people eating and mingling at Happily Natural Day

Happily Natural Day is More Than Just a Day; It Fights for Food Justice and Celebrates Blackness Year-Round

Richmond nonprofit Happily Natural Day, founded by Duron Chavis in 2003, started as an annual summer festival with speakers, vendors, music, food and workshops dedicated to celebrating the diversity of Blackness across the African diaspora. 

“The festival serves as a networking space – connecting people who are dedicated to social justice across the region, drawing people from as far away as Detroit, Florida and Atlanta to collaborate and strategize to build thriving Black and brown communities,” Chavis said. 

Happily Natural Day also serves as an incubator for people and businesses to introduce their products to the market.

While the observance still occurs annually on the last weekend of August, the organization – of the same name – has since transcended into a year-round effort dedicated to food justice by connecting people back to the land and building Black-owned and controlled food systems. 

The evolution

After a few years of putting on the festival, Chavis felt inspired by the Black farmers who started showing up to sell their produce. 

Duron Chavis

“They became kind of like mentors to us and helped us understand the importance of wrestling with the issue of food insecurity in formerly redlined neighborhoods across the country, but really starting in Virginia,” Chavis said. 

In 2008, Happily Natural Day began partnering with these Black farmers to host pop-up farmers markets in neighborhoods identified as food deserts. The organization went on to develop community gardens in 2012, and then later schoolyard gardens, urban farms, indoor farms and community orchards and farms. 

“We’ve been dedicated to lifting up our community for years,” Chavis said. “We’re now one of the primary organizations that is dedicated to training communities in how to transform the built environment for environmental justice, climate resiliency and food justice.”

Happily Natural Day now manages eight urban gardens across the Richmond region, trains community members in regenerative agriculture and connects aspiring Black and brown farmers with land to start their farming journey. Having now trained hundreds of people in how to farm, many have gone on to careers in urban greening and agriculture — working for city governments, nonprofits and some having their own for-profit entities.

One of eight urban gardens in Richmond

Additionally, the organization does advocacy work to ensure that people have the right to food, can grow food and live in healthier communities as a result. 

“We just celebrated our 20-year anniversary last year, so we’re hoping for another 20 years,” Chavis said. “The evolution of our work is really rooted in building more access to land for aspiring black farmers.” 

Its next focus is building the Bensley Agrihood, a 10-acre affordable housing development in North Chesterfield, in collaboration with other organizations. The new neighborhood will include affordable tiny homes, a 1.5-acre farm and a wellness center, with the hopes of inspiring more people of color to start farming and feeding their communities. 

“Our goal is to demonstrate that you can have affordable housing and healthy food and climate resiliency all at the same time,” Chavis said. “We are helping to build community self-resiliency, self-reliance and self-determination.”

How to support

“We’re a nonprofit, so funding is a big deal,” Chavis said. “Black and brown organizations receive less funding than their white counterparts.”

Beyond funding, people can also support Happily Natural Day by transferring their land to the new generation of farmers who are landless and helping with policy change or reform to make farming a more accessible vocation, ultimately ensuring the next generation of farmers does not have to go into debt to participate and feed their community.

“For those who are really interested in seeing change that they can see touch, taste and feel: ‘Come over here, it’s lit,’” Chavis said. “There’s a great party going on. We welcome all interested parties to join hands with us in making the change that we know we can see.”

Learn more about Happily Natural Day, its programs and how to get involved at its website. Donations are accepted here.

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