Feed & Seed: Tying Food Systems Strands Together

If you’ve heard about Feed & Seed in Greenville and you think it’s some kind of farmers market in a permanent structure, you’d be partly right—but it’s really more of a lot of big ideas being pulled together by executive director Mike McGirr along with a working board of directors and other contributors from the Upstate. As a team, those individuals have worked to ensure that the focus of Feed & Seed is both regional and collaborative. The tangible structure is only one facet of a food systems organization that encompasses sustainable farming, school nutrition, community gardening, food systems apprenticeships, innovative partnerships, and more.

McGirr grew up in California and Massachusetts, the child of parents who came from Appalachian farming families, and gardening was always a part of their family life. As an adult, he worked in the marketing and advertising field and later as a high-end private chef in Atlanta. The move to Atlanta made him fall in love with the southeast, and a growing passion for the entire food stream led him to Greenville, where he saw positive things happening and he wanted to be a part of the food systems in the Upstate, so he relocated here.

A fortuitous meeting at an urban farm with Scott Park, who was working in planning for Greenville County at the time, was where the seed was planted for a food hub project to bring together the disparate links in the chain of food production and consumption in the Upstate. McGirr had been doing his own personal research, working on a farm census to see who was growing what, and Park’s 2014 Feasibility Study: A Case for an Upstate SC Food Hub, along with Dr. Ken Meter’s 2013 report, Making Small Farms Into Big Business, provided the data to back up the need for such an initiative.

Joining forces with Ten at the Top’s food systems work group, McGirr met farmers, social service providers, educators, chefs, and economic development administrators—everyone who touches the food stream at some point along the way. The group that formed from those meetings wanted to reconnect Upstate farmers to the local marketplace, and he set about pulling the pieces together to make that happen, focusing on the wholesale segment so that farmers can sell more to a broader market, including institutional consumers such as schools and hospitals.

All of the food system threads that were pulled together to connect farms to consumers coalesced into Feed & Seed’s current mission: “to improve the health and well-being of all citizens by increasing access to healthy foods; build a more environmentally sustainable food system; and stimulate economic growth by harnessing the power of food, farms, and communities.”

The Commons, which will open later this year at 159 Wellborn Street, will house processing and production operations along with both wholesale and retail, with partner Bacon Brothers processing and selling meat products while Feed & Seed will process and sell vegetables. Other permanent vendors will include a bakery, a coffee shop, a diner-style eatery, and Community Tap for beer. Booth space inside the building and on the sidewalk outside will be available for smaller vendors.

Improving the health and well-being of all citizens goes well beyond providing a market with locally sourced food, though—it means getting families invested in eating healthy foods and creating access to those foods. The Farm to Belly program is a Feed & Seed initiative that brings together a number of social services, wellness, food, and education organizations to provide recipe bags to families in the Head Start program, and a land donation by the Spinx Corporation will provide space a for community garden and market space on Pendleton Street.

Targeting older students, a culinary apprenticeship program in partnership with Upstate technical colleges also involves bringing together several groups, from Apprenticeship Carolina to Goodwill to Bacon Brothers. Students will be exposed to a variety of career options in the food industry, including cooking, growing food, and butchery, and employers will have the opportunity to see who is a good fit for different positions. The program will pay the apprentices’ wages for 90 days, and employers will receive a $1000 tax credit if they hire students at the end of their apprenticeship.

Feed & Seed is a nonprofit, and fundraising events are held throughout the year to fund its initial capital investment, but the model is set up to be self-funding by year three. Follow them on Facebook to find out about farm to table events and other opportunities to donate, as well as the progress of projects in the works.

All photos courtesy of Feed & Seed.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at SharonPurvisWrites.com.