Lowcountry Giving Day Confessions from an Inner-City Farmer

Lowcountry Giving Day Confessions from an Inner-City Farmer

I got home from grocery shopping at midnight after spending the day cleaning and prepping for a final building inspection, sending off work texts and e-mails, making lists and more lists of the food and sundry items we still need to make the farm store worthwhile to the folks we plan to serve. Now it’s 1:53 am and I’m marking my kid’s attendance and classwork for home school assignments, getting ready to finish a grant that’s due in a few hours, finish this blog post and make a few more tiny edits to this fabulously upgraded website that Tim Latsbaugh, Robin McCoy and the team over at 2nd Floor Co bedazzled for us.

This is how Fresh Future Farm plans to to grow customers, community and commerce in Chicora-Cherokee.

Selling good quality produce is part of Fresh Future Farm’s plan to to grow customers, community and commerce in Chicora-Cherokee.

Then it’s me sending off some flyers to a board member for printing and a little bit of prep for my accounting meeting at 9 am. Before that I’ll drop hubby off at work at 6:30 am, wake up my teenage home schooler 5 or 10 times, run back to the store to grab the frozen meals that wouldn’t fit in the car and visit the Building Department. Shoot, now it’s 2:05 I gotta focus!

Nonprofit folks wear a lot of hats but in most instances you do so in a place where there’s many established benefactors. Lesser known grassroots nonprofit like FFF wear all the hats while turning the green that you give into something worth working 15 hour days for without the benefit of a regular paycheck. Those of you who are serious about food justice and self-sufficiency should consider becoming ‘fffans’  by making a Lowcountry Giving Day donation on Tuesday, May 3rd. Why, you ask?

Fresh Future Farm is the passion that I’ll be clogging your Instagram and Facebook feeds to promote for the next 3 consecutive days because I was fed up in 2009. Fed up ladies and gents with being one of the few families on our block who were eating and cooking like kings. Not because we were rich, but because that was how we figured we would need to live to (sorta) afford the carpool hell of driving our kids 440 miles a week to and from passing schools outside our community, keeping the lights on and paying the mortgage on a home that was almost instantly underwater after the foreclosure kerfuffle.

Circa 2010 when I was a broke yet smoking hot homesteading momma with time to garden in every spare corner of our house, blog and coupon at all hours and make killer flax, oat and rosemary sourdough pizza crust from scratch. (Once our incubator kitchen is constructed, you can buy my crust at our farm store!)

During that time, I started taking community economic development classes and doing the math. How is our leaving the neighborhood for almost every good and service benefiting us and/or our neighbors? Why is it that I finally fixed my credit to buy a home and now have a worse quality of life than when we lived in public housing? Why aren’t the good jobs, the good schools, and the good life in general overflowing for us like it is in the Mt. Pleasant or downtown Charleston? And what can I do to make our neighborhood more like Mayberry? Not once do I recall Opie and them standing in a bread line. Even with all his problems Otis was never treated like a criminal. Instead, most residents had careers and the resources to care for and cater to each other needs – that’s the same thing that happens everyday in the suburbs.

Investments in infrastructure bring the well paid people and entrepreneurs that beget the good jobs, the killer schools and the good life that we only dream about because our house is sitting in the middle of an economic dust bowl.  There are more giveaways than pollen in the southern end of North Chuck but finding a good paying job within walking or biking distance is like finding a needle in a haystack. Despite our predicament, I knew how to cook and learned to grow high quality food on a budget, taught myself how to raise hens and then got my friends and peers excited about growing their own food too. I took even more classes and started gardening for others as a part-time gig and the rest is history. Along with growing our own food, we bought our clothing second hand, I learned how to coupon, and I cut my husband’s hair at home. We built wealth by reducing our expenses and living that way for seven years has allowed us to refinance our home for a lower interest rate on a 15 year mortgage.

