Rickey Hall was born in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 22, 1957 and has lived in West Charlotte for his entire life. Mr. Hall is an important member of numerous neighborhood coalitions and organizations such as the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and the West Side Community Land Trust. He intends to bring greater food and economic security to West Charlotte through his work with community gardens and the opening of a co-op market called the Three Sisters Market. Throughout the interview, Mr. Hall discusses food insecurity in West Charlotte resulting from food deserts and the importance of the community working internally to combat issues plaguing the area.
|0:01:13||Family history in Charlotte.|
|0:02:58||Personal experience with gardening.|
|0:03:53||Types of produce grown.|
|0:05:24||Closeness with grandmother and lessons learned from gardening.|
|0:07:42||Gardening in West Charlotte past and present.|
|0:10:52||Food desert in West Charlotte.|
|0:17:29||Role of community gardening in West Boulevard Corridor and the larger strategy.|
|0:22:13||Distance of grocery stores from West Boulevard residents.|
|0:24:32||Gentrification and food access.|
|0:27:20||Mr. Hall’s involvement with the documentary, The Farmer That Feeds Us.|
|0:29:37||Mr. Hall describes the Three Sisters Market project.|
|0:34:36||Importance of women as growers and activists in West Charlotte.|
|0:39:08||Urban farming and gardening Mr. Hall is currently involved in.|
|0:41:34||Mr. Hall makes concluding remarks about the importance of his work.|
|0:45:47||Conclusion of interview.|
>> Quinn Whittington: My name is Quinn Whittington, and I’m interviewing Ricky Hall on April 16, 2019. I’m conducting the interview at the West Boulevard Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Ricky is an instrumental member of the West Side Community Land Trust and has an extensive history in West Charlotte, on improving food access and preserving the area’s unique culture.
This interview is part of The Queen’s Garden, Oral Histories of the Piedmont Food Shed. An oral history project conducted by graduate students from University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Public History Program. This project seeks to collect the stories of those who grow, cultivate, produce and distribute fresh food in the greater Charlotte region.
First off, could you just introduce yourself, state your birthday and place of birth.
>> Ricky Hall: Ricky Hall, born in Charlotte, North Carolina, birth date January 22nd, 1957.
>> Quinn Whittington: You’ve lived in Charlotte, in West Charlotte specifically, your entire life, I believe. How long has your family lived in the area?
>> Ricky Hall: My family is from Charlotte, North Carolina, primarily, came out of Chester, South Carolina, and my grandmother moved up to Charlotte. And we’ve certainly been here all of our lives.
>> Quinn Whittington: What sort of work did your family do?
>> Ricky Hall: My mother was a teacher and educator in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
And [INAUDIBLE] early childhood education, where she retired. And my father was employed by Norfolk Southern Railroad where he worked as a rail yard engineer. So those were jobs that they had a lot in life, so they were working class people.
>> Quinn Whittington: And what were their names?
>> Ricky Hall: My father’s name is Jerry Hall, and my mother is Carry Hall.
>> Quinn Whittington: And did you have any siblings?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes, I had seven siblings, so there was eight of us, it was five boys and three girls. My oldest brother is deceased but my remaining siblings are still alive and live here in Charlotte.
>> Quinn Whittington: You’ve already mentioned your family gardening does.
You mentioned your family gardening too, at previous instances.
>> Ricky Hall: My gardening experience started at a very early age with my grandmother in the garden in our backyard. And it was from that garden that we grew vegetables for the family, which she actually canned and it was a part of our food supply every year.
It was just part of the process and it was a part of in the community which I grew up in,which is Reed Park, which is right adjacent to the library, just about every family had a garden. And that garden provided much of the foods that we ate and provided nourishment to us.
>> Quinn Whittington: What kind of stuff did you grow actually?
>> Ricky Hall: That’s a good question, my grandmother utilized every space in the garden. So, we had anywhere from greens to cucumbers to cabbage to squash to corn and okra and potatoes and onions and just about every garden vegetable that you could actually grow.
