Navigating Charleston's Food Deserts
Navigating Charleston's Food Deserts
The story of Lowcountry Street Grocery begins with its founder, Lindsey Barrow, and his long-standing commitment to social justice. A proud Virginian, Lindsey found a home in the Lowcountry via the College of Charleston, where he studied both political science and philosophy. Here, Lindsey developed a strong interest in social issues surrounding food security and sustainability. After graduation, he headed to Hawaii to serve as legislative aide in the Hawaii State House of Representatives, where he oversaw his district’s efforts to address public health concerns regarding diabetes and healthy food access. During his time as a legislative aide, he joined locals and spearheaded the charge to improve community health to heart by resurrecting a dilapidated and dysfunctional farmers market in one of the low-access neighborhoods they served. Upon returning to South Carolina, Lindsey discovered the same barriers to healthy food access in Charleston. This compelled Lindsey to advocate for the same kind of relief efforts in Charleston’s low-income neighborhoods, and the concept for LSG was born. When he’s not in the office planning the future of LSG, Lindsey can be found at Rebellion Farm tending to fresh vegetables, or somewhere else out of doors, or boogieing to good tunes and, more than likely, laughing uncontrollably at jokes and weird noises. He looks forward to soon delivering his farm-fresh produce from the bus.
I am passionate about food. As founder of Lowcountry Street Grocery, it is my mission to give all people in Charleston access to affordable, healthy, local food. Farmers market–quality items shouldn't be inaccessible to those who live in food deserts, typically low-income areas where nutritious foods aren't readily available, and shouldn't be unobtainable for those without viable transportation. Last week, we met our Kickstarter goal for Lowcountry Street Grocery, enabling us to realize our dream of a mobile farmers market. Thank you to everyone who backed us; your contributions will ensure that underserved residents in the Lowcountry will be able to participate in our thriving local food economy.
On April 23, I set out on foot (as many residents do) in North Charleston for a mid-day grocery trip in order to illustrate the importance of our mission. Here's what I found:
Start: 12:55 p.m. in the Chicora community at the South Carolina Federal Credit Union CARTA bus stop.
I walked a quarter of a mile and passed one store and one McDonald's.
Bus stop at 1:15 p.m.: No appropriate maps, confusing, no grocery stores listed. Missing one map of the route we need for Save-A-Lot—found out through a man at the terminal. Terminal had soda and candy bar machine. Gonna walk around the block and kill some time before next bus...
Stopped at a soul-food cafe. (Smelled too good, and thats my jam!) The cook, "Mama," was nice as could be—hooked me up with ham in my limas because she didn't have neck bone. Mama said she likes her limas with rice but can't have that anymore because she has diabetes. I agreed and mentioned brown rice, and she explained that she didn't know how to cook it.
A woman at the intersection of St. Mathew Baptist Church and the Empowerment Center suggests I go to Walmart because the Save-A-Lot doesn't have a good selection. She says it's worth the extra bus time and walk. She also says "be safe"...in broad daylight. I mentioned a farmers market being a solution, and she said she would love it if it was affordable.
Stopped by a few corner stores—best thing they had was Gatorade and canned food. Nothing fresh. Pricing mark-ups were outrageous. Fortuitously (for them) located next to check-cashing joints. Real nice.
2:18 p.m.: The bus was a fiasco—had to have exact change, $1.75 per fare. Who has that anymore? No change maker and no debit/credit. I would have to get a pass for this to work out. I actually messed up the money exchange so badly that I had to walk back up and pay. Wait for six minutes now....
Finally at Walmart with a small group from the bus trip, feel we're faced with a trek through a concrete desert—about a 300-yard walk to the front door—cars whipping by like we're not there. Feeling the camaraderie now.
Selection is decent, but inconvenient when leaving—bags are whipping around in the wind, and the 300-yard walk feels even more daunting. If you have something to do, this is not even a little bit practical.
Reached the busy intersection with bags, trying to cross Rivers Avenue with hands full. This is not something anyone should ever have to do: too unsafe, too time-consuming, taxing. If you're over 50, this is out of the question. I end up shooting across the road with someone that does it on the reg, stopping at the median and avoiding the crosswalk. It saved a few minutes.
3:53 p.m.: On the bus now, heading back. Got some milk and a frozen pizza, worried they're thawing out.
Tired? Hungry? Poor? No worries, good ol' McD's has your back! Classy move on the city bus, guys.
The sweetest thing: One man that rode out to the Walmart on the same bus went there to get a single rose and, I'm to assume, ingredients for dinner. Couldn't help but notice...and hope that whoever is unknowingly awaiting dinner knows what he went through to make it happen. #respect
3:55 p.m: En route and tired. Have to hope I choose the right stop to get off at. I asked the bus driver and he's not sure which stop is closest to the home base.
If you ever want to love thy neighbor, respect everyone, and see people as people...ride the bus for a day. Walk a mile. Or three even. We're all in this together.