?
I believe urban agriculture as an industry has the capacity to rekindle urban communities awareness of where their food comes from. Indoor agriculture as a concept is part of that conversation and can be a catalyst for deeper appreciation of farming and as a result local farmers. Truly sustainable initatives are a by product of the community endorsement, support and their embrace. We haven’t launched the solution yet, so only time will tell. 
Do you believe urban agriculture has been a forgotten aspect of the millennial generation?
I think millennials have been a major catalyst for the rise of urban agriculture. Many younger folks are in tune to the interested and practicing and it is inspiring to see.
With increased awareness, funding, and agricultural renaissance at the college level more importantly the HBCU level; do you believe the grow box can become a significant and revolutionary step in the health reversal of urban youth?
I don’t think the Growbox alone is enough production of food is only one aspect of the food system. You have distribution, consumption, processing, all those areas have to be addressed. What would be a revolutionary step is if HBCU’s committed themselves to purchasing food locally from urban farmers. That would create jobs, and wealth in the urban core. 
What words of wisdom can you offer the next generation of activists fighting for a cause and farmers?
You can’t solve the problems of our community by yourself. Collaboration is key we are all in this together remove your ego and focus on the bigger picture. The work of empowering our community is a marathon not a sprint.

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