By Ashleigh Bugg
When those from other countries think about the United States, a lack of food is not the first thing that usually comes to mind. The U.S. has long held a reputation for being the “land of plenty,” where everyone has enough.
However, according to Palmetto Works, a nonprofit operating out of South Carolina, the Department of Agriculture estimates that 2.3 billion people are living in food deserts. “Food desert” is a term coined in the 1990s in western Scotland, “where it was used to describe the poor access to nutritious foods experienced by residents of a public housing development.”
According to Britannica, food deserts may exist in rural or urban areas and are associated with complex geographic and socioeconomic factors, as well as with poor diet and health disorders such as diabetes and obesity.
Often, the nearest grocery store might not be miles away, and people do not have access to public transportation or vehicles to get to the fresh food they need. Another factor might be the cost of healthy foods, which many families cannot afford.
Over half of these individuals in the United States are living in rural, low-income areas like the Pee Dee region of South Carolina.
There is a strong need for community-based organizations to offer fresh produce, job training and economic support to local farmers in order to combat food deserts and help communities thrive, according to Palmetto Works, who used a CBF Ministries Council grant in 2019 to expand its stationary fresh produce stand and mobile produce stand. Due to a previous donation, Palmetto Works received a truck that could be used for transporting fresh produce from local farmers to their facilities as well as create a mobile weekly produce stand. However, the truck needed maintenance and insurance in order for this expansion to begin.
The CBF grant went directly to the cost of maintenance and insurance of this truck, according to the Rev. Cheryl Adamson, executive director of Palmetto Works Community Development Corporation and pastor of Conway Missionary Baptist Church in Conway, South Carolina.
“Because the Pee Dee is a rural area of South Carolina, having a physical location for Palmetto Works has been beneficial, but could be better with the mobile produce stand option,” Adamson explained. “This expansion would be supported by the foundation that Palmetto Works has in the physical location so that both will be more successful.”
Although Palmetto Works cannot be replicated exactly as it was created and implemented based on the context of the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, Adamson maintains the method she used to establish the nonprofit could be taught and shared throughout the CBF community.
Palmetto Works collaborates with 16 partners who are 100 percent local. According to their estimates, they have positively affected at least 24,000 people in the Pee Dee area. They recently entered into a covenant relationship with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina as a mission partner, the founding organization of Metanoia of North Charleston, South Carolina.
They have collaborated with A Father’s Place, Coastal Carolina University, Horry Georgetown Technical College, EME Apartments, SC Works, Voc Rehab, Horry County Adult Education, the city of Conway, TeamEffort of Jacksonville, Florida, USDA Summer Foods Program, Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Anglican Church, among other community partners. They also provide a year-round dropout-prevention mentoring program for middle and high school students called Work It Out Leadership Academy, involving children and youth in the community through the Palmetto Kids! initiative.
“We believe strongly that we cannot effect community change without partnerships,” Adamson said.
The Mobile Produce Stand joins other Palmetto Works initiatives including Culinary and Hospitality Operatives Prepared to Serve or CHOPS. The program promotes healthy living through food demonstrations, nutrition classes and the facilitation of ways for families to begin better lifestyles. By supporting local farmers and providing fresh produce to local families, CHOPS aims to alleviate poor health and curb obesity.
Adamson says the CBF grant will help her organization expand further in their mission to help families stay healthy. “This grant will allow the walls of Palmetto Works to disappear as Palmetto Works goes out into the community,” Adamson said.