Life and Religion
|A green thumbs-up for urban gardening|
|Pop Up Produce addresses food disparity|
|Published Thursday, September 29, 2016 2:17 am|
Fresh produce is more than a cute garden.
Amanda Zullo, a winner of the $5,000 Emerging City Champions grant, created Pop Up Produce, which addresses issues surrounding food deserts, insecurities and disparities in Charlotte.
“There is an entire food desert region, and that is not just a Charlotte problem—that’s a national problem,” Zullo said. “It’s basically helping to bridge communities. If South End can help West End, then could that help bring our community together?”
Pop Up Produce advocates that enjoying fresh produce isn’t enough. Learning how to grow it is beneficial, too.
“The mission is to empower families and individuals to grow their own food, while educating them on the benefits of fresh produce,” Zullo said. “We love farmers markets, but there is that educational disconnect. We don’t necessarily know how to grow food.”
Roughly 25 volunteers made 160 kits in two hours at Atherton Mill Market in August, with 122 distributed throughout Charlotte.
“How it works is when you buy a kit, [it’s donated] to someone in need,” Zullo said. “You can also donate money for someone to receive a kit, or a corporation can donate money, and then a school could get a set of kits. It’s really based on volunteers and donations. Hopefully, I can apply to the Knight Cities Challenge, which is also through the Knight Foundation. It’s a $5 million umbrella worth of funding that can go to various organizations. The hope is that I was able to prove myself strongly enough in the fall to do the pilot program.”
Pop Up Produce targets children, with the expectation that educating them early can lead to proper eating habits down the road.
“We have various locations in the communities,” Zullo said. “Several of them are Title I schools. I really want to work with the youth. That’s a great opportunity to make sure you target children when you ingrain the importance of fresh produce in children when they are young. A lot of this is primarily focused in the West End.”
Elliotte Royal, Mecklenburg County’s food access coordinator, said at a presentation earlier this year: “Food, air and water should be things that everyone has healthy access to. They’re the ultimate equalizer. Proper nutrition and food access are prevention to chronic disease, and often these low income neighborhoods have high chronic disease rates. If we can address that by having food access, then why aren’t we?”
Since receiving the grant in July, the Pop Up Produce team has concentrated its efforts on addressing the issues surrounding food access in Charlotte, and tried to present a solution.
“The project for me was really about raising awareness of food deserts, food disparities and food insecurity, but also to show that there is this whole group of people who can’t access groceries, but there’s also this other group who can help,” Zullo said. “I thought, ‘how can we build community around the notion of food?’ We’re actually planning a community dinner Nov. 10 at Skyline Terrace in West End over by Mosaic Village from 6-8 p.m. It’s a way for us to bring all of the kit owners together.”
Personal passion drives the project for Zullo.
“It’s interesting, because my background is in architecture,” she said. “It’s not in public health. It’s not in nutrition, but nutrition and health and wellness have always been vital to my being. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a kitchen where my mom cooks, like every single day. I’m Italian, so my grandmothers both have gardens, which is how I grew up playing in them.”
As Americans struggle with health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure, the solution can often be found by putting something different on plates.
“There is a national American epidemic with obesity, diabetes, and it is all linked back to what we are putting in our bodies,” Zullo said. “If we could just make a subtle shift, and take the notion ‘oh maybe this is something cute to do,’ like yoga pants. Yoga pants were the initial way for people to get interested in yoga, and then it started to change how they thought about it in their life, and how they think about their being—the ripple effect. Whether you purchased a kit or you received a kit, there’s something beautiful about seeing something grow, especially doing it yourself. If you can empower someone who may have thought ‘oh I never thought I could do this and now I can’ and get them to think ‘what else can I do?’ That has tremendous personal growth on both sides.”
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