There were two growing seasons, there was a spring garden, and then there was a fall garden. And then the garden in the fall, of course, one of the staples was collard greens. So, we had collard greens and other vegetables in the fall. That was, needless to say, because we came from a working class family and in many ways, just living barely above the poverty line.
We were poor but we weren’t poor in terms of good foods to eat. But certainly in terms of the economics during that particular time. And that garden provided the necessary nourishment for our well-being.
>> Quinn Whittington: You worked in the garden. And from what you’ve told me before, you were pretty close to your grandmother, correct?
>> Ricky Hall: I was very close to my grandmother, and of course, it’s a laborious thing to do but also, they are life lessons that you learn from gardening. And it was those life lessons that I learned from my grandmother. In the stories that she told, that I carry with me with fond memory today.
But also it was about learning how to prepare a garden in the how to lay out the section of the garden, determine what you are actually going to plant and then to plant it and watch it grow. And as we are gardening and weeding and thinning out the garden, there were life lessons that she taught me.
That you take the operative part of the garden and you turn it to a speculative science about life lessons and it was with the balance of those life lessons from gardening. As well as the actual physical aspect of gardening and seeing this food grow before your very eyes and then at some point, you reap that harvest.
And from that harvest, you could eat from the ground to the table. But at the same time, that you didn’t eat, my grandmother would, and our family would, she would actually can those vegetables. And she would can those fruits. So that during the winter months or the other months, that you could actually go to the shelf and open that can.
Whether it be beans or whatever else and that’s what we ate from.
>> Quinn Whittington: [LAUGH] So was your experience with your grandmother, do you think was that a unique experience in West Charlotte or did a lot of people do backyard gardening?
>> Ricky Hall: I would say a lot of people did gardening but it was the experience that I gained from my grandmother that actually informs the work that we’re doing today.
And so Those lessons that go from the garden and the hard work of gardening, in terms of, she was actually providing for her family because all of us lived in that little two-bedroom house with my mother and father, and eight siblings. There was literally 13 of us in a two-bedroom house and we were trying to just try and put a roof over our head and help my mom and dad to raise us and, so that we grow and mature and become productive citizens.
And so providing food on the table was a part of that process, and so gardening was a part of it, and my brothers and sisters didn’t necessarily gravitate towards actual gardening during that time. And so there was that bond, that relationship that was formed between the two of us, and I learned the intricacies of gardening from her and life lessons that she taught.
One of the things that she always taught me was gardening is hard work, and hard work kill you and one of the things she said was, you may never get rich from gardening but you’ll never go hungry. And needless to say that experience of never going hungry from gardening and if you look at it at a macro level, this community being in a food desert has a desire for fresh healthy fruit and vegetable.
And so you take it to another level if you don’t have a menu you got to create some processes of providing it. And so from this garden with the rest of our neighbourhood coalition, we’re looking to provide fresh healthy vegetables and foods to families. And at the same time, leading that lead up to a larger development building a coop market.
And so it’s a graduated effort that’s on a community scale but it all goes back to the roots of that gardening experience. And it’s used from a collective community standpoint to really make it have a large impact.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you mentioned the food desert, and that’s actually something I wanted to talk to you about, how long has the food desert been in place, do you think?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, if you know anything about Charlotte’s history,
>> Ricky Hall: There’s been a food desert in the West Boulevard Corridor for well over 40 years. And it falls to history, and the pattern of housing development in the community. When, in the 50s and 60s, there were predominantly white communities in the West Boulevard Corridor, then there was a grocery store at Remount West Boulevard.
The predominantly African-American communities starting with most sanctuary Marsfield Drive, and the Capital Drive communities and the Parker Heights community which actually formed the, foundation of the historically African-American communities in this Corridor. Those were we’re doing the racial divides, now with the advent of White flight in the late 60s, then the businesses that were here began to leave as well.
And so the West Boulevard Corridor has been without a primary grocery store for over 40 years. And there’s been efforts, over this time period to really attract growth store and this is one of the primary community needs. And so back in the late 80s when CityWest Commons was captured by the US attorneys after it was purchased as a part of a drug transaction that got confiscated, we put together a community driven effort to redevelop that shopping center.
