Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Enhancing Food Access and Creating a Healthy Lifestyle for Residents in Spartanburg, SC

The Surdna Foundation is developing a Sustainable Environments Storybank, the focus of which is to feature innovative ways to update infrastructure and foster healthy, sustainable and just communities. In this vein, Surdna has asked existing grantees to contribute real-life stories about the green economy and sustainable infrastructure. This is the first in a series of stories that Reconnecting America has submitted to the Surdna Foundation Storybank.

Spartanburg, South Carolina, has a classic American history like many cities in the south. The region is naturally rich in resources and fertile farmland, and they profited heavily from the many cotton mills dotting the riverbanks of Spartanburg during the post-civil war era. Spartanburg’s position as a transportation hub earned it the nickname “Hub City” and brought even more profitability to the region as goods were delivered across the country. In the midst of the conflicts and movements of the 20th century, the city suffered the loss of its textile industry and has been working ever since to reinvent itself. In the 1990s, Spartanburg won large international contracts that laid the framework for a new type of economic prosperity; it is now the headquarters for BMW and other multinational companies.  

Since then, a lot of investment has gone into creating a vibrant, sustainable community for Spartanburg residents. But while the community was starting to thrive, there was a major challenge it had yet to face – unhealthy lifestyles were leading to major health issues among residents, especially obesity and diabetes.

In 1999, Spartanburg created task forces focused on significant public health issues sponsored by a local foundation. Of these, the diabetes task force led to the formation of a non-profit, the Spartanburg Nutrition Council, that worked to educate children about healthy eating habits, particularly those in food deserts and low-income neighborhoods. However, they ran into a problem. Ana Parra, Executive Director of the Hub City Farmers Market (the new name of the Spartanburg Nutrition Council), and a local food justice advocate noted, education was only getting us so far. We realized that without proper access to fresh food, children would not have the opportunity to actually eat healthier.” Thus began the creation of the community garden program.

Since the inception of the program, Hub City Farmers’ Market has started more than 40 community gardens, and currently helps maintain 12 gardens in local schools and throughout the community. Hub City Farmers’ Market works with residents to start their own gardens. The non-profit also worked to make sure that there were locations for farmers to sell their produce and developed a weekly farmers market, which is now open every Wednesday and Saturday. The farmers market started with 12 vendors and has grown to more than 50 rotating vendors throughout the season, who are required to sell only their locally grown produce.

Hub City Farmers' Market Mobile Market

Hub City Farmers' Market created a Mobile Market food truck that travels to food deserts and sells locally produced fruits and vegetables at affordable prices

The progress that is occurring in Hub City is getting noticed. Foundations, including The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, awarded Spartanburg a Healthy Kids Healthy Communities grant in 2009 to help organizations combat childhood obesity. In 2009, the Hub City Farmers’ Market partnered with the Metropolitan Studies Institute to conduct a food inventory to locate the food deserts throughout the community. When they realized that there were areas that couldn’t access the local products, Hub City Farmers’ Market decided to create a Mobile Market -– a food truck that goes into food deserts and sells locally produced fruits and vegetables at affordable prices. The mobile market and brick-and-mortar markets accept food stamps and EBT cards to guarantee that everyone can afford fresh produce.

In 2011, a Spartanburg partnership received a Healthy Food Financing Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowing them to create a space called the Healthy Food Hub. This space will serve as a central location for the Farmers’ Market, an Urban Farm, a cafe, a learning space for the community and local farmers, and a retail space to sell fresh fruits and groceries. The Healthy Food Hub will be located in the Northside community of Spartanburg, which is a low-income neighborhood that the city hopes to revitalize under a larger community development effort. The Hub is creating local jobs and will be completed in December 2013.

Parra believes that “everyone deserves healthy food,” and the city of Spartanburg is making this vision a reality. The city and local nonprofits are literally sowing a healthier lifestyle into the community, directly challenging the diabetes and obesity epidemic menacing so many cities in the south. Spartanburg is tackling its issues head on and working to create a healthier, more vibrant community for all its citizens.