On Tuesday, we will open the first mini-market with lots of healthy meal options that haven’t been available to the Chicora-Cherokee community since Winn-Dixie closed in 2005. Our mini retail store sits on a .81 acre permaculture farm right in the middle of a residential neighborhood so residents can walk to get good food (reducing expenses again). We will SELL – not give away – food at affordable prices thanks in huge part to grants and yours truly dusting off the coupon skills to track every buy one get one free sale and closeout deal.  We’ll use monetary donations, revenue and grants to add more programming, like:

tony aj stocking store

In permaculture the problem is the solution. Since our community needs quality food and jobs, FFF is working to pay residents to grow and sell good food. With your financial support we can make it happen.

  • farm tours with ancestry training and cooking demonstrations led by trained students
  • an incubator kitchen to create value added items (longer shelf life and better profit margins) and then rent the space to trained food entrepreneurs
  • urban farmer training to build out more urban farms to create an oasis in a food desert (aka the ‘Mayberryfication’ of an inner-city community)

Our vision requires an influx of moolah y’all, so you’ll be hearing from me, our board and our friends more than usual for the next few days. During that time you’ll learn how we have leveraged every dollar we’ve received to do incredible things. My prayer is that many of you will be moved enough to keep growing that investment. Lowcountry Giving Day 2016 is Tuesday, May 3rd. We invite you to go online and make a donation at text.gives/fffans or text ‘fffans’ to 33923. If our story really touches your heart, please consider stepping up your support and signing on as a ‘Catalyst.’ Your $1000 matching challenge donation will help us create the kind of excitement that germinates even more giving.

Enjoying the fruits of teaching my kids how to cook when they were toddlers.

Enjoying the fruits of teaching my kids how to cook when they were toddlers.

The struggle is real when you’re getting started and grassroots work cannot produce change overnight. One of the benefits of training up people in an underserved neighborhoods with marketable skills is that there are long term benefits. For example, you can come home from a busy day to your 17 year old nailing his first veggie filled pot roast paired with spinach you grew two miles from your house.

Didn’t somebody say something about lemonade a week ago? Fresh Future Farm is our take on an economic, educational and environmental lemonade stand. The best part is that it’s replicable.

 

The Road to Urban Farmraising

The Road to Urban Farmraising

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Someone asked me at Mike Martin and Gena Januseski’s Purposeful Entrepreneurship event last Monday how I got started with Fresh Future Farm. When I think back on it, this whole concept of creating a place-based and equitable community farm sprang out of my small family’s need for quality food and relationships almost 15 years ago.

We built good relationships through getting connected to a local church (and an AMAZING single mom’s small group) and after I enrolled my kids into the Cannon Street YMCA. At the time I was a returning adult student and single mom finishing my college career at Johnson & Wales University. I went from working full-time to being unemployed and on food stamps in a matter of weeks, I promised my kids then that when we moved out of public housing we were gonna have our own house and that house would have a garden. The next 12 or so years are a blur:

1) Leading a Plant-A-Row for the Hungry group that helped me glean fresh veggies for the Y (after graduating with honors and taking a job as Kid’s Cafe Cook)
2) Volunteering with my dear friend Karen at the Children’s Garden Project
3) Taking on the job of Nutrition Coordinator at the Lowcountry Food Bank AND getting married
4) Earning Master Gardener certification from Clemson Extension
4) Purchasing our first home and joining Metanoia as a board member and school garden volunteer
5) Diving headfirst into Neighborworks America training with classes like Affordable Place-making, Taking Green Action in your Community, Creating Public Markets and Community Economic Development
6) Working with Metanoia to start Chicora Place Community Garden
7) Learning the ABCs of effective farming as a part of SC Community Loan Fund’s Feeding Innovation competition
8) Teaching about and then meeting my urban ag idol, (aka the Godfather of Soil) Will Allen and earning my certification in Commercial Urban Agriculture with Growing Power
9) Receiving a 5 year lease and business zoning from the City of North Charleston on what is now Fresh Future Farm