And with the idea in mind of attracting a major grocery store a first and second tier grocery store. And after an 11-year effort the shopping center opened, but we did not get a grocery store I mean the shopping center opened but we didn’t get a grocery store. All of the major grocers came out looked at the area, looked at the demographics, and they expressed interest, but at the end of the day we were still without a grocery store.
This site, which is at Clinton and West Boulevard, when the housing authority redeveloped a former public housing community, Dalton Village, into a mixed-income community under the Hope VI and started in 98,99 when they received the grant for that. They targeted this site which you see across from the library with the garden there as a site to attract the grocery store because the community expressed the need for it.
And went through the same market analysis and demographic assessment and brought developers and grocers out, and they expressed an interest. And certainly, with the funding that was there, there was expressed interest but at the end of the day the community is build out but there is still no grocery store.
And of course with the redevelopment of Renaissance West, which is closer to Billy Graham and West Boulevard, they were targeting the same effort to try to bring a grocery store but by that time in 2015, the community had said that it was tired of trying to attract traditional mainstream grocers to the area.
And so the idea was born of a co-op grocery store and that’s the effort in which we’re pursuing today.
>> Quinn Whittington: So the food desert really become a thing after you had already started growing up?
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: Did you have a grocery store close to you before that point?
>> Ricky Hall: Well the only grocery store that we got close to us now within a mile is Walmart on Wilkinson Boulevard. The other grocers are, of course, in the South End area with that burgeoning development, being there’s Publix, there’s Harris Teeter, and further North, on Ashley Road and Freedom Drive, there is, of course there’s a Harveys, which is primarily the only other major grocery there, there’s maybe a Compare Foods on Freedom as a part of the,
>> Ricky Hall: New Freedom Community’s development there, and outside of the Family Dollars and the convenience stores on this corner.
>> Ricky Hall: There is no other place for this community to shop and so you get to a point where if you’ve got a problem, then it’s up to you to come up with a solution.
And so the community solution is the co-op model, which is showing itself to be very successful in rural areas of the community across the nation. And now they are gaining in popularity, particularly in urban environments. Which are much like the West Boulevard card, in need of grocery amenities along with healthcare amenities as an economic development strategy.
But also, to address the long term need for fresh healthy food investment.
>> Quinn Whittington: Considering the food desert has existed for 40 years, when did community gardening really start picking up in West End? Has it been only recently that it’s really started?
>> Ricky Hall: No, I think there was of course, the Park Community started the community garden on Drive.
And of course, had some success there and of course, with leadership changes and volunteer interest, it kind of ebbed and flowed.
>> Ricky Hall: In the West Boulevard corridor specific, we are not definitely depending on community gardens as the panacea for the problem, that’s one way. A garden is more than just the provision of healthy food and vegetables.
It’s actually the provision of foods as a means of improving health and the social determinants of health. It’s also about capturing and creating economic development opportunity, that creates community around solving a long term community need. And it’s also a community wealth building strategy and it’s a multi-tiered approach that brings all of the 19 communities in the West Boulevard corridor together.
To focus on solving a long-term community need and to do it from a collective community impact perspective.
>> Ricky Hall: That in and of itself is the crux of what this gardening effort is all about. Here’s the other thing, if you look at those social determinats, and if you look at where people get access to foods now.
Except for Walmart, and you have as many as four or five Family Dollars, two along the West Boulevard corridor. Approximately, 19 convenience stores on the West Boulevard corridor. What are people getting out of those stores? They’re getting processed foods, they’re getting high sugar, high fat foods that may satisfy hunger.
But when you look at those markers and those long term determinants of health over time. Processed foods, high fat foods, even alcohol products, tobacco products are the primary drivers of what people are consuming from these locations. And then if you look over 5, 10, 15 years, and you follow those health patterns, then what you’re gonna find is that there’s a whole lot of heart disease, high blood pressure.
All of those markers that lead to declining physical health overtime as opposed to improved physical health over time. We’re going for the enhanced quality of life in affecting those determinants of life from our quality of life perspective. As well as a community impact and a community benefits perspective.
