Real Local RVA: Coming together to make it happen

Restaurateurs, farmers, and other food industry folk are determined to give local farms a more stable position in the market.

Photo by: nyweb2001

Casselmonte Farm owner/farmer Bill Cox stands in front of a crowd of people at Southbound early on a Monday afternoon. Two long tables and the bar are filled with familiar faces, including fellow farmers like Amy Hicks of Amy’s Garden and Charlie Collins of Victory Farms, food producers like Lynette Potgeiter of Nettie’s Naturally, who’s generously hooked up the entire group with some of her life-sustaining, ingredient-defying treats. There are store owners like David Whitby of Yellow Umbrella, pork farmers like the Trainums of Autumn Olive Farms, industry newcomers including Sugar Twine owner Beth Oristian and Daily Jars‘ Liz Fishman, and veteran restaurateurs like Richmond Restaurant Group‘s Michelle Williams and Southbound co-owners Lee Gregory and Joe Sparatta.

The group is rapt listening to Bill Cox’s remarks because he’s speaking a language they know well. His message is this: interest in local food is at an all-time high, but this group must work harder than ever to fulfill that interest; and everyone will need to contribute to make it work.

This is Real Local RVA, an alliance of like-minded business owners, founded by Rick Hood, Donnie Caffery, Joe Sparatta, Lee Gregory, Michelle Williams, David Taylor, and Buster Wright. On this particular Monday, the group, which has been meeting for over a year in Ellwood’s Beet Café, grew their numbers and spread their wings all the way to Southbound.

A few individuals, including Cox, Hunter Hopcroft of JM Stock Provisions, Slow Food RVA‘s John Haddad, Barb Upchurch,1 and Real Richmond Food Tours‘ Maureen Egan are addressing the group with their thoughts on how this organization might be able to have a positive impact on both consumers and business owners.

“We haven’t yet built the network of farms that we need to make something like Real Local RVA successful,” Cox explains. He touches on the issue of farmer burnout, which is met with many knowing nods in the crowd, before he takes his seat. Charlie Collins of Victory Farms echoes his thoughts and adds that theirs is a distribution problem and an issue of educating the entire population, not just the same group of early adopters including restaurant owners, store owners, and friendlies.

Real Local RVA meets at Southbound in February 2016.

Real Local RVA meets at Southbound in February 2016.

Michelle Williams carries on the thread of conversation, adding that it can be difficult for a restaurateur like herself to support small farms because the volume of business they’re doing each day is so high. There are either the huge farms that feed the big box grocery stores and purveyors or small farms that can’t always meet demand on a consistent basis, putting restaurant owners in a tough spot.

Rudy Karkosak of Rudy’s Exotic Mushrooms and Produce says that distribution is his number one job (though growing comes in a close second) and that he’d do whatever it takes to help fellow producers get to market, even if it means throwing a few extra bags of produce on one of his four vans serving the Richmond area seven days a week.

These are exactly the kind of connections Real Local RVA founder Rick Hood was hoping for when he started planning for the group over two years ago. Thanks to a boost in interest from members of the Richmond Food Collaborative, Real Local has been steadily building momentum ever since.

Colin Beirne, Marketing Director at Ellwoods, explains how his boss saw “a void in the marketplace and confusion around these different local entities. The community wanted to know who’s really local and wanted connect with these stores, restaurants, and purveyors.” That, says Beirne, is the first mission of Real Local RVA.

By marketing local businesses as one collective, Beirne says, the group hopes to raise the tide for business owners while, at the same time, improving buying power and providing a more sustainable income for small-scale farmers. In addition to solving issues like consistency and distribution, Beirne says Real Local will also sponsor local events to continue the agenda of educating the public about the impact of keeping dollars in the community.

With a logo designed by Ellwoods Creative Manager Julie Alvarado and a website in the works by Chad Williams, the group plans to start taking the message to the public later in March. Michelle Williams (who’s Chad’s sister) says she hopes that the website will serve as “a one-stop shop for everything food related in Richmond.”

“We want everybody that’s a local food lover in the area to network and learn about the group,” says Beirne. To that end, the group will host a networking event in early spring at Hardywood Brewery. But there’s no need to wait until then, he says. “If you are interested, we want to talk with you.”

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  1. Disclosure: Barb and I run the Apple Cart together. 
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Stephanie Ganz

Stephanie Ganz thought there would be pizza.

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