Yesterday, I was invited by The Director of Church Relations at Regent University to a mayoral forum in which all 5 mayors of the Hampton Roads (or Coastal Virginia, or Tidewater, or Greater Norfolk….whatever you want to call it) addressed current issues facing the region and what plans and steps will be necessary to address them. The local paper summarized it with this story, but I’ll admit – and this is true of our paper here – the article didn’t really say much, and it didn’t capture the substance of what was said….or wasn’t said.
Anyway, as all the mayors went on about issues like lightrails, tolls, & transportation; military, tourism, and building stadiums, City of Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright said this: “We need to embrace the diversity of our area…51% of Hampton Roads’ population are women, 40% are minorities….with 32% of the minority population being African-American…..Diversity is a strength to economic prosperity in our region, and we need to embrace it.”
I appreciate Mayor Wright’s words, and he continued on to highlight the advantages and necessity of promoting diversity in the area’s economy, as highlighted by James Koch’s economic study of the region. But as I looked around the room as Mayor Wright spoke, I noticed two things:
One, the majority of the room had checked out. Two, the gender and ethnic makeup of the room didn’t even come close to the picture of diversity in the region.
Now, this is where I screwed up: I should have stood up during the Q & A time and asked this question to the panel: “I heard Mayor Wright speak about embracing diversity in the region, and I’m certainly for that. But I notice the makeup of this room….a lot of influential people, powerful people, and not representative of the diverse demographic of the region. I ask, what are your ideas and what if your commitment in addressing the lack of access and power that these populations have, and do you feel that such an effort is even worthwhile in your eyes?”
And that is the question: if you’re going to embrace diversity, space has to be made at the table for those people; opportunity has to be created. The issue of power that cuts off certain demographics from having place at the economic table of conversation had to be address. It starts by inviting more than just influential white men and a few women with deep pocketbooks and lots of connections.
However, as the title said, this is a tale of “Two Cities.” And I want to share with you a “test run” initiative that both of our churches are venturing out on: A Farm Market.
What is that, you ask? It differs from a Farmer’s Market in that rather than the farmers planting, growing, harvesting, transporting and selling their product, other organizations take on the task of transporting and selling for the farmers. The average age of a farmer in Virginia is 59.5 years old, and 36% of those farmers are over the age of 65. In short, farmers in Virginia are old…and transporting and selling takes a lot of effort and energy that older folks well, just don’t have.
So rather than contract out people to sell and increase overhead costs, organizations are purchasing produce from the farmers and taking care of those last two steps in the process through a concept called a “farm market.” You can read more about it here, but the aim is simple: support of local agriculture and providing access to healthier food and eating.
And this is ministry for our churches, because we don’t have a farmer’s market of any kind in our neighborhoods. And so we’re going to try it out and see if that’s something that’s needed….
– Providing access to food that is healthier for our bodies.
– Our nurses and healthcare folks in our congregations are committed to providing resources to help people live a healthier lifestyle.
– We’ll provide a safe community meeting spot where neighbors can gather and get to know each other.
– We’ll be supporting local farmers who tend to God’s creation.
– And our proceeds will go directly back to ministry that will allow people who cannot shop at a farm market to have the opportunity to do so using distributed “farm dollars” that can be spent at the Farm Market.
Like I mentioned, this is a “trial run…” so we need people to come out and support this if it’s something they want to see! And, we’re always looking for partners in this venture as well, so spread the word to those you know who are interested and passionate about this sort of thing! So in April, look for “test run” Farm Markets at our churches:
April 5th: Holy Communion Lutheran Spring Spree Vendor and Bazaar
6220 Portsmouth Blvd
April 12th: St. Andrew Lutheran Easter Egg Hunt
4811 High Street West
Hope to see you at either event!