Fresh Future Farm’s founder, Germaine Jenkins, was recently interviewed by the folks at CharlestonGOOD.com. Here are the highlights from their talk.
CharlestonGOOD sat down recently with Germaine Jenkins, founder of Fresh Future Farm, a start-up non-profit organization dedicated to addressing health, education, and economic empowerment issues in North Charleston, and beyond, through urban agriculture. As it turns out, our first GOOD Interview is a timely one. The Post & Courier published an article this past week entitled “Moving Beyond Food Deserts” that failed to include any input from those working in the trenches to improve food and economic security in their communities. As an alternative community media center, CharlestonGood is delighted to have the opportunity to add some depth and perspective to the conversation.
GOOD: What is a Food Desert?
FFF: The dictionary definition of a food desert is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. For me, a food desert is a place where coupon shopping is irrelevant because there are no grocery stores.
GOOD: What is your response to the recent assertion that making more produce is not enough to solve obesity issues in food deserts?
FFF: Here’s a FACT. The communities that we serve live with a fraction of the amenities (including grocery stores) that overflow in healthier communities all while never uttering the words “food desert.” So those of us that work at the grassroots level choose to focus on coming up with solutions to disparity issues instead of getting distracted by a semantics debate.
Fresh Future Farm’s work is market-driven and multifaceted. I have had 6 years of grassroots experience in the community where we plan to house our operation. During that time, residents continually express their desire to see a full-service grocery come back to the community. We are also working to create a commercial kitchen where we can turn our fruits and vegetables into nutrient-rich, value-added products that have a longer shelf life while providing micro-entrepreneurial opportunities for local artisans who lack access to such a facility. Cooking demonstrations that incorporate produce into culturally relevant recipes is one of my specialties and will be another critical part of the Fresh Future Farm’s efforts. Finally, we will train underemployed individuals within our community and others in profitable urban farming techniques and support initiatives that fund the creation of more urban farms, which translates into more agriculture jobs.
GOOD: Why is Fresh Future Farm vital right now?
FFF: Fresh Future Farm is vital right now because so there is so much momentum around locally grown foods and food hubs. South Carolinians spend in excess of $10 million annually on food and currently only a small fraction of that food is grown and/or processed in our state. My experience with Growing Power tells me that all of the empty lots and untapped resources in our community could be put to productive use addressing the need for food and the need for jobs simultaneously.
GOOD: How will Fresh Future Farm be unique?
FFF: Fresh Future Farm is not a passing trend. We have taken years to visit similar communities across the country that have developed food justice related systems to bring about empowering change. We have partnered with Will Allen’s Growing Power, a national community development organization with over 20 years of experience growing fresh and healthy produce in a collaborative and inclusive manner. Our foundation is a customized best practice plan that engages the obvious and overlooked assets in the Chicora-Cherokee community to create a lasting vision of health and economic prosperity. We will do more than just grow food. We intend to train underemployed residents of the Lowcountry to replicate our work. In addition, our nonprofit will rely on revenue-generating activities (grocery store sales, farm tours, a shared commercial kitchen and consultation work) to make our mission financially sustainable.
GOOD: What have you learned from developing Chicora Place Community Garden that is informing your work with Fresh Future Farm?
FFF: Neighborhoods like the one that surrounds Chicora Place Community Garden are constantly bombarded with fly by night outreach projects led by nonresidents that often fall short of their intended goal. As such, residents tend to mistrust the staying power of new initiatives. When establishing the garden, we went door to door to introduce ourselves, share information and ask for input before we ever planted our first seed. Neighborhood residents also helped imagine the design of the space and our garden’s nontraditional recreational feel is a product of that feedback. We rallied with the community to seek amenities like a playground and addressing felt needs in this manner has gone a long way to building trust. I also make myself available to residents who know that they can call me when they have questions or concerns and in return I can call on them when I need their support. For grassroots efforts like Fresh Future Farm to be effective, there has to be an upfront commitment to tackling the hard work of gaining a neighborhood’s trust and support. Finally, it takes partnerships and continual marketing to achieve the results that we’ve seen at the garden. Building relationships that bring residents, businesses, city support, college and church volunteers and others together around a shared purpose helped us leverage a $1,000 grant into over $80,000 of investment into the property.
GOOD: What are the biggest obstacles you are facing?
FFF: To keep our costs low, Fresh Future Farm is working with the City of North Charleston to lease unused property. But to renovate that space and achieve some of our other benchmarks, we need more working capital to get the job done. While we are never short on ideas, financing the dream has been difficult. We have $25,000 from winning a local Healthy Retail Business Plan Challenge which only accounts for approximately 10% of our financial need.
GOOD: What would you ask from an “angel?”
FFF: There are so many ways that ‘angels’ can support Fresh Future Farm’s work:
- Visit us (or our web site) and share our story with their colleagues
- Participate in our upcoming fundraising campaign
- Invest in the vision and help us advocate for initiatives, funding and policy changes that increase opportunities for healthy food access and economic development.