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Vegetables were something of a foreign commodity to Asia Goode growing up in Hillside Court.
“I didn’t even know what a Brussels sprout was,” Goode said.
Goode’s family sometimes ate tomatoes and lettuce, but it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she tasted her first Brussels sprouts. Now, the 16-year-old junior at Open High School is a full-blown vegetarian, and she is leading a new effort to expand healthy food access in her neighborhood.
Dead leaves crunched beneath her Nikes in mid-November as she surveyed ground zero for her plans: a partially shaded plot behind Hillside’s recreation center on Harwood Street. Goode was laying the groundwork for a community garden on the plot, an initiative that could help improve health outcomes for her neighbors.
The South Richmond public housing community, engulfed by industrial areas, is one of the most isolated neighborhoods in the city. Its 1,055 residents are more than 3 miles from the nearest full-service grocery store that carries produce.
“We get the short end of the stick sometimes,” Goode said. “On the South Side, I don’t think people invest in areas with low-income housing enough. I don’t think that’s right. There’s people over here who deserve to be looked into and cared about.”
Goode is a standout student at one of the region’s most competitive high schools. But what truly distinguishes her, teachers and neighbors say, is her commitment to making a difference in her community.
“That is intrinsic in her,” said Barbara Haas, a librarian at Thomas C. Boushall Middle School who has mentored Goode. “Everything she is fighting for, all of her values, all of her passion, that’s coming from within her.”
Goode’s vision for Hillside has roots in her eighth-grade Earth science class at Boushall.
Her teacher, Juliane Codd Toce, taught a lesson on the environmental impact of the meat production industry and explained how it contributed to her personal decision to not eat meat.
Vegetarianism piqued Goode’s curiosity. After talking more with Codd Toce, she decided she wanted to make the same commitment, but that posed a few challenges. Fruits and vegetables are difficult to come by at Hillside. Even if she could obtain them, she didn’t know how to cook.
Over the summer, Codd Toce invited Goode to her home for a different lesson: how to prepare risotto with spinach, asparagus and artichoke hearts. When the dish passed Goode’s taste test, she was hooked. So began Goode’s crash course in vegetarianism.
“At our stores, it’s a bunch of junk food,” Goode said. “I thought, what are all these crazy vegetables? Asparagus? I’ve never even heard of that. Beets? What’s that?’”
Codd Toce introduced Goode to chard, kale and mushrooms. She showed her how to incorporate dried beans into certain dishes so Goode could consume important proteins without relying on soy products. She taught her how to pick out ripe fruits and spot soon-to-be-spoiled produce.
The pair would often visit the grocery store where Goode’s family shops, a Food Lion on Jefferson Davis Highway in North Chesterfield. Other times, they would go to stores in wealthier areas, where vegetarian and vegan products abounded.
At the stores in wealthier areas, Goode noticed the size of the produce section and the quality of produce she could buy stood in contrast to the Food Lion where her family shopped. The disparities raised discussions between the two, Codd Toce said.
“Generally, when you go to parts of town that are more poverty-stricken, the grocery stores are further apart, harder to access and the produce section is smaller and there aren’t a lot of options,” said Codd Toce, who now teaches at Binford Middle. “We talked about how unfair that is and what can we do to change that.”
It wasn’t until Goode took a class at Art 180, a nonprofit in Jackson Ward, that she learned the term “food desert,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as a neighborhood where people must travel more than a mile to reach a grocery store. Three-quarters of South Richmond qualifies for the dubious denotation.
To Goode, the term was a revelation. It crystallized the economic forces she was up against as a Hillside resident. She realized how living in one of the deserts had shaped her choices before she began spending time with Codd Toce.
“Even if I was to go to a Food Lion before all that, I would go toward the honey buns, because that’s what I knew,” she said. “When I took that class, something clicked. I knew that something was wrong.”
Two convenience stores are within walking distance of Hillside Court. It is routine to see people returning from one of them with junk food in hand, Goode said. What limited fruits and vegetables are available at the stores, if any, aren’t always fresh.
Shalom Farms operates a mobile produce stand that visits the neighborhood weekly during spring, summer and fall so residents can purchase vegetables. Otherwise, they must trek to a store.
