Whether you’re trying the new intermittent fasting trend, making sure to eat kale salads or hitting a juice bar on a regular basis, a healthy lifestyle is always on trend, and there are three impactful programs in Charlotte that are also contributing to the cause, working in different ways to make the Queen City healthier. FoodCorps teaches kids to eat healthy through programs at school, Pop Up Produce helps families learn to grow their own food, and Crown Town Compost works to keep waste out of the landfills by turning it into soil. We caught up with the leaders of these organizations to hear about their efforts and find out how you can get involved.

FoodCorps

Erin Brighton, Director Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council 

What is FoodCorps?

FoodCorps is an AmeriCorps service program that connects kids healthy food in school so they can lead healthier lives. There are FoodCorps service members serving in 17 states across the United States. FoodCorps service members serve in high-poverty schools.

Why bring FoodCorps to Charlotte?

Because the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council has so many great partnerships across the county, we love hosting FoodCorps here in Charlotte. Service members are able to access resources from the county health department, CMS, Communities in Schools, Friendship Gardens, Friendship Trays and a lot more.

How does it work?

FoodCorps service members teach cooking and gardening and lead taste testing sessions for kids. Kids are much more likely to try foods they have grown and prepared themselves. Kids work in school gardens planting and harvesting. There are lots of STEM lessons that can come out of a gardening experience — cooking experiences are closely tied to science standards as well as nutrition, of course. In the cafeteria, FoodCorps service members work with cafeteria managers to identify opportunities to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. At one of the schools, students have done a veggie of the month project, where they create an ad campaign around a specific vegetable in season and try to get kids to try it. Kindergarten classes even hold a monthly cooking session that involves the veggie of the month. At a school where most of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, we want kids to feel comfortable in the cafeteria, so we help them get to know the staff who is preparing their food. For some of our students, their only two guaranteed meals a day are the two meals they get to eat at school — breakfast and lunch.

RELATED: The NEW 6 Superfoods We Should All Be Eating (and Why!)

What is the big goal?

Healthy, well-fed students learn better. Healthy, engaged students are more likely to attend classes and not miss school. By connecting kids to healthy food and giving them the tools to make healthy choices, FoodCorps is building a healthier school community that feels empowered, engaged and ready to learn.

“FoodCorps is an AmeriCorps service program that connects kids to healthy food in school, so they can lead healthier lives,” says Erin Brighton, Director Charlotte-Mecklenburg Food Policy Council.  Image: FoodCorps.

When kids are involved from the beginning, planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to try the foods that incorporate these healthy choices! Image: FoodCorps.

How does Charlotte benefit from having this here?

More than a third of families with kids in Charlotte are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Seventeen percent of our elementary school kids are qualifying as obese compared to a national average of five percent. Charlotte benefits from FoodCorps service members who spend quality time with kids teaching them about healthy eating and giving them skills to live healthy, productive lives. While our schools are so focused on test scores right now, unhealthy, hungry kids just can’t perform to the best of their abilities. FoodCorps members creating a school-wide culture of health benefits the whole school community and, in turn, our greater Charlotte community.

How can people get involved?

The Food Policy Council raises all the money needed to run FoodCorps at our partner schools. Fundraising for this program is one of our main projects throughout the year, so donations are always welcome! Gift cards for supplies are also a huge help for our service members. They grow a lot of the food they cook with the students, but they always need staples from the grocery stores. FoodCorps service members also coordinate garden clean-up days at their schools about every quarter, and volunteers are always welcome to participate in those as well. If people have time during the school week, FoodCorps service members look for volunteers who can commit to a once a week or once a month schedule to help with cooking and gardening classes. All volunteers have to go through the CMS volunteer screening.

Learn more about FoodCorps HERE.

Crown Town Compost

Agnetta Krechner, General Manager

What is Crown Town Compost?

We are a food waste collection service in Charlotte/Mecklenburg County. We divert compostable waste from the landfill and turn it into healthy soil, both saving precious land space and replenishing the micro-organisms in our earth. We currently service 31 different neighborhoods and anybody who makes their way out to our Weekly Community Compost. We also collect compost from any business who is interested. Our main targets are coffee shops, restaurants, juice bars, groceries and other businesses with food scraps; however, we also service offices who keep our bucket in their break room for employee lunch scraps and paper towels.

How does it work?

We give the businesses as many 64-gallon bins as they need, and we give our residents a 3.5-gallon bucket to fill up each week with their plant-based waste. That includes fruit and veggie scraps, paper products, coffee grounds, napkins, plant-based plastics and any other non-meat or dairy products (for now).

