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Charlotte Area

JCSU Expands Greenhouses To Provide More Fresh Produce For Surrounding Communities

JCSU students sell fresh fruits and vegetables produced at campus greenhouses.
Gwendolyn Glenn
JCSU students sell fresh fruits and vegetables produced at campus greenhouses.

Johnson C. Smith University received $325,000 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina to expand the school’s campus gardens so it can produce food to sell at local markets year-round.

JCSU’s Sustainability Village currently has one greenhouse, a facility for tilapia and a hydroponics garden. The new funding will pay for two additional greenhouses to be built and an aquaponics facility to raise more tilapia will also be built.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Fresh fruits and vegetables are not readily available in the JCSU community, a designated food desert.

School officials say they usually begin selling produce from the Village greenhouses in the spring and stop in the fall. Having fresh food available to sell year-round is especially important to the surrounding area, which is a designated food desert. Fresh produce is not readily available in the area because full grocery stores are not nearby. JCSU officials view the fresh fruits and vegetables that their greenhouses produce as one means to address that problem.

“We hope to continue chipping at our mission of addressing food insecurity in the community, building our academic programs on campus and building stronger community partnerships aimed at addressing the unbearable social and economic inequalities that residents in our community face daily by virtue of their zip codes,” said Dr. Otienoburu, director of JCSU’s Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability

The food produced at the Sustainability Village is sold at the Rosa Parks Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays, located on West Trade, next to JCSU. Students also sell the campus produced fruits and vegetables at the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market on Yorkmont Road.

“The Sustainability Village is an important step toward addressing food insecurity in West Charlotte,” said Mike Restaino, Blue Cross NC District Manager of Community Relations. “Improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians in West Charlotte is a goal JCSU and Blue Cross NC share, and one that sets an example for communities across the state.”

People who receive food assistance, such as WIC benefits, can double their purchasing power at the market, up to $40. A drawback is that the students can only sell their produce at the Rosa Parks Market through the end of September when it closes for the year. The city’s Regional Market is open year round but it is a distance from the JCSU neighborhood and not as accessible to those without transportation. For that reason, school officials say a Saturday morning farmer’s market is now open at the West Trade Street site. It’s called The V Market. It’s a pilot project city officials are undertaking to see if residents will support it.

The V Market was open the past two Saturdays. JCSU officials say it is attracting crowds and if it continues to be successful, the Market will be open on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon year-round.