Tell us about yourself.
My name is John R. F. Lewis, Certified Prevention Specialist and Qualified Mental Health Professional, a Roanoke, VA native, with more than 12 years of experience working with inner-city youth in Richmond Public Schools in areas that include tutoring in remedial math, science & reading instruction, mentoring, preventative counseling in violence & substance abuse, horticulture & food sustainability, leadership skill development, and positive life-skills coaching. I love to use urban agriculture as a mechanism to not only provide people with access to healthy and nutritious food, but also to engage community members in trainings, health education workshops, and mitigate poverty through entrepreneurial skill development so they can knowledgably and sufficiently feed themselves. I am a founder and Executive Director of Renew Richmond, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping empower individuals from all walks of life to cultivate healthier lifestyles through the growth of food.
What is the focus of your work?
Since its creation in 2009, Renew Richmond has successfully engaged more than 4,000 residents in nutrition, sustainability, gardening, and food security related events and activities. Renew Richmond currently runs 5 community and school agricultural sites in the city of Richmond that provide more than 3,000 lbs of food a year for local food pantries, food banks, and youth-run farm stands. Renew Richmond believes that a holistic program focusing on the hands-on growth and consumption of nutrient dense foods can help repair the health and well-being of individuals and build healthier, more tightly knit communities.
I formally worked as a Certified Prevention Specialist with Richmond Behavioral Health Authority’s (RBHA) Substance Abuse Division, where I facilitated evidence-based programs that aid in the prevention of substance abuse and other negative behaviors in Richmond inner-city youth. Through my work with RBHA, I helped develop and facilitate a school-based agricultural education program for 4th and 5th grade students called The Reid Green Team at G.H. Reid Elementary. Members of the Green Team participate in constructive, educational activities that enhance their environmental knowledge, develop self-efficacy as well as help protect them from negative influences and risky behavior by engaging them in positive activities which have had a noticeably positive effect on the physical and mental health of students.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I am deeply involved in various Richmond City health and wellness committees including the Mayor’s Food Policy Task Force and the Richmond Public Schools’ Garden Task Force. My involvement in these organizations helped assist the City of Richmond’s governing body in the development of policies that will promote positive change to food access, health care, and quality of life in the city, and that has been incredibly rewarding.
What’s coming next for you and your organization that really excites you?
I continue to use the knowledge gained in the field of urban agriculture to not only provide people with access to good food, but also to engage community members in agricultural trainings, health education workshops, and entrepreneurial skill development so they can knowledgeably and sufficiently feed themselves. Alongside Duron Chavis (Community Engagement Coordinator), nonprofit staff, volunteers, and partners, I wish to expand Renew Richmond’s scope and understanding of progressive agricultural practices through their investigation into successful urban agricultural sustainability models that improve access. With access to healthy foods and hands on experience with the responsibilities of making life choices about their health, maintaining intensive gardens, and working with their peers and their communities, the youth and community I serve have gained invaluable knowledge and skills that they can utilize for a lifetime.