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Browntown Farms shares its blessings

More than $620,000 in grants have been awarded to businesses combatting food insecurity in Virginia, and local farmers are at the forefront of the fight.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced July 28 that 15 projects across the state would receive between $5,000 and $50,000 in funding from the inaugural round of Virginia Food Access Investment Fund grants.

Launched in 2020, the VFAIF promotes equitable access to fresh foods in food deserts. The program provides funds that support the development, construction, rehabilitation, upgrade or expansion of grocery stores, small food retailers or innovative retail projects that increase food access in underserved communities.

“At its core, the VFAIF is about addressing the root causes of low food access and increasing equity and justice in our local food systems,” Northam said. “I am pleased to see the innovation and dedication of businesses and organizations that are helping to advance our shared goals of building strong, resilient food supply chains in historically marginalized communities and making fresh, nutritious food available to Virginians in every corner of our commonwealth.”

Among the grant recipients was Browntown Farms, a produce farm run by Brunswick County Farm Bureau members Herbert Brown Sr. and Herbert Brown Jr.

Browntown Farms received $50,000 through the program to improve the farm’s cold storage facilities and expand its ordering and delivery services.

As a career civil servant, Herbert Brown Sr. said he was drawn to the program because it allowed him to further serve his community.

“I worked in law enforcement basically all my life—my job’s always been about protecting and serving people,” he said. “I retired in 2006, and [farming] is another way of me giving back to the community because food is very important to a lot of folks.”

Brown said he started selling food boxes last year to church groups, packaging more than 600 boxes of fresh produce that were distributed to residents. He noted more storage would help him improve on those efforts.

The expanded storage area also would allow the farm to market more of its crops on-site, cutting transportation costs and reducing the price of fresh produce for local buyers. Brown noted he also would utilize the space to help other local farmers market their products and diversify sales through the farm’s ordering system.

With the grant money to make those improvements, Brown said he hopes Browntown Farms will continue as a community hub for future generations.

“This farm has been in our family since 1908, and everybody in this community has eaten off this farm at one time or another,” he said. “It’s a reward to see the things you plant grow, and it’s a blessing to share them with others.”