Access to Healthy and Affordable Food
Today’s blog is featured in Mary Black Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report.
Relationships. Consistency. Sustainability. Community.
These are some of the attributes necessary for a successful food system and the values that embody two organizations in Spartanburg. Hub City Farmers Market (HCFM) and Ruth’s Gleanings play an important role in providing access to healthy and affordable food. They share a vision of a Spartanburg County where individuals and families can enjoy healthy meals made with vegetables and fruits sourced from regional farmers.
History of Partnership
The relationship between the Mary Black Foundation and Hub City Farmers Market (HCFM) began over 20 years ago. When the Foundation launched its Healthy Community Initiative (1998-2003), one of the focus areas was improving the nutrition of Spartanburg County’s residents. The Spartanburg Nutrition Council was launched, which evolved into Hub City Farmers Market .
These days, the HCFM plays a critical role in bringing fresh food to community members through a Saturday Market and an Urban Farm, both in the Northside neighborhood, and through a Mobile Market.
Between 400 to 600 customers visit the Market each Saturday morning to purchase fresh produce and locally sourced goods. As Jordan Wolfe, executive director of HCFM, reflects on her organization’s success, she points to the intentional effort of building trust within the neighborhood. Relationships with community leaders and advocates, like the Northside Voyagers, are key as is consistency.
HCFM has proven to be a reliable, healthy food source for families who know that each week they can walk or drive to the Market for fresh food. In addition to the Saturday Market, the Urban Farm and the Mobile Market allow HCFM to bring fresh, healthy foods to Spartanburg neighborhoods experiencing food insecurity. Food grown at the Urban Farm is sold on the Mobile Market, along with food purchased from local farmers. With fifteen locations visited each week, residents have come to rely on the Mobile Market for quality, fresh food. Seniors, in particular, have embraced the Mobile Market.
This relationship-building extends beyond the neighborhood and the patrons who shop at the Market and Mobile Market. HCFM has a unique partnership with the farmers who sell their produce at the Market, many of whom are small-scale farmers who face challenges that can make farming difficult to sustain. HCFM provides training and workshops to support farmers as part of its vision to ensure the people of Spartanburg County have consistent access to locally grown food.
Bridging the Gap
As a volunteer and board member of HCFM, Tonja Smith was introduced to the challenge of food insecurity. She saw firsthand the need for healthy food within the community, but she also knew there was significant food waste. She was inspired to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity among Spartanburg’s most vulnerable.
In 2016, she began working with local farmers who had excess harvest. She helped distribute the food to local food banks, soup kitchens, and mission homes. It was the beginning of Ruth’s Gleanings, a nonprofit organization of which Tonja is the founder and executive director.
Food Share Program
In 2019, the Mary Black Foundation approached Ruth’s Gleanings about expanding its programs to include a Food Share program. Food Share is a statewide initiative that encourages communities to buy food from farmers and create boxes of fresh produce to be distributed to local families. Tonja sees Food Share as a nice complement to the original program of rescuing food waste and delivering it to service organizations. In the first year of operating Food Share, Ruth’s Gleanings distributed 2,700 boxes of food. In 2020, the number of boxes doubled, and, in 2021, over 9,000 boxes were distributed.
Community support and partnerships are the cornerstone of Ruth’s Gleanings’ success, which includes a warehouse in Pacolet to receive, store, and box donations and purchases; the original packing location in Spartanburg; and 14 distribution sites across the County. Many distribution sites are tied to the healthcare community due to the importance of healthy food on individual health. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare Center’s diabetic education department, the Pediatric Clinic, and the Family Medicine Clinic are examples of food distribution sites.
Meeting the Evolving Needs of Spartanburg County Residents
Hub City Farmers Market and Ruth’s Gleanings point to the Mary Black Foundation as a common thread. The funding from the Foundation has helped them develop a strategy for the future, take calculated risks that led to successful expansion, and develop new partnerships that increased impact.
The Foundation has provided training and technical assistance that has motivated both Tonja Smith and Jordan Wolfe to focus on systems-level work and how their organizations can increase capacity to meet the evolving needs of Spartanburg County so that our local food system can thrive.
To read more from Mary Black Foundation’s 2021 Annual Report, visit: https://maryblackfoundation.org/about-us/annual-report/