Food deserts are areas that lack fresh fruit and vegetables. They are often located in urban areas due to limited access to farmers’ markets and grocery stores that provide affordable, healthy food.
Fresh Future Farm is aiming to change that.
This urban farm in North Charleston is growing a variety of produce, including collard greens, bananas, blackberries, onions and cilantro on 5 acres. It also raises chickens for egg production and poultry. Bees are kept for pollination and garden waste is composted. Everything harvested is available to the public through an on-site grocery store.
It started with Germaine Jenkins.
Jenkins moved to the Lowcountry in 2000 to enroll in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales, which has since moved to Charlotte. She eventually worked for the Lowcountry Food Bank and the Cannon Street YMCA as a cafe cook, where she challenged kids to eat healthy through creative recipes or Fear Factor games.
But Jenkins always wanted a garden.
She enrolled in the Clemson Master Gardener program to learn how to grow. Having access to fresh produce in her garden was empowering and she wanted to pass that along to others. In 2014, North Charleston leased her 5 acres of undeveloped land to start Fresh Future Farm.
The nonprofit business grows chemical-free produce. Not only does it provide local access to food, money spent in the community stays in the community. Jenkins hopes this business venture can become a model for other food deserts to follow.
What’s the hardest part about running an urban farm? Jenkins said growing the food was the easiest. Finding land and donations to get the farm started and keep it running has been the most challenging.
Limehouse Produce donated topsoil to start raised beds for the row crops. Enterprise Rental Car donated a mobile building for the grocery store. The rest of the land is a diverse garden of row crops and fruit trees that is harvested and sold inside the store.
But Jenkins believes this operation is much more than a garden. She sees it as an educational model that can provide training to the public as well as fresh produce. Farm tours will be organized for families and schools as well as tourists.
At the time of my visit, they were using discarded Christmas trees to start hugelkultur gardening. Hugelkultur is the process of burying logs and sticks beneath a raised bed of topsoil to provide long-term benefits as they decompose, boosting soil moisture retention and micro-organism activity.
The chicken coop is a good example of permaculture. Children helped decorate the walls that house 15 to 20 chickens to provide eggs. At the end of the year, the chickens are sold as a source of poultry. A berm surrounds the facility to prevent runoff from reaching the garden and rainwater is captured from the roof and made available as a drinking source to the chickens.
Bee hives also are on site to improve pollination of crops and raise awareness of bee populations.
Compost is practiced regularly with several compost tumblers. They will begin vermicomposting, a type of composting that utilizes redworms to decompose garden waste and provide nutrient-rich castings.
These are examples of educational opportunities. Jenkins envisions instructional videos made from gardening practices and hopes to one day have a pavilion where demonstrations can be given to schools and the public. And not just about gardening. With Jenkins’s culinary background, there are ample opportunities to learn how to use the food in the garden with an incubator kitchen.
Fresh Future Farm now employs five staff members to manage the store and the field. Employees are paid through store revenue and donations. The farm also relies on volunteers for field preparation, planting and harvesting. Volunteer days are 9 a.m.-noon every third Saturday.
To donate or volunteer, go to http://freshfuturefarm.org/ for more information.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.