Getting Down and Dirty With Two of Charlotte’s Freshest Garden Nonprofits
“Everything goes back to the soil,” says Jillian Hishaw, Founder & Executive Director of F.A.R.M.S. The nonprofit focuses on helping small farmers in low income or rural communities succeed and thrive by providing legal, food bank and education services.
It’s a cause that’s close to Hishaw’s heart. “I experienced land loss in my family personally through my grandfather,” she explains. Her grandfather lost his land during the Depression, which, generations later, sparked Hishaw’s interest in farming. She received her undergraduate degree in biology, then her law degree and masters in Agricultural Law.
With degrees and passion, Hishaw formed Family Agriculture Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.). The nonprofit hones in on the ways small farms in rural areas actually impact urban areas, and intentionally reintroduces the two communities to one another. “We focus on the farmer, helping them expand their retail markets, and protect their family land with proper estate planning mechanisms,” she explains. Expanding farmer’s retail markets while serving the community at the same time is a prevalent program goal.
Hishaw achieves this goal through multifaceted programming, including F.A.R.M.S. to Food Bank, which directly combats poverty in both rural and urban areas. The program purchases fresh produce directly from small farmers to be donated to area food banks, pantries and child care centers. In the past three years, the program has donated over 120,000 pounds of fresh produce to areas in and outside of Mecklenburg County.
In 2015, F.A.R.M.S. received a grant from the African American Community Foundation—Foundation of the Carolinas to provide fresh produce to low-income seniors in Charlotte. “We provided nearly 3,500 pounds of produce as a result of the Foundation’s funding, and provided the same amount to low-income families in Charlotte last year from a Food Lion grant,” Hishaw explains. All that donated produce was purchased from local farms, like Monroe Farms and the Males Place, a local urban agricultural nonprofit.
Hishaw is also intent on raising a new generation of agriculturally aware citizens.. Through career fairs and internships, she opens the eyes of youth to the breadth of agricultural careers. “I want more students to consider careers in agriculture and agricultural science, so I’m exposing them to various facets of agriculture. They don’t usually think, ‘Oh I can be an agricultural lawyer, a game warden, work in conservation, become a large animal vet…’ F.A.R.M.S. exposes them to different careers.” The options, she points out, are limitless.
Workshops, food bank donations, and an upcoming fundraiser on a local lavender farm—F.A.R.M.S. is the very definition of multifaceted. But it always comes back to one thing: the soil. It’s here that our food is raised and, in turn, our communities.
For more information about F.A.R.M.S. visit 30000acres.org.
In order to understand Charlotte’s nonprofit 100 Gardens, you have to start somewhere else entirely: Haiti. In 2010, following the earthquake that struck the island nation, renowned local architect Ron Morgan wanted to give back. “He had the idea of how Charlotte could contribute to Haiti, because Charlotte used to be the sister city of Port-au-Prince,” explains Sam Fleming, who took over the organization following Morgan’s passing last year. “Charlotte could send down large hydroponic farms and train the Haitians to use the gardens. If we could build 100 gardens, what kind of impact would we have?” The answer: huge.
Though the organization still has ties to Haiti, it’s more locally focused these days. They’ve also traded in hydroponics for aquaponics, which swaps the use of chemical fertilizers for nutrients created by freshwater fish. The water and plants raise edible fish, which fertilize the plants, and in turn the plants clean the water. It’s symbiosis at its best.
The modern project took shape in Morgan’s backyard, where Fleming, Morgan and Charles Oliphant developed an aquaponic garden that caught the attention of neighborhood kids. “The kids were talking about PH and oxygen during dinner, and the parents were wondering what happened to their children,” Fleming says with a laugh.
That natural-born passion they found in kids inspired them to move the 100 Gardens primarily to local schools. “Maybe we just discovered a tool for teaching science, healthy eating, and sustainability all in one,” Fleming remembers. When installed in schools, the gardens could serve as accessible (and malleable) models for kids to understand food. They began with an aquaponic garden at Stonewall Jackson, a local juvenile detention center, and now they have five programs in local schools. Fleming hopes to see that number grow to 100 within the next 5 years, buoyed by their new 4th through 8th grade curriculum.
100 Gardens is also branching out into other aspects of the community through their new Seeds on 36th Store. “We get emails every week from people who want to do this in their backyard,” Fleming notes. “I had the idea that we could really engage the public in growing food through a retail setting. We’re the only garden center focused on growing food—it’s a platform for people who want to grow their own food, a place to take classes and buy equipment that’s hard to find, with live displays on site.”
100 Gardens is intentionally integrating aquaponics, the future of gardening, with the Charlotte community—one drop of water at a time.
For more information about 100 Gardens, visit 100gardens.simdif.com.