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Life and Religion

Farm-fresh idea at root of attacking Charlotte's food desert issues
Aldersgate, Carolina Farm Trust collaborate
Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018 11:06 am
by Ashley Mahoney

Aldersgate’s urban farming initiative is a partnership with Carolina Farm Trust to boost sustainable farming in East Charlotte.

Not every Charlottean has their daily dietary needs meet.

Urban Farm at Aldersgate in East Charlotte provides a space for locally grown produce in an area traditionally devoid of it. Aldersgate, an East Charlotte retirement community, and Carolina Farm Trust, a nonprofit that fosters sustainable farming, unveiled their collaboration model for a learning lab and agricultural center on June 7 at the neighboring Charlotte Museum of History.

Local chefs prepared food with museum exhibits displaying the potential of culinary diversity.

“If you’re not eating on a high level, how could you ever be dining on a high level,” said Chef Greg Collier, owner of The Yolk in Rock Hill, one of the restaurants featured at the event. “If you don’t have access to fresh vegetables, why would you go to a restaurant that serves fresh vegetables? If you look at the chefs from [the showcase], you see the diversity at that event. That’s one of the most diverse rooms I’ve ever been in, and Carolina Farm Trust does that on purpose.

“You have to make an effort to go support black-owned restaurants. Some of these places may be a bit off the beaten path in some of these underserved neighborhoods, but the beautiful thing about that is if you go into some of these underserved neighborhoods and learn some history, you may find out something you didn’t know about that community.”

Terms like food insecurity and food deserts have been tossed around in relation to East and West Charlotte in recent years, as approximately 15 percent of Mecklenburg County residents live in poverty.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department opened the Rosa Parks Farmers Market in Historic West End in 2016 to address the disparity noted in a study published by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council. In turn, they provided an accessible space for the sale of locally grown produce in the neighborhood.

Aldersgate and Carolina Farm Trust have a different response to food insecurity—a 6.7-acre urban farm. Carolina Farm Trust will maintain the site and pay $1 per year in rent to Aldersgate. Insight Architecture and G.L. Wilson are constructing a model to transform unused buildings, tennis courts and a pool into the farm.

“Part of our mission at Aldersgate is taking care of our neighbors,” said Erin Barbee, Aldersgate’s director of mission advancement. “Access is to fresh, healthy food should be a given for everyone in our community. But in some parts of the east side, people are living in a food desert. That’s not acceptable to us. Eating fresh, local food should not be a privilege that comes with social standing. It’s a human right that has measurable health and economic benefits.”

Urban Farm intends to plant seeds in the spring, with an operational farm by fall. Additionally, EBT and SNAP food assistance programs will be accepted.

“Healthy food should be accessible to everyone,” said Zack Wyatt, Carolina Farm Trust founder and executive director. “Locally grown, whole food – the kind with little to no processing between where it’s grown and where it’s consumed – should not be out of reach for anyone living in a prosperous city like Charlotte. I’m excited to be part of a movement designed to make healthy food available to folks who may not be used to having access to it.”

The farm will include an aquaponics system, mobile kitchen, beehives for pollination, as well as a farmers market that will provide produce throughout the year. The market will also source items such as meat and eggs from within a 100-mile radius of the site.

“This is a culturally diverse neighborhood,” Wyatt said. “Residents may need ingredients that you don’t generally find in your supermarket. If customers tell me they want oxtail, I know a source where I can get it.”

Farm-to-table demonstrations would become available to Aldersgate residents, who may choose to volunteer on the farm, as well as at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for cooking demonstrations through a mobile kitchen. It would also provide a learning lab for nine CMS Title I schools to educate students on the process of farming, as well as provide them with an understanding of the origins of what they are eating.


Nice move Aldersgate!
Posted on June 14, 2018

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