Farm-to-table: Meet Natasha Crawford   

Many RHHD employees are committed to health and well-being in their personal lives as well as their professional ones. That’s true for Enivronmental Health Tech Specialist Natasha Crawford. Natasha is the founder of Healing Hope Urban Gardens, which was recently featured in MarketMaker.

Natasha’s journey to agriculture and farm ownership was a long one, but her passion for the project never wavered. After time in the military, traveling, and earning a degree in nutritional sciences, Natasha and her wife moved to Richmond in 2017. She began work on the gardens in 2021. Natasha credits Virginia’s farming communities with helping make her dream a reality: “One thing I love about Virginia is that you can reach out to any farmer. There are gardening groups all throughout Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield who are willing to help each other out. That’s been crucial to my success—I’ve had people who’ve provided me with support, guidance and mentorship. I knew I wanted to be a farmer, but sometimes as you get older, it feels hard to get started. All I had to do was voice my desires and passions. I had so many people who really saw my vision and what I wanted to do and really believed in me.”

While Natasha sees a vibrant farming community across the region, she also knows there’s work to be done in making sure that agriculture is an accessible field for all. She still sees gender disparities in farming, for example: “Over the last ten years, you’ve seen more and more women becoming interested—and it’s not something we haven’t always been a part of. Farming is not something that’s foreign to women—I learned from my great-grandmother. But statistically, when we’re counted among our male counterparts, the numbers are really low. I love it when people see me or hear me talk—I know I’m changing the idea of what a farmer looks like and who can be a farmer.”

Natasha is also proving that public health workers belong in the garden! As an Environmental Health Specialist Senior by training and the new EH Tech Specialist, Natasha works with and trains the teams who ensure food safety in the restaurants, food production, nursing homes, and childcare industries. The skill sets are similar, she says: “a lot of the concepts that we talk with our operators about are the same concepts that you want to have on the farm so that we make sure we are growing and handling food safely for the consumer. A lot of the things I preach on this job, I practice on the farm. I’m washing my hands and washing my lettuce and making sure we’re using potable water.” As a public health worker, Natasha is also invested in wellness and talking to community members—she loves meeting people at farmers’ markets and teaching them how to incorporate more fresh produce into their diets.

Public health is only one of the fields required for a version of farming committed to food justice and food sovereignty, key concepts for Natasha: “I tell kids, there’s more to agriculture than just growing vegetables. We need people who can develop apps that make the work more efficient. We need people who can write grants and repair equipment and invent tools. Farming can be what you want it to be. Agriculture can be what you make it. We have the ability and knowledge to really change what agriculture looks like for the future.”

If you’re interested in dipping your toes into agricultural practices, Natasha strongly encourages connecting with Central Virginia’s community gardens: “There are always volunteer opportunities that really turn into lessons and support. You’re finding that connection where you can learn together and from each other. Organizations like Happily Natural, Real Roots Food Systems, and Richmond City’s Community Garden Program post volunteer opportunities. Once you feel comfortable, you still have someone who will support you with seeds and equipment.

And if you’re already doing some backyard gardening, expand your practice with learning opportunities! Natasha says that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services offers valuable online trainings and webinars. She also likes the agricultural education platform at Cornell and has worked with sustainable urban agricultural courses at Virginia State University.

Follow Natasha and Healing Hope on Instagram (@healinghopeurbangardensto learn more about her work, volunteer opportunities, and food justice events around our community!