by Charles McGuigan
When Kyle Anderberg brings his produce to market he leaves no carbon footprint at all. What he does leave are his own footprints—about 700 of them—from Lakeside’s Tiny Acre to Lakeside Farmers’ Market. Kyle grows a full assortment of produce on the acre-plus parcel, which is a scant 272 feet from North Side’s preferred source for local produce. Truly, farm to table.
“Kyle is an urban farmer, and he uses only organic practices,” Sharon Francisco tells me. She’s standing near the entrance to the Farmers’ Market on this clear Saturday morning in late September. The grounds teem with people shopping the dozen or so vendors who supply the veritable food desert of North Side with the best selection of fresh vegetables, meats, poultry and other food products you’ll find anywhere. Among the shoppers is a camera crew and a pair of reporters from MSNBC.
“We have heard that MSNBC wants to highlight a local farmer, and how a farmer in a retail district is a benefit to the community, and how he benefits from being in a retail location,” says Sharon. “And Small Business Saturday is coming up, and they want to tie it in with that.”
According to Sharon, Kyle studied environmental science at VCU and, before starting his own urban farming operation in Lakeside three years ago, worked for Tricycle Gardens and Broadfork Farm. “They will be highlighting Kyle because he is a for-profit farmer,” Sharon says. Lakeside Farmers’ Market will also be featured prominently in the MSNBC piece.
Sharon and her husband Peter built Henrico’s first permanent farmers’ market more than a decade ago at a cost of about a half-million dollars. “At the time we built, Stoney Point and Short Pump Town Center were coming up, and every bit of attention was put on those places,” Peter told me awhile back. “Lakeside is a shopping district that could have been easily forgotten, and now we’re known as a place to go to find certain things, and the community comes here to shop.”
When Sharon considers the Farmers’ Market, she also mentions the businesses here which are locally owned and operated. “We have 150 small, independently-owned businesses on Lakeside Avenue,” Sharon says. “So it’s a natural fit with our Farmers’ Market, which sells local produce.”
As Sharon moves off to join her husband, one of the MSNBC reporters begins interviewing 2nd District Councilwoman Kim Gray.
“On City Council,” says Kim. “We put money in the budget to offer grants to encourage more farmers’ markets. We want everyone to be able to access fresh food in our food deserts, areas that don’t have grocery stores and don’t have fresh food in the corner stores.”
Kim says City Council has also backed the acceptance of EBT cards at farmers’ markets in Richmond. “I think everybody appreciates and understands that having good nutrition is important all the way around,” she says. “I spent eight years on the School Board . . . we brought in salad bars and fresh fruits and vegetables. I think that it’s something that we can all embrace. I think we’re all very supportive of farmers’ markets, and the acceptance of the EBT cards. Making sure that our children are getting good nutrition has always been a focus for me.”
Kim always tries to shop locally. “I go out of my way to make sure I’m going to an Ellwood Thompson’s, or a local restaurant in the area,” she says. And, of course, she buys much of her seasonal produce at area farmers’ markets.
As the camera crew wanders around the Farmers’ Market, checking out local produce vendors, Sharon and Peter Francisco join me again.
“This is our eleventh season,” Sharon says, surveying the crowd. “We are really getting on everybody’s radar, apparently. We’ve had several events here this year, and, of course, the pavilion helps considerably with that.”
Peter told me years ago about how the seed of Lakeside Farmers’ Market was first planted. “Back in 2004 we met out here for a business association picnic and two of our guests were (Fairfield District Supervisor) Frank Thornton and his wife, Betty,” he told me. “Betty looked at the garden spaces behind Lakeside Towne Center and said, ‘Wouldn’t this be a beautiful place to have a farmers’ market?’” The Franciscos regarded one another, then looked back at Betty. “She really sparked our interest, so Sharon and I decided then and there to go ahead and move the thing forward,” Peter said.
During that same interview, Sharon said: “We like fresh fruits and vegetables, and we wanted to do something for the community, as well. We like to help the farmers, and we believe in homegrown security from the ground up, which is protecting our food source, and we’re interested in that, too.”
Now, as Sharon takes in the crowd at the Farmers’ Market she and her husband created, she smiles.
“The Urban Farm Tour will come back here for dinner tonight, and their chefs will be preparing food from the local foods sold here,” she tells me.
In a few short hours, swarms of bicyclists will begin arriving here at the Lakeside Towne Center. “Breakaway RVA will be here later this afternoon, ending up at Final Gravity,” says Sharon. “Things just continue to grow on Lakeside and at the Farmers’ Market.”