Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation Funds Grant To Empower Community Gardeners

12/10/2020 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Dec. 10, 2020) – A grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation will enable Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to strengthen the state’s network of community gardens, build the leadership capacities of community gardeners, and connect community gardens to local, regional and statewide food system transformation efforts.

The three-year, $206,000 grant will bring together Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T and the North Carolina Community Garden Partners (NCCGP), a grassroots initiative that supports gardens across the state, to provide technical support to gardens and leadership training to gardeners so they are able to influence food policy and address the problems of food deserts and food inequities.

“This project is about community empowerment, and I am so excited to be leading it and working with the North Carolina Community Garden Partners, Cooperative Extension agents, and community leaders throughout the state,” said M. Alyssa McKim, community garden coordinator with Extension at A&T and director of the new project. “Our goal is to build the capacity of individual gardens and community gardeners. That puts them in a better position to engage with food system initiatives across the state and be included in their efforts, and that is so important to addressing the problem of food deserts and the inequities they cause.”

Food deserts are defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as low-income census tracks where at least a third of the population, or a minimum of 500 people, live more than a mile away from a real grocery store or supermarket in urban areas or 10 miles away from a grocery store or supermarket in rural areas. Food deserts contribute to food insecurity, where the quality and varieties of foods available to households is reduced. About one in five North Carolinians experience some food insecurity, according to the USDA. The problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and is most severe in limited income and minority communities. Food insecurity can mean that families go hungry and can negatively impact health, including complications from eating unhealthy foods, such as obesity diabetes and heart disease.

By connecting local gardeners with food policy advocates and efforts to transform food systems the new initiative will ensure that community gardeners who have first-hand experience with food insecurity have a voice in developing and implementing strategies aimed at improving access to healthy foods. The funding will support training for as many as 120 community garden leaders, provide gardeners with opportunities for peer learning, collaboration, and collective action, connect community gardeners to local and statewide food system transformation efforts, and establish stronger connections between county-based Extension agents and grassroots garden leaders.

“We are honored to support Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T’s efforts to strengthen the growing statewide community garden network in our state and help build a more diverse and inclusive network of food system advocates working to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food,” said Merry Davis, Blue Cross NC Foundation’s director of healthy food.

Training programs will begin in early 2021.

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu