10 Projects Transforming Charlotte, North Carolina’s Food System

From foodtank.com, by Eden Kinkaid
10 Projects Transforming Charlotte, North Carolina’s Food System

Charlotte, North Carolina, is home to a diverse network of urban agriculture projects transforming the city’s landscape and its local food system. While each project has unique objectives and strategies, all share similar goals: to increase access to healthy food, and give back to the community. Here are 10 urban agriculture projects currently growing in the Queen City.

100 Gardens designs and installs aquaponic systems in urban settings. The organization considers aquaponics, the practice of growing fish and vegetables in an integrated system, to be a model for sustainable food production. 100 Gardens uses aquaponic laboratories (“AquaLabs”) in places like schools and prisons to teach science, technology, math, and engineering in a hands-on way.

Charlotte Green is a nonprofit organization that supports resident-led initiatives to improve local neighborhoods. Some of these projects include lotscaping, or the conversion of empty lots into community gardens; Charlotte Green currently supports six of these transformed spaces.

Cultivatis is a design and consulting firm that works with clients to create, install, and manage sustainable agricultural systems and productive urban landscapes, as well as navigate common challenges, such as zoning laws, soil infertility, and space constraints. Cultivatis also offers training and consultation on various aspects of small-scale farming, including Community Supported Agriculture models, food and agriculture law, and curriculum development.

Earth Farms Organics diverts organic wastes from landfills in the Charlotte area and processes them into a variety of compost and soil products. In 2012, Earth Farms Organics launched a program with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools aimed at reducing food waste and increasing students’ awareness of related environmental issues; school and community gardens can make use of valuable, locally-sourced compost.

Friendship Gardens is a network of more than 70 community gardens in Charlotte. In exchange for support and resources, community gardeners donate produce to the organization's Friendship Trays program, which delivers 750 healthy meals to Charlotte residents every weekday. Friendship Gardens also operates a Mobile Market to increase access to healthy, affordable food, as well as an Urban Farm Learning Center, where residents can study urban farming and participate in workforce development programs.

Hope Haven, Inc. is a residential program for adults and families recovering from chemical dependency. Participants have the opportunity to work with one another, and with non-resident volunteers, in Hope Haven’s onsite greenhouse and gardens to produce food for the community. Small-scale farming and gardening provides residents valuable life skills, while serving as a therapeutic environment during their recovery.

The Little Sugar Creek Greenway Community Garden (LSCG) is a community garden open to all residents of Mecklenburg County. LSCG offers an assortment of classes, including soil management, seed saving, composting, harvesting, and food preparation and preservation. This garden is part of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway and Stream Restoration, an initiative to preserve and connect 19 miles of green space along local creeks and streams.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, an 18-story luxury property in uptown Charlotte, seems like an unlikely site for an urban agriculture project. However, the vegetated roof of the hotel is home to 100,000 honey bees, which produce around 70 pounds of chemical-free honey annually for the hotel restaurant and spa. In addition to feeding the honey bees, the flowering plants insulate the roof, reduce runoff, and mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Sow Much Good is an urban farm in northwest Charlotte that fights food insecurity in a county where 60 neighborhoods qualify as urban food deserts. The farm yields chemical-free produce, which locals can purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Sow Much Good offers free classes to residents and collaborates with students at nearby Davidson College to address issues of food justice and food insecurity in local neighborhoods.

Students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte established its Community Garden in September 2014, where collegians sustainably tend vegetables, flowers, and herbs on a quarter-acre plot on campus. UNCC’s Community Garden encourages a community focus—students learn about gardening while producing food for people in need.