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JCSU, health care provider partner to tackle food insecurity
Blue Cross Blue Shield backs Sustainability Village
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2018 11:26 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

A $325,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield North Carolina will expand Johnson C. Smith University's Sustainability Village.

There’s a new partnership in the fight against food insecurity in Historic West End.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced an investment of $325,000 toward the Johnson C. Smith University Sustainability Village expansion. The investment will fund three new buildings and support year-round harvests for westside communities.

“This partnership is pivotal in providing students opportunities to address food insecurity issues, as well as enhance their entrepreneurial spirit,” JCSU President Clay Armbrister said. “We are grateful for this investment and look forward to continuing the work with Blue Cross North Carolina to change community health for the better.”

JCSU launched Sustainability Village  in 2013 to address the lack of access to healthy food options in the Northwest Corridor. The original facility included a greenhouse, hydroponics and aquaponics garden maintained by students and faculty, who also market harvests as well as promote nutrition education and community garden development in the corridor.

Sustainability Village harvests fresh produce, vegetables and tilapia, which are sold at nearby farmers’ markets.

Two areas of the Northwest Corridor are considered food deserts, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as  communities lacking fresh fruit, vegetables, and healthy whole food options due in part to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets and healthy food providers. In some corridor neighborhoods, the nearest full-service supermarket is at least 5 miles away.

The percentage of West Charlotte residents who get food assistance is as high as 41 percent in some communities.

“The Sustainability Village is an important step toward addressing food insecurity in West Charlotte,” said Mike Restaino, Blue Cross NC district manager of community relations. “Improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians in West Charlotte is a goal JCSU and Blue Cross NC share, and one that sets an example for communities across the state.”

The expanded Sustainability Village will add a pair of hydroponics facilities and a new aquaponics space that will boost food production up to five times current capacity.

“We hope to continue chipping at our mission of addressing food insecurity in the community, building our academic programs on campus and building stronger community partnerships aimed at addressing the unbearable social and economic inequalities that residents in our community face daily by virtue of their ZIP codes,” said Philip Otienoburu, director of JCSU’s Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability.

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