Goode’s mother doesn’t own a car, so once a month, her older sister, who does, gives them a ride to the Food Lion, 5 miles away, where they stock up for the month. Most of the fresh produce her family buys will last a week, at most. Then, she eats frozen or canned vegetables and other nonperishables to tide her over until they can make another trip.
Goode’s family receives Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, more commonly known as food stamps. Their budget — about $300 a month — combined with the lack of access to fresh produce, makes being a vegetarian a challenge, Goode said.
Even without a self-imposed diet, people who live in low-income neighborhoods face obstacles to eating healthfully, said Duron Chavis, community engagement manager for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and one of the region’s foremost advocates for urban agriculture and community gardens.
With choices constrained by time, access and budget, families rely on corner and dollar stores, fast-food restaurants and other processed or frozen meals that are convenient but seldom healthy. Over time, those contribute to higher incidence of such chronic ailments as diabetes and heart disease.
In Richmond, community gardens have offered an entry point to healthy eating in communities where residents have few options.
“Are they helping communities get access to healthy food? Yes. Are they the solution? No,” Chavis said. “They’re a part of a continuum of decisions that need to be made in order to increase access to healthy food in the city.”
Chavis served on a task force convened by former Mayor Dwight C. Jones to study food policy and advise how the city could promote more equitable access aimed at improving health outcomes in neighborhoods like Hillside.
The panel issued a report in 2013 with 17 short- and long-term recommendations. Among those were allowing SNAP recipients to use the benefits at farmers markets, emphasizing nutritional education in city schools, and hiring a food policy coordinator to lead efforts.
Goode is working with Chavis and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Urban Gardener Program on the community garden at Hillside. The nonprofit will provide seed money for the garden and technical assistance to get it up and running in the spring.
She wants her elderly neighbors to have produce available without taking a tiresome trip to the store, and her younger ones to try something new straight from the vine. She wants the tomatoes and lettuce and potatoes and peppers they plant together to flourish. This time next year, she wants to look back on a growing season that brought a bounty to her community borne out of her ambition.
Patrice Shelton, Hillside’s tenant council president, said she believes the garden will benefit everyone in the neighborhood. She is proud the project sprung up from within Hillside.
“Everyone thinks that outside folks know better what’s needed in the community,” said Shelton, also a certified community health worker for the Richmond City Health District. “For [Goode] to step up as a youth and take the initiative is great to see.”
In 2021, Goode will graduate from Open High. She is interested in studying agriculture and sustainability, but hasn’t decided where she will apply to college.
For the moment, she is focused on the plot behind the recreation center. Nearby, a mural depicts a towering tree alongside the words: “Strong roots run deep in Hillside Court.”
More are on the way.
Born in Poland and raised in Belgium, Regine Nozice and her Jewish family fled the Nazis during World War II as refugees in their own country.
She and her sister spent much of the war hidden in a convent by a kindly mother superior and priest, evading capture with phony names and papers and their own courage and guile.
After the war, she went to work as a translator for the U.S. armed forces, fell in love and married an Army major and came to America as a war bride, crossing the stormy Atlantic in January 1947 aboard a cargo ship with a baby daughter. (“Everybody was seasick. ... I lost 15 pounds.”)
She settled first in Saltville, a small Southwest Virginia company town, overcoming culture shock to raise six children and operate a small beverage distributor with her husband until his death in 1972, at which point she took the reins and helped build the company into one of the largest in the state.
In the years since, she has traveled the world and, at 94, still comes into the office at Blue Ridge Beverage Co. several days a week as chairman emerita.
“Had a full life,” Regine Nozice Archer said with a laugh.
Indeed, she has — though she has never spent a lot of time publicly sharing her family’s story in the decades since she arrived because, in part, “I always felt millions of people went through the same thing we did. We weren’t the only ones.”
I learned about Archer from reader Walter Marston, a Richmond attorney who read my Veterans Day column about my longtime “pen pal” Nell O’Brien, who also happens to be 94. He thought of Archer, whom he has known since the 1970s through his work with the company and other distributors around the state.
“She’s an absolutely delightful person,” he said. “She is a lot of fun to hang out with. Her life story is chilling in some ways, but inspiring as well.”
And he was right.
Senior photographer Bob Brown and I made the drive to Salem to meet Archer at the headquarters of Blue Ridge Beverage, which distributes beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages across 49 Virginia counties and 16 cities from facilities in Salem, Abingdon, Lynchburg and Waynesboro.
