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By Amy Lacey and Sara McCloskey

Whether you’re a patient, caregiver or member of the VCU Health team, walking through the Adult Outpatient Pavilion in downtown Richmond, you might catch a glimpse of a farm stand selling fresh treats.

The fruits and vegetables are just a portion of the 600,000 servings of local produce distributed in the metro area by Shalom Farms, a food justice nonprofit organization. Since 2018, Shalom Farms has partnered with VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center to make the farm stand possible.

“We have been meeting cancer patients and survivors for many years at our mobile markets and nutrition classes,” said Alistar Harris, Network Engagement Director for Shalom Farms. “While we are not medical professionals or experts, we know that increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables has positive health effects.”

Now, Shalom Farms is expanding its reach with seed funding from Massey’s Community Grant Initiative. Launched in 2021, the initiative focuses on advancing health and health equity and aims to alleviate the suffering of people diagnosed with cancer, from prevention to survivorship.

“With this seed funding, Massey recognizes and highlights the importance of nutrition in cancer prevention and survivorship,” Harris said.

Getting locally grown produce to people can be difficult, especially for the 13% of Richmond residents who don’t have enough food for a healthy lifestyle. That’s one reason Massey is supporting Shalom Farms’ efforts to fight hunger in the city. The $5,000 seed money will fund healthy food and cooking demonstrations, as well as a kitchen equipment bank at the community-based mobile markets.

“For us, food access and equity means that in addition to the certified, naturally grown vegetables and fruits we grow, we must also provide cooking skills, tools and recipes and meet people close to where they live and work,” Harris said. “We know that by working together, we can have a broader and deeper impact across the city of Richmond. If we want to improve both the food security and health outcomes of our residents, we must work with a diverse range of stakeholders. Changing food systems and health equity is only possible through collaboration.”

Shalom Farms is grateful to Massey for leveraging its unique position in the region to improve the outlook for people with cancer through treatment, research, training and community-based models, including seed funding. Since the program began, 16 organizations have received seed funding.