By Nora Pehrson
Arcadia Food Inc., a sustainable farming and education center located in Alexandria Virginia, is one of 110 cultural nonprofit organizations awarded a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant from Virginia Humanities in May.
We caught up with Executive Director Pamela Hess to learn more about the work that Arcadia does and how its programs have been affected by Covid-19. Below, she explains how the CARES Act grant has supported Arcadia staff as they enrich and feed the local community.
Tell me a little about Arcadia. How do you serve people living in northern Virginia?
Arcadia’s mission is to cultivate vibrant local food systems that prioritize health, equity, and sustainability.
We grow fruits and vegetables on a four-acre production farm. We train military veterans to be farmers on that same land. We use the farm as a campus for school children to have immersive experiences with food and agriculture, and for adult volunteers to build their growing and culinary skills. And we harvest and sell the food at affordable prices in under resourced neighborhoods that lack affordable, convenient access to healthy food, have high SNAP usage rates, and low car ownership.
Why did you apply for a CARES Act grant?
Pandemic closures caused us to lose significant earned revenue from our field trips and farm camp. In order to keep the staff members necessary to restart those programs when the pandemic lifts, we needed funds to keep them on staff, working, and developing alternative programming while they planned for reopening.
How has your work been affected by Covid-19? How have you adapted?
Our work is more necessary than ever. The pandemic revealed that only a few things are really essential – among them, good food, good health, and warm human connections. Arcadia provides all three.
Most important, we connect underserved populations to fresh, healthy food. We launched our Mobile Markets two months earlier than usual (March rather than May) to serve customers who otherwise would have to take public transportation across town to access food in grocery stores where shelves were frequently bare and the risk of exposure high. We also launched feeding sites near our farm. Our farm education staff transformed our children’s teaching garden to a production space to grow even more food, and our farm’s staff support and maintain school gardens while students and teachers are out of school.
In place of Arcadia Farm Camp, which had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, Arcadia is creating backyard “farm” kits for farm campers — all the supplies, plus live and recorded instructional videos that allow farm campers to have good food adventures including arts and crafts, science and nature exploration, and healthy eating, in their own backyards and neighborhoods.
How are you using the funding from the CARES Act grant? How is the grant helping you to continue your work?
The CARES grant allows our farm education team to continue to work without the earned revenue that covers a significant portion of their salaries. They’re using their time to create online content for students and teachers, to create farm camp kits, and assist the farmers in producing more food than ever before to feed our community.