It creates community wealth and creates job opportunities and it allows a springboard for fostering other economic development opportunities. And it’s not just to focus on the food aspect as the end all be all but it is a part of a larger strategy, around land use, around transportation, around economic development.
It also addresses the other issues about the healthcare deserts, so it is a multifaceted approach to address long term community.
>> Quinn Whittington: You just you told me where lot of these like the Walmart is, the Publix. For whoever would be listening to this in the future, about how far do people in West Charlotte have to travel to get good food?
>> Ricky Hall: They have to travel more than a mile.
>> Quinn Whittington: More than a mile?
>> Ricky Hall: And that’s how you actually determine the food desert. If you have to travel more than a mile to access foods and food options, then you’re considered in a food desert. And if you look at the burgeoning development of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, most communities have banks.
>> Ricky Hall: They have healthcare facilities, they have retail development, they have all of those markers that lead to enhanced quality of life. If you look at the West Boulevard corridor, there’s no healthcare facility here. There’s no bank still actually located. Retail development is sparse.
>> Ricky Hall: Housing and economic development opportunities are starting to grow.
But it’s starting to grow towards the higher end. What actually happens is that why should this community be a community that actually improves as demographics change, and not improve for the people who have been historically in this place? That in and of itself is our challenge.
>> Quinn Whittington: And you can see the gentrification that’s happening in the West End pretty visibly, if you’re driving through specific parts of it, and- It has it’s own set of problems but they also have the potential right to bring these banks and stuff that you’re talking about and in supermarkets, but what are the problems with gentrification that way it’s happening right now, especially as regards to like food access?
>> Ricky Hall: Well here’s the problem. The West Boulevard Charter and the West Boulevard Coalition is blessed to have a solid historical foundation, and that foundation goes back to Moss Sanctuary in Zion Church, where you in as far back as 1850 Land was granted for the development of the church and ultimately that church becomes the foundation, a force for an educational facility.
And then the leadership part of that church becoming the foundation for the development of homes, schools, and churches in the area. And that community, that progressive community self help culture becomes the defining feature of creating that community village. That is the village that I grew up in because more sanctuary, Capital Drive.
>> Ricky Hall: Carr Heights, Reed Park, and the Parker Heights community, becomes that village hub. And it’s not just the foundation, but it also is the creation of social policy that drives other needs and advancement in human relationships that becomes a progressive spirit in culture of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
>> Ricky Hall: So the foundation of what we are doing is not just a new beginning, it actually is underpinned by the efforts going all the way back over 150 years ago.
>> Quinn Whittington: So you screened the farmer that feeds us.
>> Ricky Hall: Yes.
>> Quinn Whittington: With a couple of weeks back actually.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I mean nd I did interview Zach Wyatt a couple of weeks back as well. One of and he was one of the leads behind the project. How did you become involved with that project specifically?
>> Ricky Hall: Well actually the site for filming of the farm as feed is one.
The predominant sites that is featured is the West Boulevard Corridor, Seeds for Change urban farm was used as the backdrop for a lot of that filming and Zach came out and we were talking about the Carolina farm trucks and we talked about the vision for the Seeds For Change initiative under the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition.
And what are our goals and objectives and it fit in with Zack’s documentary of the farm and it feeds us and other efforts that are taking place in the areas like the West Boulevard corridor to address food insecurity. And how do we come together as a collective to begin to understand what the dynamics and the underpinnings of how we got here?
But also, not just to understand that underpinning, but how do we begin to dismantle some of the challenges that this community has. We’ve talked about the code of law. If you look at the pattern of development, and even with highways and roads and things of that nature, in terms of racial segmentation and separation, then all of this is kind of driven from those challenges that the community creates.
So, how do we unravel it to create more equity and social and economic advancement?
>> Quinn Whittington: You also previously described to us about some I mean bringing greater food access to Charlie region I mean West Wales specifically, and you talked about the Three Sisters Market which is in planning, now wondering if you can just describe that a little bit?
>> Ricky Hall: [LAUGH] The Three Sisters Market
>> Ricky Hall: Is a vision that the West Boulevard Corridor has in terms of addressing the decades old need for fresh healthy food and vegetables in the West Boulevard Corridor, and as I said, it started in 2016, when we came together with Wells Fargo and we talked about creating a collective community impact.