The company employs about 475, a far cry from the early days, when the company had only 10 employees — and two of them were Archer and her husband, James M. Archer Jr. When he died, Regine took over as president at a time when, her son Bob points out, “there weren’t many women beer distributors in this country, so it was sort of tough in those days.”
“For a period of time, the vultures came out to try to take the business away from us,” he said. “We were the smallest guy on the block.”
However, the family pulled together and persevered, as all six children worked at one time or another at the company. Today, all six of the siblings remain connected to Blue Ridge, either working there or serving on the board. Bob is chairman and CEO, and his sister Jackie is president and COO.
“It all turned out just fine,” he said. “It was a hard way to learn, but as [Regine] says, ‘You do what you gotta do.’ We had a lot of help. We had great people here helping us.”
Challenging times in business must have seemed less than matters of life and death to Regine Archer after going through, you know, actual life-and-death situations. Sounds as if she views her work as a sort of adventure, an approach that continues today.
“I keep coming because every day is different,” she said. “You think you’ve seen it all, and — bingo! — there’s something else you’ve never seen before. That keeps your blood flowing.”
Bob Archer mentioned that whenever one of the kids would try to amaze their mother with some tale of woe about what happened to them, she would say, “‘Well, that was nothing. Let me tell you something,’ and then whip off something about Dunkirk or something. Then we’d say, ‘OK, you’re right. You outdid us again.’”
His mother laughed. “I haven’t done that in a long time,” she said.
In 1940, as the Germans invaded Belgium, Archer, then 15, and her parents and sister fled their home in Liege and headed for the coast — along with many others — seeking transport to England.
They hitched rides on slow trains and occasional trucks, but they mostly walked, diving into ditches when low-flying German planes strafed roadways. They had no food, eating only when generous residents along the way offered soup from large pots in front of their homes, or when they could reach the front of the line at small bakeries before they ran out of bread. They slept in barns or basement air raid shelters.
They got as far as the harbor at Calais, France, before discovering the Germans had surrounded the area, and their path of escape was blocked. Out of options, they started trudging up the beach back toward home. Along the way, they reached Dunkirk, in time to witness the famous evacuation of British soldiers trapped by the Germans. “The Miracle of Dunkirk,” it’s come to be called.
The miracle for Archer is that she and her immediate family survived at all in a place where the Germans instituted a series of anti-Jewish laws, forced Jews to wear yellow Star of David badges to mark them in public and deported Jews to concentration camps. Many members of her extended family did not survive the war.
Archer’s parents spent much of the war hiding on a farm outside Liege with the help of members of the resistance — the farm manager would sound a horn when Germans approached, signaling for Archer’s parents to flee deeper into the woods.
It was much the same at the convent, where Archer knows the mother superior covered for her and her sister, Secha (who now lives in Brussels and goes by Jacqueline, the name she adopted at the convent). Regine became Renee at the convent, but she returned to her given name after the war.
“The Germans may have called on the convent, but we never heard about it,” Archer said. “Mother superior probably had a visit and was asked, ‘Do you have any Jewish children?’ She probably said, ‘God forgive me, no, we don’t.’”
Those three weeks on the road to the coast and back stick out in Archer’s memory, particularly as she watches similar misery play out around the world today with millions displaced from their homes.
“People don’t know what being a refugee is,” she said. “Those three weeks gave you a taste of what it is to be a refugee. We walked. We had nothing. We had people helping us along the road. ... Now there are these millions of people. ... It’s awful. Just awful.”
Archer was within months of graduating from school and headed for university when the new government forbade Jews from attending school. She was never able to continue her education. But later she was given a certificate that declared her educational achievements, and what she had learned, particularly languages — French, German, English, Latin — prepared her well for a job with the U.S. Army as a translator after the Americans arrived.
Working with the Americans introduced her to the most curious of foods — peanut butter and ketchup (peanut butter, she’s come to enjoy with chocolate, but ketchup she does not eat to this day) — and to her future husband, a young officer in the Quartermaster Corps from Virginia.
“I was working in my office and he was working in his office, and somebody told me, ‘There’s a cute major over there,’ ” she recalled.
By the time she arrived in James’ hometown, Archer wasn’t quite sure what she had gotten herself into. Saltville was a small town with a major chemical plant. She was less than an hour from Tennessee and a world away from Belgium.
