N.C. A&T Initiated Urban Farming Enterprise Gets Underway in Food Desert

N.C. A&T Initiated Urban Farming Enterprise Gets Underway in Food Desert

The first crop is being planted this week in a new, urban vegetable farming enterprise on Phillips Avenue in Greensboro, spearheaded by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in partnership with Concerned Citizens of North East Greensboro (CCNEG). The urban farm is aimed at addressing the health, nutrition and enterprise needs of one of Greensboro’s largest and most longstanding food deserts.

The United States Department of Agriculture-funded project represents the culmination of several years of community organizing by Dr. Terrence Thomas a social sciences researcher in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at N.C. A&T.

“Residents of northeast Greensboro have been concerned about their limited access to fresh food for many years, and so we have been working with them to find solutions. We hope this will become a model for how communities can develop their own healthy food environments and enterprises,” Thomas said, adding that the project is in keeping with the College’s Local Food and Health Initiative.

The first planting is a crop of cucumbers under a 30-by-90-foot high-tunnel greenhouse, and the first employee has been hired to maintain and manage the enterprise. The plan calls for two additional high tunnels and two additional employees. Concerned Citizens is involved in all the decision making, and is responsible for marketing the produce at affordable prices to residents and, it is hoped, to a new community-owned food co-op being developed nearby. The plan is for N.C. A&T to turn over full management of the vegetable farm to CCNEG. Technical assistance and training is being provided by The Cooperative Extension Program at A&T.

Thomas, whose academic interest is in studying how community-based organizations solve complex problems, has combined outreach with research and education in the project. Numerous nutrition and food-preparation workshops that he organized throughout 2015 for the neighborhood were well attended and enthusiastically received, and he hopes to continue them, if future funding becomes available. Thomas also hopes to conduct longer-term studies on the health status of residents impacted by the new food environment.

“Behavior is constrained by the environment, so education alone does not have an effect, unless you also provide access. This is aimed at solving both problems,” he said.

The project is also aimed at invigorating a spirit of entrepreneurship in young people, says Dr. Bob Davis, a retired A&T professor of sociology, and president of CCNEG. He said the urban farm proceeds will be returned to support the farm and, as it grows, more jobs.

“The neighborhood is enthusiastic about seeing this going full blast, and Concerned Citizens hopes this will get more young people interested and involved,” Davis said.