Making healthy food accessible

The Northside of Spartanburg was 400 acres of blight, where poverty ran rampant and about half the homes were vacant. The only grocery store option for residents was a convenience store that had a gas station and liquor store attached.

City leaders had discussed ways to revitalize the neighborhood. Those discussions finally gained traction some five years ago when the Virginia-based Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine decided to invest $30 million in a Carolina campus in the neighborhood. That investment energized the area. Plus public and private partners developed a vision for the Northside, which included mixed-income housing, commercial development, and improved access to health and wellness programs.

Community meetings were held to see what residents wanted in their neighborhood. In one such meeting, a resident wondered aloud if an ice cream truck could drive through their neighborhood and sell sweets, couldn't a vegetable truck bring them the healthy foods they lacked? The idea of the Healthy Food Hub was born.

The area, which was once a "food desert" where healthy, fresh foods were not easily accessible, will be home to the new $2 million Harvest Park which will include a restaurant, grocery store, culinary job training and farmers market. Harvest Park-which was scheduled to open in late October-aims to meet the needs of many residents by providing amenities, job training opportunities and healthy food options, said Northside Development Corporation Project Manager Curt McPhail.

"We have always celebrated our agricultural history," said Spartanburg Assistant City Manager Chris Story. "Now we have a new way of making it relevant, by exploring the economic development opportunities related to it."

Harvest Park will be a catalyst for investment. The foodies who routinely shop at the farmers market will be visiting and spending money in a neighborhood that historically has been one of the area's most distressed, Story said.

Harvest Park garden 

Harvest Park bike rental 
Harvest Park store
The new $2 million Harvest Park will include a restaurant, grocery store,
culinary job training and farmers market. (Photos by Hot Eye Photography)

"All of this will raise expectations and expose development opportunities for this area," he added.

It's part of a growing trend to use locally sourced food as an engine for economic development. A number of counties and towns in the Upstate have begun discussing an Upstate regional food system, which would create a network of local food producers and small retailers in an attempt to spur growth, create local jobs and encourage healthy eating.

Many cities have established farmers markets because of their economic potential. In most cases, the market managers operate under a contract with the municipality. A few, like Greenville and Easley, have a city employee who acts as market manager.

Lisa Garrett, manager of Easley's Farmers Market, said the 5-year-old market has had a great impact on the community.

"It brings people to our downtown every Saturday morning. A lot of our customers come every week to buy, visit with vendors and meet up with friends," Garrett said. "More and more people are looking for alternatives to the big box grocery stores. It has been one of our goals to bring awareness to the public about supporting our local farmers and growers, being able to talk to the farmers and learn how they grow their food."

Greenville County Planning Department Principal Planner Scott Park has been involved in the local food system movement for the past few years. He said the entire Upstate would see economic benefits from a regional food system plan. Rural counties have assets that more urban counties need, while urban areas have the market for rural goods, he said.

"The local food system allows for a wide variety of people to gain skills, jobs and tools for entrepreneurship to support themselves, their families and their communities," Park said. "From the farm, to distribution and processing, to adding value to local goods, and to retail establishments, all can become a bigger part of the local food system."