“My in-laws were very, very nice,” she recalled, which softened her landing.
Eventually, the family would move to Tennessee, where Archer became a U.S. citizen, something she describes as a highlight of her life. Then it was on to the Roanoke Valley in the late 1950s, when they acquired Blue Ridge Beverage.
In Archer’s office, industry awards are displayed on the wall behind her desk. Marston, the attorney, is not surprised she is recognized as a success.
“It could be her World War II experience showing through,” he said. “Not many people are going to go through an experience like that and live life being a wallflower. She has an authoritative way about her.”
The effect of what she went through is unmistakable, Archer said. “Let’s put it this way: it does mark you for life.
“You don’t forget many details,” she said, but added: “When my sister and I are together ... we don’t dwell so much on the past.
“You have to look forward.”
Hanover County’s planning director says a proposed change to a zoning law intended to preserve rural land will not significantly affect conservation efforts, but some county residents are skeptical.
Hanover’s Rural Conservation District ordinance, adopted more than 20 years ago, has preserved about 7,000 acres by limiting suburban development in rural areas. With about two dozen districts scattered around the county, developers are allowed to build subdivisions within 30% of each district, while the remaining land must remain under a conservation easement as a single lot.
Patrick Ashley, whose family operates a farm on a protected 750-acre tract, said the existing rules would make it difficult for him to build and own a farmhouse without his family’s LLC — and his parents’ interests — being attached to it.
While the current rule says the districts can have only one preservation lot with one residential dwelling, the county is considering allowing property owners to divide the parcel, making it easier to manage and finance land transfers and improvement projects.
“I love my parents — I think they love me, too — but I don’t necessarily think they want to sign on the loan for my house or own part of it. And, well, maybe I don’t want them to own part of it,” he said
While a couple of property owners are supporting the change to simplify land transactions and tax matters on so-called preservation lots they own, several advocates for the rural landscape say the county should not tinker with a law that was developed as a compromise between development growth and land preservation.
“From our perspective, we think that would weaken the ordinance,” said Martha Wingfield, a member of The Coalition for Hanover’s Future, a community group dedicated to land preservation. “It seems like there could be other solutions.”
After delaying a vote on the matter earlier this fall, the Hanover Planning Commission deferred a vote on the proposal again last week, casting it as a complex issue that is troubling residents concerned about development in the county’s rural areas.
“It’s intended to control and keep density down, so whenever you start tweaking things, you want to make sure you’re doing the right thing,” said Larry Leadbetter, a member of the Planning Commission, after last week’s meeting.
Since the ordinance’s adoption in the mid-1990s, developers have generally used it to build higher-density subdivisions in otherwise exclusive rural parts of the county. Under the district ordinance, developers must agree to preserve 70% of the land by setting aside a preservation lot and open common space that can include recreational features such as horse stables, golf courses and walking or bicycle trails.
County officials have considered amending it slightly several times based on requests from the public.
As currently written, preservation lots are allowed to have one residential dwelling on them. Under the new proposal, the lot can be divided, but only one of the plots can have a home on it. The draft ordinance proposes that each preservation lot be at least 10 acres.
County Attorney Dennis Walter said the proposed changes would grant property owners flexibility, “while maintaining the preserved areas without adding extra density or dwelling units.”
Planning Director David Maloney said a proposal to change the ordinance came up again after a request from one property owner, but that others have taken an interest in the idea.
At a public hearing last week, members of the Ashley family said they are trying to subdivide their land on a historic plantation to make financing for the construction of a farmhouse.
“We have no intention to increase the density or the use of the preservation lot,” said Patrick’s father, Brad Ashley.
They said subdividing the property could also make future projects easier to manage.
“In fact, it’s our passion to bring Hickory Hill back and to restore it to its original glory,” Brad Ashley said.
Wingfield and several others, however, say the needs of just a few property owners should not warrant an amendment to the county’s rules.
“I could come to you with several legal dilemmas with the farmland I own and ask to amend an ordinance to deal with that, but I just don’t think that’s good planning,” she said.
With the Planning Commission now scheduled to revisit the matter in January, Maloney said the commission will not be able to defer a vote again and must decide whether to recommend the Board of Supervisors adopt the changes.
After nearly a year of contentious debate and thousands of pieces of input from members of the public, the Richmond School Board is set to vote on new school zones Monday night.
