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3 Pathways Toward Re-Building “The Family Meal”

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” - Anthony Bourdain


Five Points Farm Market

Food is transformational, and if we are going to transform ourselves by making good decisions around healthy food, look to Norfolk, Virginia, for passion and commitment.  Bev Sell is a 3rd generation Virginian based in the city of Norfolk—a compassionate spitfire with a mission always to make things better for everyone in the community. A relentless fighter for humanity, she recruited her friends and neighbors in the early 2000s to build an urban farmer’s market to address food scarcity, offering local residents of all income brackets access to wholesome, organic, and raw foods.  The genesis of this groundswell ended up creating what Norfolk residents knew as The Five Points Community Farm Market.  She has a real belief in the meaning of “The Family Meal” and the importance of gathering to stimulate connection. 


FEASTVA

Where It All Began

Bev and the team found an old laundromat in Norfolk and launched the market with community and municipal support.  Her investment in food education led her on a journey, carving out a gathering place for producers and artisans to sell their products. She attracted farmers, purveyors, and city leadership to the dinner table for deeper discussions regarding outreach serving all community members. Once the program ramped, she moved the organization to a 6500-square-foot warehouse and renovated it for a bigger footprint. 


Bev looked at the leaders to help create a legal point-of-sale system for people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). What moved her to drive this mission of feeding people and learning the deeper meaning of community commitment were discussions at the dinner table. Bev is a food mover, blazing the trail toward healthy eating and with the mission of it becoming a more ethical act.  


Farm Market Van

Mobile Food Pop-Up

The momentum drew many new residents to the table, and grant opportunities opened up for The Five Points Community Farm Market. People stepped forward to help write USDA and municipal grants to stimulate outreach. These idea generators devised a plan to launch a mobile farmer’s market for the under-served and elderly, generating senior nutrition coupons and a connection to the SNAP program. The team fundraised a $62,000 USDA grant to buy a Nissan Hi-Boy delivery van and mobile unit! 


This grant and its resources drew interest from leaders like Michelle Cook, a well-known tenant manager, and the Norfolk City Council. The team and St. Paul's Episcopal Church worked together to push the movement forward and offer $5 Farm Market Bucks to keep the program alive. This mobile program ran for over 3 years with the commitment from The Tidewater Gardens residents, The City of Norfolk, The Basilica of St. Marys of the Immaculate Conception Church, and The Five Points Community Farm Market.


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The Three Pathways 

What was learned through this process came from the genesis of making inroads and, ultimately, pathways to re-building “The Family Meal”—cooking with fresh and delicious ingredients. Bringing products to doorsteps is only part of creating community; it is an ongoing fellowship that keeps the process of engagement fluid. First, we must meet people where they are at in life and not expect everyone to be on the same page, even though they are rallied around an idea. Second, evaluate the need, ask for help, and push in with tangible to-dos. Finally, deliver the goods and keep showing up for every meal.  


Bev Sell FEAST VA

Food Is Medicine 

On her journey, Bev took her experiences with running a market, and continuing her research on growing a program and outreach to offer education, support, and community mentorship on all fronts. Food has healing components, and this aspect was the next on her list of issues to tackle. 


Norfolk, Virginia, has 250,000 residents. It ranks in the bottom half of the United States when it comes to the food economy, but it is always improving. Bev used her background in marketing and data on food and the local economy to come up with a different variation on her program, moving beyond the farm market approach to community education, landing her at Norfolk City Hall and The White House in 2010. She and her market colleagues partnered with Michelle Obama’s “FNV Fruits & Veggies in 2016. To that end, she had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Obama and her constituents, accepting a 1-year grant to educate teens on healthy eating more fruits and vegetables.


FEASTVA

FEASTVA 

As Bev continued to build on food education, she ended up meeting with the co-founders of an organization based out of Los Angeles, California called FEAST. The foundation is built on healthy practices around food, cooking, eating and shopping while practicing good self-care during a 16-week educational program and beyond. It builds awareness around human connection with food and healthy eating practices. This new relationship between FEAST, the flagship, and Bev Sell would bring forth compassionate food education and the launch of FEAST Virginia, based in Norfolk. 


In 2019, Bev formally founded FEAST Virginia, rolling it out just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaborating with community partner Jonathan Pemberton of the Queen Street Baptist Church on the first FEAST Virginia  Introduction to FEAST presentation at the church, over 50 residents of St. Paul Quadrin and their Mayor - Kenny Alexander attended. 


FEAST Virginia received support from Sentara Cares Health to run a Summer Pilot Program for a Kids Cooking Camp, at Ingleside Elementary School in August of 2022. By  September 2023, FEAST Virginia trained 12 additional Group Leaders (bringing the total to 15), all with a mission of helping residents navigate a fractured food system. FEAST Virginia’s mission is: “To promote wellness and enrich lives through the power of healthy foods and human connection." Since this newly formed vehicle was introduced to propel food education further, Bev was appointed by the Norfolk Mayor's Office to serve on the Commission of Social Equity & Economic Opportunities, and to work on The Norfolk Food Policy Council.



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What The Future Holds

Today, Bev is moving forward on social equity partnerships with grocery stores, hospitals, and educators, bringing FEAST Virginia to the forefront. She brings together farmers with local food banks and health organizations to empower food education through health awareness and cooking practices.


In February 2023, FEAST Virginia held a “Plant to Profit”  workshop for farmers. The program attracted over 50 farmers and has created better collaboration and awareness between farmers, food banks, and pantries.   


Bev's focus is on three objectives over the next five years: continuing awareness, expanding the FEAST Virginia brand while adding underwriters, expanding group leadership positions, and strengthening outreach.  


If you are interested in learning more about FEAST Virginia, community partnerships, or Bev Sell - click the link!



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