Once a week, we can drive up to your business or house if it’s within our delivery zone and swap out the full bucket with a clean one. If you’re outside of our zone, you can join our community compost, which is Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in front of Hex Coffee at the intersection of Remount Road and South Boulevard. We have limited funding since we are a start-up business, so we simply go where we are wanted.

Save land space and replenish the earth’s soil by using Crown Town Compost. Image: Crown Town Compost

If you’re in their zone, Crown Town Compost will drive to your house to replace your filled compost bin with a fresh one — there’s no excuse not to compost! Image: Crown Town Compost

Their ultimate goal? To create accessible and affordable composting available to all residents of Charlotte. Image: Crown Town Compost

What is the big goal?

To create accessible and affordable composting available to all residents of Charlotte. We try to make it easy for people who don’t have the time, space or energy to compost on their own by taking care of all of the heavy lifting and dirty work. The owners would like to ultimately create an urban farm to show the full cycle of food. Create a garden using compost soil > grow fruits and vegetables to sell to customers > collect the food scraps > compost back into soil.

Personally, I wish to see us get to a point where I can collaborate with other local sustainability organizations to create a funded educational program that teaches children about a circular economy and healthy living.

How does Charlotte benefit from having this here?

Every year Mecklenburg County produces enough food waste to fill the entire Bank of America building. Food waste is a fraction of all compostable waste, which is only 30% of landfill matter. When creating landfills, nobody wants it in their backyard, and when you do find a place, it’s a major producer of methane gas, which is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. While landfills do eventually decompose, it takes about 50 times longer.

After 3 to 6 months of decomposing in our compost piles, you have fully broken down soil, which is filled with micro-organisms. This means less fertilizer, less watering for your plants and excellent drainage during times of heavy rain. Create a layer of compost a few inches high, and over time it breaks down that red clay soil we have around here, and it will be all black dirt ready for planting. The bottom line is fewer floods, fewer chemicals, more flowers and homegrown food.

How can people get involved?

Spread the word, tell businesses how important it is for them to compost, join our service, and spread our finished soil around anywhere that you can.

To learn more about Crown Town Compost, click HERE.

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Pop Up Produce

Amanda Zullo, Founder and Executive Director

What exactly is Pop Up Produce?

Pop Up Produce is a local startup non-profit, and our mission is to empower families and individuals to grow their own food. We are all about the idea that when you grow food, you grow community. We fuse innovation, social entrepreneurship and sustainability to make change.

How does it work?

We created a “One for Many” model through our Fresh Start Kits, teaching families all across America how to grow food. All our kits are packaged by local volunteers. With every kit purchased, we donate resources to local families in food deserts. Our kits are sold at local events, on Amazon and on our website.

Our team uses the money we make from the kits to build gardens and teach “pop up” garden lesson plans in our local school system, taking the knowledge out of the textbook and applying hands-on learning in an outdoor classroom experience. Children are loving being outside, getting their hands dirty in the soil and seeing “produce pop up” right before their eyes! From purple carrots to yellow tomatoes and everything in between, students are exposed to an array of vegetables some have never seen or heard of before.

Our curriculum is unique in that it teaches through the lens of social compassion, demonstrating how people and plants aren’t all that different; how diversity is essential for a garden to survive and for society to thrive, and how plants and people must coexist. We are literally planting seeds of change. While the students are planting seeds in soil, we’re planting seeds in their minds, opening up new experiences and empowering them to see the world differently. We’re teaching them how to become self-sufficient within food desert locations. To date, we’ve taught more than 500 CMS students the foundation of how to grow fresh food.

These students are proud of their strawberry plant! Image: Pop Up Produce

Hard at work, these Charlotte Lower Lab School students plant their produce. Image: Pop Up Produce

Pop Up Produce provides a wide variety of produce to plant. Image: Pop Up Produce

How is this benefitting Charlotte?

More than 90,000 of our own Charlotte neighbors live in a food desert, and half of them are children. Since we’re all about Grow Food | Grow Community, we’re able to teach residents on both sides of the income bracket how to grow food. Families do so at home with their kits, which then funds the ability for students in underserved schools to learn how to grow, too.

How can people get involved?

People can get involved in a variety of ways! From volunteering in the school gardens, planting days at the school, working local community outreach events or helping put kits together at packaging parties.

To learn more about Pop Up Produce, click HERE.

We are so inspired by these visionaries in the Charlotte community and motivated to help make Charlotte healthier. To find out more, and jump on board to help, visit their respective sites: charlottefoodpolicy.org/foodcorps; crowntowncompost.com; popup-produce.org.

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