Sow Much Good works to provide direct access to affordable, nutritious food, educate the public on healthy eating habits, and advocate for the right of every person to have real food security. RWCI has partnered with Sow Much Good to bring these services to residents of The Renaissance. The West Boulevard corridor has limited options for food shopping, and those that do exist are not always easy to access. Lack of transportation or funds makes it difficult for residents to acquire basic healthy foods. Sow Much Good is working to change that by providing seasonal farmers’ markets on-site as well as advocating for more permanent solutions to the food security problems West Boulevard corridor residents face. We spoke with Sow Much Good Founder & Executive Director Robin Emmons to learn more about the initiative.
Robin became interested in nutrition and food security when her older brother, who had been living homeless in Charlotte, was unable to access healthy food at his transitional housing facility. He quickly became unhealthy, and Robin made it her mission to provide the facility with the nutritional foods that they lacked. She turned every corner of her back yard into a garden, growing as much produce as possible, and donated everything to the housing facility. Very quickly, her brother’s health dramatically improved. She founded Sow Much Good in 2008 to eliminate systemic barriers in the food system that disproportionately affect the working poor and underserved populations. Today, Sow Much Good intensively farms 10 acres of land and operates six farmers’ markets in affected neighborhoods.
Food Insecurity in Charlotte
According to Robin, food insecurity is about structure. Intentional decisions are made every day about who has access to food and who doesn’t. Food insecurity can be an economic or a geographic issue; it means that you either don’t have access to healthy food, or you cannot afford it. The unhealthy diet you can access causes lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Charlotte is a classic “tale of two cities”; you can see the dividing lines between healthy and unhealthy communities. According to Robin, these disparities in food security are caused by decisions made at the policy level around land use and economic development. Businesses and policymakers decide where to create space and opportunity for food retailers to come in and serve communities. This is why advocacy is an important aspect of Sow Much Good.
Injustice in the Food System
As for the health of those living along the West Boulevard corridor, statistics and health indices show they have shorter life expectancies than their counterparts living elsewhere. These early mortalities are caused by lifestyle diseases including diabetes and hypertension, asthma, and cancer which are directly associated with the inability to access healthy foods. Coupled with the lack of available healthcare resources in the West Boulevard corridor, these diseases greatly interfere with the quality of life of those affected. Food insecurity also affects educational outcomes, because children can’t focus or pay attention if their basic nutritional needs aren’t met. This contributes to the achievement gap between individual students and, in a divided city, the entire school system.
In addition to political and geographic barriers, Robin recognizes that there are cultural obstacles as well. She proposes a long-term solution to educate entire communities about healthy eating habits. She wants to teach people which foods are healthful and how to prepare them so that they retain nutrients throughout the cooking process. Sow Much Good is developing a critical mass of individuals to demand systemic changes in the food system both industrially and culturally. The organization serves as a grassroots organizer and advocate for these changes.
RWCI and Sow Much Good
Robin originally met with RWCI Executive Director Laura Clark and a representative of Laurel Street Residential about the possibility of creating a community garden at The Renaissance. The partnership was supported and developed further by Christian Friend, RWCI Director of Programs. Now the seniors at The Retreat at Renaissance have a small garden, and Sow Much Good supplements their produce with a bimonthly seasonal farmers’ market at The Renaissance, which is open to the entire West Boulevard community. Robin is concerned about the health of the seniors, who are a particularly vulnerable population. Their access to food in a food-insecure area is even more challenging given their limited mobility, lack of transportation, and tight budgets.
RWCI Partnership Highlights
Robin admits she has a special place in her heart for the senior population. At each of the farmers’ markets “they expressed so much joy and appreciation for what Sow Much Good is doing”. Robin realized that while she was providing nutritious food to them, they were encouraging her. The exchange of love and appreciation (and food!) at The Renaissance has been memorable to her.
Upcoming Plans and Future Outlook
Since Sow Much Good’s farmers markets are seasonal, Robin and her staff will spend the next few weeks getting ready for spring and another year’s worth of providing nutritional food to Charlotte’s most needy populations. In the meantime, Robin worries, “What are people are doing without their markets? Are they able to access nutritional food? If so, where? And can they afford it?” Sow Much Good will be back on land this month, working in the greenhouses. The markets won’t resume until late April or early May. Robin told us, “we need holistic, year-round food options – including grains, breads, meat, eggs and nonperishables in addition to what Sow Much Good can grow.” Sow Much Good’s direct food provision is “a stop gap measure, a band aid. What really matters is how we go about building partnerships to bring a full service grocery option to communities in need.” If Sow Much Good doesn’t put itself out of business through its advocacy and educational efforts, she hopes it will become part of the natural landscape. Robin would like Sow Much Good to be “an option among many to choose from” as an accessible source for nutritious foods.
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You can visit Sow Much Good’s website, www.sowmuchgood.org, to learn more about their work and how to get involved.