Before the board are several major decisions, chief among them whether to combine majority-white and majority-black school zones to address the fact that three schools — Linwood Holton, William Fox and Mary Munford — enroll roughly 70% of the white elementary school students in the district.
That idea has drawn mixed reviews from parents in the affected schools, both at two recent public hearings and on an online feedback form launched in the spring: “The families and teachers at Mary Munford have worked for years to build a strong elementary school in our community,” one Munford parent wrote. “These plans would destroy those efforts.”
While pro-pairing parents turned out en masse at the first public hearing Nov. 18, those against the idea dominated the discussion at the second hearing on Nov. 25 at Bellevue Elementary School — holding signs that said: “We can’t afford multi-million dollar pairing plans.”
The Richmond Public Schools administration has estimated that the cost of pairing implementation would be between $617,500 and $842,500 per school pairing.
“It’s only going to create a greater hole on the South Side and the East End,” said Dawson Boyer, who represented Munford on the School Board on an interim basis in 2016, of spending money on pairing.
School pairing is included in two of four rezoning proposals — each of which is associated with a letter (W, X, Y and Z) — before the board. Proposal X, the most controversial of the four, would create a three-way school pairing in the North Side. Students would go to Linwood Holton Elementary for third through fifth grades, while Ginter Park and Barack Obama elementary schools would serve students in kindergarten through second grade.
Mary Munford Elementary would have students in third through fifth grades, and students would attend George W. Carver Elementary for kindergarten through second grade. Fox and John B. Cary elementary schools also would be combined, with students going to Fox for kindergarten through third grade and Cary for fourth and fifth grades.
In Proposal Z, students would go to Munford through second grade and then Cary for third through fifth grades.
Many Munford parents who oppose the idea of breaking up the city’s highest-achieving elementary school are pushing, alongside the Carver community, to turn Carver into a magnet school with specialized curriculum.
“If you give the schools the resources, they’ll integrate themselves,” said Jerome Legions, the president of the Carver Civic Association, at a public hearing at Ginter Park Elementary.
While pairing has garnered much of the attention in the five months since it was initially proposed, city schools are facing other zoning issues — most notably the overcrowding of schools on the South Side.
The average capacity at elementary schools south of the James River currently sits at more than 100%, according to state data. Even with a new 1,000-student E.S.H. Greene Elementary set to come online in the fall of 2020, five of the 12 elementary schools on the South Side would be more than full come next year under the plans currently in front of the board.
“The desperate need for more space [in the South Side] is happening now,” said Deanna Fierro, who represented the 4th District on a special committee tasked with reviewing initial rezoning options. “The division needs to get asking for more funds now for new schools on the South Side.”
The city is spending $146 million of the $150 million generated through a meals tax increase on three new schools — replacements for Greene and George Mason and a new 1,500-student middle school on Hull Street Road to replace the decrepit Elkhardt-Thompson Middle, which would be closed under all four proposals. Funding and plans for the construction of other new schools have not been finalized.
“The kids don’t fit no matter how you draw the lines,” Fierro said. “It’s going to take real money to fix the issue.”
Members of the special rezoning committee want the city to build a new G.H. Reid Elementary, which is at 116% of its capacity currently and would stay that way under the four plans, a completely new elementary school on Ruffin Road and a new middle school to house the growing number of students on South Side.
Those recommendations were among 13 made by the committee that were more policy- and construction-based than focused on zoning boundaries.
In the East End, committee members and the Bellevue Elementary Parent-Teacher Association want Bellevue to become a specialty school, which would mean themed curriculum and the potential for receiving more money than a normal neighborhood school.
Initial rezoning plans called for Bellevue, the only elementary school in the East End that meets the state’s full accreditation standards, to close — the only school in the city where that was an option. The idea was removed from the proposals in early November.
The decision to turn a school into a specialty lies in the hands of the School Board.
On Monday, though, much of the attention will be on the decision of whether to merge the school zones, choices that could have ramifications in the 2020 election when every School Board seat is on the ballot.
“To integrate these schools is going to take courage. If it takes you to lose your seat to integrate these schools, lose your seat,” said David Jones Sr., an RPS parent, at the Ginter Park hearing. “You have one chance at this.”
A third public hearing will be held before the board’s vote. The meeting is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at Greene Elementary School.