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North Charleston's Fresh Future Farm hopes for long-term presence in 'food desert'

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Fresh Future Farm JUMP 02.JPG (copy)

Germaine Jenkins, co-founder of Fresh Future Farm, shows off herbs in the garden on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Lauren Petracca/Staff

After several years of offering fresh produce to residents, an urban farm is hoping to offer food for decades to come in a North Charleston food desert.

Fresh Future Farm is currently raising funds to purchase the .81 acre site it's been leasing from the city for the past five years.

The goal is to continue offering fresh vegetables in a community that's lacked a full service grocery store for more than a decade.

An agreement was reached between farm leaders and city officials for Fresh Future to buy the $40,000 property as the farm's five-year lease prepares to expire in September.

Land ownership ensures the farm's longevity and that it won't be displaced like other community gardens across the country have been, said store co-founder Germaine Jenkins. 

“If you just look at the decrease in black farmers on a national level, the issue has been the ability to be able to afford the land," she said.

"With ownership and this full infrastructure we'll have multiple revenue streams," Jenkins added. "We can employ more people and we can replicate this work.”

Today, the once vacant lot on Success Street is flourishing with onions, melons, bananas, blackberries and other fruits and vegetables that are sold in a tiny grocery store at affordable prices. But the site is more than a location to grow and buy produce. The nonprofit offers farming educational courses, camps and workshops.

Since its inception, the farm has made a significant impact in the community. Employees and volunteers have distributed more than 15 tons of groceries and paid $300,000 in payroll to employees from the community.

One of the store's regular customers, Christina Sheppard, 66, walks to the farm from her home on Troy Street several times a week. She said the site is special in appealing to elderly residents.

“It’s good for the neighborhood," she said.

Jenkins isn't surprised by the farm's impact.

"People who have limited sources have been figuring out how to keep a roof over their head since the beginning of time," she said. "They’re problem solvers to the next level. We knew if we had resources, we could do some stuff.”

Property ownership would enable Jenkins to expand her operation to include an incubator kitchen where chefs could whip up soup bunches and pickle peppers grown at the garden. The kitchen would also feature an oven, stove and blast chiller. A new pavilion would enable classes to continue during times of extreme heat.

The store has already raised over $18,000 from 165 donors. The $60,000 goal will cover both the land price and costs for new infrastructure.

For North Charleston community leaders, Fresh Future's land ownership would signal community empowerment.

It's located in North Charleston's south end where redevelopment is raising concerns about whether longtime residents will be displaced. But those who own land in the area have a say in what the future holds, community leaders said. That's why organizations like Metanoia have secured several lots for affordable housing units, helping to ensure that though the neighborhood may change, residents can still have affordable places to live.

“Ultimately who gets the say of who stays and who goes in a community is who owns the property," said the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia. "By virtue of owning property ... we’re creating a much more diverse neighborhood that is fair and equitable.”

Omar Muhammad, president for the Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, is happy with the direction the area is headed. But he added that collaboration between nonprofits, residents and government agencies will be essential overcoming obstacles.

"One group can't be left out of the conversation," he said.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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