Written by - Kaitlynn from MIgardener
In the United States, 2.3 million Americans live in what is known as a food desert. This means that 2.3 million Americans live more than 1 mile away from fresh fruits and vegetables. Food deserts are a barrier for low-income households, especially those with special dietary restrictions and a lack of transportation options. The Pinehurst neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina, recently became a food desert when the Piggly Wiggly and Save A Lot grocery stores suddenly closed their doors to the community.
Resident April Jones knew the Pinehurst neighborhood and what would be the easiest way to give her neighbors access to healthy food. Two years ago, Jones gathered her friends together and made plans to start a farmers market. Jones was inspired by conferences she had attended with the Black Urban Gardening Society (B.U.G.S.) to take the lead on this project. After living in Pinehurst for 15 years (originally from Acron, Ohio), she had a group of friends as passionate about gardening and farming as herself. Since the Pinehurst farmers market began, Jones and her team work hard to make colorful and nutritious food available to their community. Their mission? To feed their neighbors with their #SeedToPlate market style.
A Conversation With April Jones
At the B.U.G.S. conference, Jones was moved by the words of Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm. Penniman said about living with a lack of food access, "If you're looking for someone to save you, they're not coming. You have to save yourself." This intimidating thought motivated Jones. "I thought about this food apartheid area that we're in and thought: I have to save myself. My community. My downtown area." Jones and her friends started the market as an experiment to see if there was a need, if people would buy from them, and they did.
Jones was no stranger to gardening before starting the Pinehurst Famers Market. "I have a long legacy of family being connected to the land." She said fondly recalling her grandmother's garden, always abundant with food for her family. From her great-grandmother onward; being, "a woman of the land" was a title passed down from generation to generation. In our conversation, it was apparent that Jones's motivation for her work was to encourage others to reconnect with nature.
No One Knows They Want A Purple Carrot Until They See One
The #SeedToPlate hashtag was created to differentiate the Pinehurst farmers market with any other. Jones and her colleagues wanted to do more than bring fresh food to their neighbors; they wanted to have fun with the varieties they offered at the same time! Planning meetings happen each season to discuss color and flavor variety, how to add biodiversity, and when to start plants from seed for a well-timed harvest. Seeds are sourced locally from South Carolina growers or heirloom seed suppliers like MIgardener and Johnny Seeds for unique varieties not found in grocery stores. Growing these colorful varieties like red carrots and purple potatoes allow people to see the beauty of nature. Jones emphasized that the same farmers who plant the seeds are the ones who sell the final product, making sure customers get the highest quality possible out of their food. After that process, "the nutrients and the love is there, the flavor and the beautiful color of the food is a great blessing" for the gardener and customer alike.
What About C.O.V.I.D.?
The pandemic has reminded people just how vital self-sufficiency is. In Pinehurst, relying on friends, neighbors, and local farmers has increased a sense of community in the neighborhood. Instead of relying on grocery stores more than 20 miles away, Pinehurst residents can buy the freshest and most nutrient-dense food in the city. "There's a confidence in becoming more self-reliant. You gain so much knowledge. You also grow a sense of community because you have to reach out when things go wrong in the garden." Buying locally has always been the simplest way to boost a local economy. Because of the Pandemic, the farmers have had to think outside the box by doing grocery deliveries. Although Pinehurst was hit hard by the pandemic, residents feel safer buying from outdoor markets than crowded stores.
As the Pinehurst Farmers Market grows, the gap is being closed between residents and food injustice. It's apparent in this corner of Columbia, SC, that gardening, farming, and food are something that truly brings people together. To keep up with the Pinehurst story, you can follow Pinehurst Community Action and Pinehurst Farmers Market on Facebook and Instagram.
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