A local farm is working to bring fresh produce to the West Village and surrounding neighborhoods that otherwise don’t have ample access to fruits and vegetables. Mill Village Farms, under the umbrella of Mill Community Ministries, has started two programs to help.
The farm has launched a downtown produce cart — the Veggie Cart — and is working in its second season of FoodShare Greenville. The cart is strategically located at Richardson and McBee streets next to the Greenlink Bus Transfer Station, giving low-income bus-riders easy access. This placement stems from the fact that many low-income neighborhoods around downtown are in what the United States Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert.”
A food desert is defined by the USDA as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas … due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.”
The effects of food deserts are most immediately felt by low-income individuals and families, who sometimes face a long bus ride to find healthy food options. Dan Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Community Ministries, explained, “Folks over here [West Greenville] will shop for groceries at Spinx and maybe Family Dollar.” Weidenbenner’s mission through the Veggie Cart was to work with Greenlink to find a place where people are already coming and give them affordable access to healthy foods there.
The other program that Mill Village Farms introduced almost two years ago is FoodShare Greenville, a box program that works with nonprofits and medical clinics. The boxes have a large variety of fruits and vegetables and are available at about 12 nonprofit organizations and clinics in the area. Each box is valued at $20-25 and can be purchased for $15 in cash or $5 in EBT/SNAP, which allows many low-income individuals to afford a box each two-week cycle. Weidenbenner heard about a similar program in Columbia, and he and FoodShare coordinator Courtney Watson have worked together to bring it where it is today.
“The challenge for many of our families when doctors would tell them what they needed to be eating, it’s just not possible, it’s not a reality. This helps it to become a reality and part of a routine,” Weidenbenner said. The boxes are available every two weeks, and clients know to come pick up their boxes at their doctor’s office, church, or other organization.
Dorothy Kelly, a user of FoodShare Greenville since its inception, explained what an asset the boxes were to her after she became guardian to her three great-grandchildren. “The youngest was under two, and I had just retired. I had different plans,” she laughed. “I can just eat one meal a day and be on my way, but with three kids, I need to fix three meals a day. The only time I don’t have to do that is when they are at school, and that just takes one meal away.”
Kelly has always been an advocate of eating fruits and vegetables but knows they can be expensive and difficult to come by. “I like vegetables. The box yesterday had okra in it and I almost had a fit. It’s one of my favorites,” Kelly said. “The boxes have been a tremendous help to me. The one I picked up this week had a whole pineapple in it, which I could never usually afford.” Kelly not only takes a box for her and her great-grandchildren, but also delivers a box to a home-bound friend who rarely gets access to healthy produce outside of the FoodShare boxes.
Dr. Blakely Amati, director of Greenville Health System Center for Pediatric Medicine West, explained that they knew access to healthy food was an issue for their patients when they started formally screening them for social determinants of health. “They know what they are supposed to be doing, exercise and eating healthy,” she said, “but if you don’t have money to go get the fruits and vegetables or don’t have transportation, then it’s really just talking.” Amati found out about a similar program in Columbia around the same time that Weidenbenner started researching it in Greenville, and it all fell into place through their combined efforts.
The FoodShare program gives patients of the clinics and other individuals a tangible solution for an ongoing problem. “It has been so nice to have something that I can offer them that is real and they can take home from here and use with their families,” Amati said.