This body of experience has taught us that grassroots community development is the only sustainable way to grow good food and healthy, happy customers. Normally a dollar that is spent in the inner city only hangs around for a few minutes before heading out with shop owners and employees to benefit other well-to-do communities. Our project strives to grow food where its needed most and keep the dollars in the community through providing additional services (cooking demonstrations, farm tours, etc.) AND training residents to work with us. A month ago we capped off a year of transforming a vacant lot into a bonafide inner-city farm to actually accepting SNAP benefits for the food we are growing. Moving from point A to point B took a LOT of hands from folks like Nick Tittle, Charleston Permaculture Guild, East Cooper Montessori School, College of Charleston interns, Day of Caring Volunteers, and so many more individuals and groups. The farm has also benefited from financial support from many individuals and organizations – THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE SUPPORTED US.

Before I scour my closet for the one pair of non-running shoes I own to attend tonight’s Giving Back Awards, I wanted to invite friends both new and old to consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our work over the next few months. We’re running an end of the year Farmraising Campaign with hopes of supporting the following items:

*A glass door commercial refrigerator (to match our commercial freezer) – $3000
*First month of farm grocery store inventory – $2500
*Utility Costs – $400/month
*ADA accessible ramp to our parking lot – $1500
*Miscellaneous administrative costs (resident intern stipends, etc.) – $1000

The beauty of a donation to Fresh Future Farm is that your contribution will extend well beyond Chicora-Cherokee’s borders. One of the additional services will include sharing what we’ve learned over the years with other struggling Lowcountry communities.

Happy Holidays to all and thanks for taking the time to check us out!

Sincerely,

Germaine Jenkins
CEO, Farm & Market Director
Fresh Future Farm Inc.

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Charleston Mag Community Catalyst Launches Fall Farmraising Campaign!

Charleston Mag Community Catalyst Launches Fall Farmraising Campaign!

Charleston Mag Awards

2015 Charleston Magazine Giving Back Awards

Thanks to a surprise nomination, Germaine Jenkins has been chosen as the 2015 Community Catalyst for Charleston Magazine’s Giving Back Awards! The recognition stems from the work that she and her team have done to transform a vacant city lot in a food desert into an operating farm. Recently, they have opened the Macon Market Farm Stand to the public and accept SNAP (food stamp) benefits, cash and credit purchases on Tuesday afternoons from 3 – 6 pm. Fresh Future Farm is even partnering with the Chicora-Cherokee Neighborhood Association to offer $10 Fresh Future Buck credits to residents who volunteer for two hours in the community.

G Jenkins farm stand van

Germaine is cultivating community with a fresh food farm stand in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood.

Right now customers can only buy fruit, vegetable and herbs once a week. We are in our final push to finish renovations on the building to expand our offerings to include dry and canned goods, frozen vegetables, bread, dairy, cereal and eggs at least five days a week.

We are launching a fall fundraising campaign to take Fresh Future Farm to the next level.

Will you help us meet our $9000 goal and help our very own ‘Veggie Whisperer’ move customers out of the elements and into the store by the New Year?

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Thanks for supporting our Fall Farmraiser!

Help Raise Some Green for FFF’s “Raisin’ Fresh Futures Campaign”

Fresh Future Farm needs your support to match the $25,000 we earned through winning the SC Community Loan Fund Healthy Retail Business Plan Challenge! Please visit our Raisin’ Fresh Futures! Campaign page and get in where you fit in so we can add some Lowcountry flavor to Growing Power’s international Good Food Revolution by bringing an urban farm and store to a food desert!

We’re pounding the pavement every day to make our vision a reality.  If you subscribe to our blog posts, you can watch as the details of our vision unfold over the course of this 60-day fundraiser.  Through those updates, you’ll find other ways to show your love for our Charleston Heights urban agriculture plan.