We carry fruit to the entrance door of Greensboro’s meals deserts

Matthew King’s motto is simple: “think global but act local”.

For King, this is the solution to food insecurity. He is the executive director of Vision Tree Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that helps Greensboro residents bring groceries to their doorsteps with mobile grocery stores. He said the basic idea of ​​connecting urban farmers with local consumers could be applied anywhere in the world, but Greensboro needed it more than ever.

King calls its mobile market a “grocery store on wheels”. It’s a mobile trailer surrounded by tents that offers fresh fruits, vegetables, tilapia and even healthy smoothies every Wednesday for Greensboro residents suffering from food insecurity.

“We’re trying to put eggs on your doorstep,” said King. “That is a very basic human need. When people are hungry, your education will go up, your education will fail. People just won’t be happy. “

In April, the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) named Greensboro-High Point the most food-insecure community in the country. In the study, residents were asked, “In the past 12 months, have you had times when you haven’t had enough money to buy the groceries you or your family needed?” At Greensboro-High Point, 27.9% of the respondents answered Households with “yes” to problems with food shortages.

The lack of food security in Greensboro is terrifying, but a look at the city’s food deserts reveals a closer and more tangible look at the problem. A food desert is defined as an area where at least a third of the population is more than a mile from a grocery store and more than 20% live below the poverty line. The Guilford County Health Department identified 17 food deserts in Greensboro.

Grocery stores and supermarkets cannot make enough profit in low-income neighborhoods where people have no disposable income. They leave the area and the communities are sucked out of fresh and nutritious food. In areas like East Greensboro, residents are left with convenience stores and gas stations to supply their groceries.

“When I drive through a food wasteland, all I see is ‘We accept EBT’,” said King. “But do I feel comfortable getting my products where I get my gasoline? We have seen that the people in these communities want to know where their food is coming from. ”

In its mobile market, King accepts EBT benefits and says it offers fresh food at fair market prices that are lower than what customers see in places like Whole Foods.

As hungry people search for food in a food wasteland, Mark Smith, epidemiologist for the Guilford Co. Department of Health, said the pipeline from local farmer to consumer is blocked at both ends.

‘Do I feel comfortable getting my products where I get my gasoline?’

“We have hundreds of farmers in Guilford County and many of them want to market their products locally but don’t have the distribution networks they need to connect their food to restaurants or other outlets.”

Smith was part of a 2013 study that found that in Guilford Co., 84% of convenience stores in food deserts accepted SNAP / EBT benefits, but only 12% sold fresh vegetables. And of the families more than a mile from a grocery store, 42% do not have a vehicle to buy groceries from.

Instead, people need to use public transport to get the food they need. But Smith said that, too, carries a burden.

“In Greensboro, our bus system has a rule that you cannot take more than four pieces of luggage on the bus. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the supermarket, I end up with a lot more than four bags of food, so that becomes a problem. “

Credit Joseph Rodriguez / News & Record www.greensboro.com

Greensboro residents browse Vision Tree’s vegetable options

Smith is also on a Greensboro City Steering Committee trying to tackle food insecurity. When Greensboro-High Point was named the second most food insecure area, New Orleans, in 2012, the city took a serious look at it. The city recently received a $ 25,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for local food planning and is in the process of applying for a larger implementation grant this fall.

Russ Clegg of Greensboro City Planning Bureau said the purpose of these grants is to take a comprehensive look at the city’s food system and “meet people where they are”.

“Ultimately, it’s an economic problem,” said Clegg. “In the long term, it’s about monetary insecurity, but short-term people are hungry.”

To ensure the city uses its grant appropriately, it is holding a public session at the Peeler Recreation Center on Wednesday. It’s a “drop-by” meeting to share ideas and work with grassroots initiatives that are already strong in the local communities. These include groups like Vision Tree and the Renaissance Community Co-Op (RCC).

For about three years, residents of northeast Greensboro have been trying to start a community-owned cooperative on Phillips Avenue after the local Winn-Dixie shut down more than 15 years ago. The RCC requires a one-time payment of $ 100 if people want a share of the property, creating 32 jobs. The cooperative needs $ 1.79 million, of which more than $ 1.4 million has been raised through city gifts and grants.


Another local initiative is the Little Green Book: Free Meals in Greensboro. The Greensboro News & Record reported that the eight-page brochure was created by “Chicken Lady” Amy Murphy and lists places that offer free meals weekly and monthly.

Vision Tree King said he was glad to see the city of Greensboro work on food security, but sustainability should largely come from the community and hunger doesn’t wait for grants.

“The city is aiming for this $ 100,000 planning grant, but how many will be hungry when they receive it?” King said. “You’re all working to fix the roof, but I’ll tell you the basement is on fire.”

While King recognizes that the solution can be simple, “get people to eat,” it can only be sustained with finesse.

“Food security is an investment. If all roads were closed tomorrow, the most important person would be the farmer, ”said King. “So before we get to that point, let’s make sure they can stay in power with the resources they need.”

Clegg agrees, saying the city sees its grant as an opportunity to boost Greensboro’s economy by empowering local businesses and helping local farmers take this simple step of providing food to the hungry people of Greensboro.

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