And so we started with four pillars under the coalition strategy, land use and transportation. We started with the civic and community engagement as well as the Seeds for Change Initiative and we started with the vision of having the urban farm as a way of beginning to provide fresh, healthy food and vegetables and in the car and as a part of an educational and youth component, to where we were teaching marketable skills youth in and farming as well as the social and environmental sciences.
And then as a part of the larger vision on this four-acre site of building a co-op market to provide the fruit and vegetables, to provide good paying jobs, as well as to create community wealth. And so the Three Sisters Market in and of itself, is a way in which as a coalition we pay homage to the leadership of African American women.
Going back to that progressive community spirit that was born over 150 years ago. There was three under the first coalition, that I kinda grew up and gravitated under, there were three women, Maggie Freeman, Carrie Graves and Lucile McNeil who represented that leadership and who were instrumental in a lot of the improvements in the community, like Amy Jane.
Neighborhood center, like this West Boulevard Library and other improvements and as that leadership waned and Dorothy Watty picked up the challenge and mantle of leadership. And under her were people like Alfreda Brown and Harriett Mahoney who really took the coalition and ran with it. Ms. Watty was alive in 2015 when we started this initiative and one of her primary words were you teach a person to fish, they eat for day.
I mean, if you give a person a fish, they eat for a day, if you teach them to fish, they eat for life. And so she said then, yes, we can do this. And so the coalition has certainly ran with that challenge and that informs the decision in which we are working on today from a Three Sisters Market perspective.
So we’re paying homage to the legacies of female leadership while at the same time recognizing that within the West Boulevard Corridor there were primarily three sister communities that really formed the basis of African-American life from a historical perspective. Morris Sanctuary, Capitol Drive, Cora Heights, Reed Park, and then Parker Heights.
But also, it has so many other connotations associated with it, thus the name Three Sisters Market was born. And when the store opens in 2021 then not only will it have that historical legacy, but it will certainly meet the needs of the community.
>> Quinn Whittington: So I actually wanna build on that because I’ve noticed a trend and the people who are really significant in your life related to the food access, they’re all women.
And the typical image of a farmer for the public or even an urban farmer is an older white man, right, who will own hundreds of acres of land. But with you and the West Charlotte community, it seems like it’s a very different image of who the growers are.
And I’m just wondering where the importance of women, how that grew in the West Charlotte community?
>> Ricky Hall: Well, I don’t necessarily know where it grew. But I know, for me, it actually happened and I think that it’s true. That’s not to say that there weren’t significant men who actually were a part of that food provision as well.
But I just know that from a community leadership perspective, those women were foundations. They stood out because they came out and they formed, they organized, and they brought about community change. And for me particular, Dorothy Watty, who was my predecessor in the leadership chain as well as Alfreda Brown.
Both are gone now and the only living part of that legacy is Harriett Mahoney. So Dorothy Watty hands the baton to Ricky Hall and Brenda Campbell and the persons who make up that. And so in our time, we’re taking it and we’re running with it until it’s time to hand off to a new round of leadership.
And we think that that new round of leadership will come from those youth that we’re working with in the garden. That we touch on in terms of the overall vision and strategy for improvement of quality of life in the West Boulevard Corridor through our four pillar strategy. Whether it be in the land use, in transportation activities, in the housing development activities, in the civic and community engagement activities as well as in the co-op activities.
Because what we do want to see is those youth to come out there and put their hands to the soil. And that in learning these marketable skills and habits become the leadership that actually goes from growing stuff in the ground to actually putting things on the shelf and becoming viable employees within the market.
>> Ricky Hall: That then,
>> Ricky Hall: Begins to get good paying jobs as a result of the market. And then they help to create long-term viability and sustainability for the market that creates community wealth as a result of creating,
>> Ricky Hall: An economic development system that keeps capital in this community to foster opportunity as opposed to the dollars continuing to flow out.
That is what that process is about. But also as the community changes and grows, that it becomes,
>> Ricky Hall: An opportunity for multi-cultural and a diverse community that honors its past, keeps people in place, but also attracts new residents, new economic development opportunities, and new growth and economic viability as a whole.
