Charlotte’s statistics when it comes to food insecurity, like economic mobility, deliver some sobering truths.
In its 2015 State of the Plate report, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council reported that 87,354 of our county’s approximately 1 million residents lived in food deserts, defined as areas where it’s hard to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.
Recognizing the issue, food advocates are leading a cross-sector movement to increase the number of fresh solutions, like urban farming.
Carolina Farm Trust — an organization advocating for policies that build a sustainable, equitable and healthy local food system — is at the helm of the movement to embed urban farming more deeply into the Charlotte community. While the Farm Trust supports farms across the Carolinas, its latest endeavor focuses on alleviating food access barriers for Charlotteans by developing the 6.7 acre Urban Farm at Aldersgate in east Charlotte.
Elliott Royal, a Farm Trust board member and longtime food security advocate, says there are working-class residents facing food insecurity because they lack resources and access, especially along Beatties Ford Road, West Boulevard and the east side of town.
“Food is something that should be an equalizing issue, but it’s a new form of segregation,” Royal said. “Urban farms can be a great workforce in tackling this issue of economic mobility.”
The Urban Farm at Aldersgate currently houses 54 fruit trees and 35 berry bushes. It will grow to include an aquaponics system, a commercial kitchen, and a year-round farm stand stocked with seasonal produce. Both Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments will be accepted, ensuring the working farm is a benefit for all who need it. Aldersgate aims to address the underlying issues of equity and inclusion by serving as a food source and learning lab for east Charlotte and beyond.
Charlotte’s culinary and arts communities come together to highlight the possibilities
To introduce the concept and garner additional support, Carolina Farm Trust hosted its second annual Night at the Museum fundraiser at the Levine Museum of the New South on May 2. The event drew more than 350 attendees, offering them a moveable feast composed of farm-to-table-inspired appetizers and cocktails.
The event highlighted the power and importance of community by bringing members of the local culinary and arts scenes together for a common cause. Guests nibbled on dishes like Justin Burke-Samson’s roasted carrot and polenta cake with hot honey, Clark Barlowe’s blueberry pig and quinoa, and Treasure Williams’ deconstructed vegan banh mi.
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It was hard for many to pick a favorite. However, a frequently mentioned bite — and my personal favorite — was the pickled shrimp Chow Chow by Chef Michael Bowling of Soul Food Sessions.
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As a west Charlotte resident, Bowling said it was a natural fit to participate in the event.
“If you look at what a food desert is, we’re it. The closest grocery store is 2-3 miles away,” he said. “We have urban farms…we have Rosa Parks Farmers Market…but individuals without transportation have a 3-mile walk to the store.”
Asked for the inspiration behind his dish, Bowling explained that he wanted to do something seasonal that involved seafood and aligned with his passion for supporting local farmers.
“I got a lot of my product from Two Pigs Farm near Statesville and Barbee Farm near Concord,” he explained.
Beer from Resident Culture Brewing and a variety of wine flowed as featured beverages. But, Dot Dot Dot mixologist Brittany Clark proved to be a crowd favorite, evidenced by the longest line of the evening. With the vision of refreshing and herbaceous libations in mind, Clark served drinks showcasing seasonal ingredients like roasted peaches, sweet peppers and heirloom carrots.
“I wanted to keep everything local. I do a lot of farm-to-glass things,” Clark said.
Attendees united around a sentiment best expressed by Royal:
“This issue is important because food is what keeps us up and running. If we want to maintain our workforce and our society, food must be treated as a human right.”
Sabrina Clark is a NY native who enjoys the South, but still loves the perfect view of a city skyline. She’s a social worker and child advocate who finds her zen by enjoying all that Charlotte has to offer.