Charleston is popular. Its restaurants are making top national lists and its beauty is revered by travel magazines, but there’s something going on behind the glamor that is shaping the future of this city. Dig deeper beyond the headlines and it’s obvious the people of Charleston care about each other and future generations. This is a close-knit community, the perfect balance of “city” and “neighborhood.” A great philanthropic movement is bubbling up in Charleston, and in this food-centered city, there is a lot you should know about the organizations beyond the restaurants.
We chose to put the spotlight on 5 non-profits that excite us and give us hope about the future of food, health, and agriculture in Charleston. Get to know these organizations that are putting in sweat and passion every day, working to make our city sustainable and fresh produce accessible to all neighborhoods.
1. Lowcountry Street Grocery
“Lowcountry Street Grocery (LSG) is a mission-driven, mobile farmers’ market designed to make healthy, local food affordable and accessible for Charleston residents. Sales and operations will take place aboard a classic retrofitted school bus that will travel across our Lowcountry service area. Following a predetermined bus route, our mobile market will set up shop at multiple convenient locations six days a week, making the farmers’ market experience more convenient and accessible than ever.” (www.lowcountrystreetgrocery.com)
Can you imagine not having a grocery store within walking distance, not owning a bicycle or a car, and trying to provide nutritious, whole food meals for yourself and your family? Where do you get your food? Lack of access to fresh produce and healthy, affordable food can really take a toll of the well-being of a household, resulting in greater risk of diabetes, obesity, and a myriad of other health issues that come from consuming pre-packaged, processed foods that are so prevalent on the shelves of corner stores. Yes, these things are edible and provide calories. That’s about it.
Lowcountry Street Grocery is about bringing fresh, affordable food TO these neighborhoods that are located in a food desert. And, the best part is, they’re bringing education with them also! A big complaint or concern we hear about eating healthy is that healthy foods and veggies are “boring” or not satisfying enough. Why go through the trouble of making a vegetable stir fry when you could just grab a burger and fries, right? Pairing education about WHY your body needs fresh produce as well as cooking demonstrations on HOW to prepare satisfying and delicious meals is imperative to creating a lifestyle change. It’s about empowering people to take control of their health and the future of their families. Everyone should have access to fresh, whole foods.
This healthy bus is set to begin its routes in Summer 2016 and they’re taking applications for Mobile Market Bus Stops - where do YOU see a need for this in or around your neighborhood?
2. Louie’s Kids
“We are here to Inspire Physical Fitness whatever level you are, educate about “real life” nutrition, and provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you and your family create a blueprint for change.” www.louieskids.org
REAL people, real nutrition - sounds right up our alley! Louie’s Kids is a non-profit focused on reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by educating and empowering children and their families to live life to their healthiest. From family fitness challenges, to group races, and educational outings at grocery stores, this organization is tireless in their mission to get families moving. We love that they focus on teamwork, accountability and FUN in regards to fitness.
3. Fresh Future Farm
“Fresh Future Farm is a nonprofit urban farm response to addressing food, health, economic, and environmental disparities in southern portion of North Charleston, SC. We revitalize vacant city land to grow organic produce, sell SNAP eligible grocery products, raise livestock, and create a sense of pride by highlighting the connection between food history and ancestry in a manner that creates community and job opportunities for the people living in Charleston Heights. We’re singing (badly) and working our fingers to the bone to get the farm and store open to the public as soon as possible.” (www.freshfuturefarm.org)
You don’t have to be a full-time farmer to grow food. You don't need a college degree to acquire the knowledge, the space and the opportunity, which is what Fresh Future Farm is bringing to vacant land in the area. Germaine Jenkins saw a need for small farms in North Charleston and all the benefits that come along - empowerment, employment, education, and income. The more we support and create local agriculture systems, the more money stays within the local economy and benefits the people it impacts. This way we can transition away from projects that merely treat the symptoms of poverty. The more we seek to educate and empower people to take control of their own health and create economic opportunities that come from caring for the land, the brighter the future and our legacy.
4. The Green Heart Project
“The Green Heart Project is a community-based volunteer organization that integrates school farms as outdoor classrooms in an effort to teach students the virtues of hard work, respect and success and reiterate classroom curriculum while connecting students and volunteers to fresh, healthy, locally-grown produce.” (www.greenheartsc.org)
Who here gardens, raise your hand? Not us, that’s for sure. Our green thumbs are still in the making, but do we ever wish that we had learned this skill in school! The Green Heart Project is bringing this knowledge to schoolkids in low-income neighborhoods. This program teaches students how to plant and harvest a variety of vegetables with time devoted to tending the garden on school property. They also make snacks and meals with the veggies of their labor. Along with this experience comes teamwork and learning to respect the earth and each other. What a sense of accomplishment in harvesting a whole food from just a seedling! The students are taking this knowledge home and teaching their families, starting a positive conversation about fresh produce.
The Green Heart Project is involved in the community in many ways throughout the year, and we encourage you to attend one of their events or volunteer in the garden with the kids. Each year, they host a large Harvest Dinner event at Mitchell Elementary school downtown, a festival and fundraiser celebrating a successful year in the garden. Dinner is made from the garden’s harvest and the kids couldn’t be prouder of their achievement!
This project is changing the conversation about food in Charleston households. Kids are learning valuable lessons as well as enjoying the benefits of fresh, whole foods which will have a significant impact on the future of our community.
5. GrowFood Carolina
“GrowFood Carolina’s mission is to help the local food market reach its full potential by providing meaningful opportunities to rural farmers that will strengthen and secure the future of a regional food supply and ensure that local rural lands remain in agricultural use.” www.growfoodcarolina.com
Why is it so dang hard to find fresh, affordable, local produce? There are plenty of farms in South Carolina - why do we practically have to drive to them to purchase their goods? Well, luckily Charleston is seeing an increase in the demand for local farm-fresh items, thanks to organizations like GrowFood Carolina who is making such desires an accessible reality for restaurants and consumers. GrowFood Carolina is a local food hub that purchases food from local farmers within 120 miles of Charleston and then distributes the produce to retailers & restaurants within the city. This results in the consumer having local food options and using their dollars to strengthen the local economy. (great infographic) WIN WIN WIN! It shouldn’t be “interesting,” “unique,” or “exciting” to carry local farmers’ produce in an establishment, and hopefully with the continued efforts of organizations like GrowFood, buying local will become commonplace again.
What are some health-oriented non-profits in your city we should check out? Leave links in the comments. It’s always beneficial to be learning from others and implementing systems that work. We gotta work together to grow!