Whereas Boulevard, in and of itself, has long been thought of as a place to avoid. Now it’s becoming an attractive place, as a place to invest. So as investment comes, there’s no reason why others have to divest in order to get to a place of visibility and viability.
>> Quinn Whittington: So, it’s the skills, in some ways, the skills that your grandmother taught you, like working in the garden, you’re trying to pass down to the youth, the people that are working in the urban gardens that you’re working on right now as well. And in addition, you’re intending to teach them even more skills to be an important part of the community and really build the community up right.
>> Ricky Hall: Mm-hm, mm-hm, absolutely.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so I only have a couple more questions, but could you just describe what urban efforts are currently involved? I know you’ve mentioned a few of them already, but-
>> Ricky Hall: Of course, there’s the Rosa Parks Garden over in the Beatties Ford Road Corridor.
And I know there’s the Aldersgate,
>> Ricky Hall: Farm that Zach is establishing over on the east side. And all is within that crescent arc of areas that have been long associated with social and economic mobility challenges. And now these arcs are starting to coalesce around, okay, if it didn’t happen, does it stay that way?
And now, if it hadn’t happened, should we wait on somebody to make it happen or should we make it happen ourselves? And food access is one of the One of those primary needs. And so if we can grow sustainable gardens and we can create sustainable markets. That also leads to high level markets that become physical locations to access good, healthy food and vegetables.
And create supply chains that allow us to go from farm to market to table. And to provide it at an affordable price point. That then begins to affect access to healthy food that then begins to affect those social determinants of health, whether it be high blood pressure or diabetes, all of those negative markers.
But then we begin to see an upward progression of health markers that leads to higher quality of life for families and communities.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay, so that was my last major question. Kind of the big follow-up question, is there anything you wish I had asked or something that you wish you could have talked about?
>> Ricky Hall: No,
>> Ricky Hall: It is for me. And I think that it’s a part of community self help. It’s part of being positive deviant. It’s part of creating solutions for self and community. As opposed to having someone else plan with your future and your life outcomes will be. And while these things have historical underpinnings around race, and it doesn’t have to stay that way.
And for the West Boulevard Carter, we’re not necessarily talking about what has been. We’re actually focused on what can be. And what can be is not just improvements in food access, but food improvements in economic development, improvements in housing, conditions in housing opportunities. They’re in a mixed income situation.
Because what I want you to understand now is this, and this is my last remark. Where we are now, we’re less than a mile or mile and a quarter from the biggest economic development generator in the city of Charlotte, to our west, and that’s the airport. Where we are now, we are less than a mile and a quarter from the central business district of Charlotte.
Where we are now, we’re less than a mile from South End, and all of the burgeoning development around the Blue Line. Which really transform and change the South Boulevard Corridor, and really creates gentrification pressures. Where we are now to the west, we are so close, less than two miles away from the river district, which is a big Ballentine-like development that is creating pressures on gentrification coming from that way.
There’s realignment in transit patterns from Clinton West here to Ashley Road over to West Tyvola and associated with that. To our south there is economic development that is burgeoning around the old site where the Hornets used to play in the Coliseum, that is really creating this vast economic opportunity.
Why should West Boulevard be a area of, with all of this economic development around us, why has this area been allowed to be that way for so many years? So it’s actually a pearl in an ocean of economic development opportunity. And it shouldn’t be that the River District and South End come together.
[LAUGH] In this space. And it not provide opportunity for the people who have historically been here. That is where we are. That is what our challenge is. And that is why that progressive culture of community self help must be brought to the table as a part of an inclusive strategy to achieve those goals and objectives of the West Boulevard neighborhood coalition.
It’s there, but the drivers have to be the people who are here, and not the people who are now looking to come here.
>> Quinn Whittington: Okay.
>> Ricky Hall: That’s my.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right, well I just wanna thank you for your time.
>> Ricky Hall: And I’m glad to do it.
>> Quinn Whittington: And I greatly, I greatly appreciate it.
>> Ricky Hall: No problem.
>> Quinn Whittington: All right.