Farm digs into helping westside neighborhoods

04/21/2013 12:00 AM

04/21/2013 1:06 PM

Robin Emmons never thought she’d be a farmer. Now, it’s her full-time job.

“I left the corporate world to do something more meaningful in life,” she said. “I wanted to leave a legacy behind beyond a paycheck.”

Emmons, who said she’s always been a gardener, started connecting health and gardening in 2008 after her brother began living in transitional housing in the Mecklenburg Open Doors mental health facility.

“They were cooking out of cans and there wasn’t any fresh produce,” she said. “Their health was declining, and I became very concerned for my brother and the others living there.”

Emmons decided to add a few rows to the small garden in her Huntersville backyard and donate the food to the facility. In doing so, she said she found a passion for helping those who didn’t have access to healthy food. She knew she wanted to reach further than the residents of Open Doors.

“I knew there were people out there who suffered health disparities because of a lack of access to healthy options,” Emmons said. “And I knew it didn’t have to be that way.”

When she took a closer look at low-income areas of Charlotte, Emmons began to notice the lack of healthy food options on the west side of the city. She said there were few grocery stores and finding fresh produce was difficult.

“There were mom and pop shops everywhere, but the most people were getting there was a pack of bread and hot dogs,” she said. “Fresh produce was hard to find. The notion was that ... the residents wanted to eat this way. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

After realizing the need, Emmons turned her backyard into what she called an edible landscape. She was able to recruit volunteers to help with the garden. In 2009, she grew 3,000 pounds, of produce which she donated to nonprofits and organizations on the west side.

That’s how Sow Much Good was born.

Emmons said the farm snowballed from there. Once the word spread about what she was doing, a 4-acre parcel of land was donated to Sow Much Good to expand their efforts. The farm, which is on Hubbard Road in Huntersville, was a much bigger project than Emmons imagined.

Today, the farm has 150 volunteers; in 2012, it produced 5,000 pounds of food. Instead of donating the all the food, Emmons also set up farmers markets on church lawns on the westside to connect one-on-one with residents. All the produce is sold at very low cost to make it affordable in low-income neighborhoods.

“The response was fantastic,” she said. “I had a lot of mothers and grandmothers come by, talking to me about tomato varieties and such. They knew more than I did.”

Emmons said her goal was to set up spaces directly in neighborhoods. Many churches allowed volunteers from Sow Much Good to use their facilities to teach nutritional and cooking classes.

Sow Much Good is getting ready to expand even further by setting up another farm off Sunset Road near Beatties Ford Road. A new 4-acre property was donated to the organization by Martin Marietta Materials. The property includes a home that will become a learning center, where classes on nutrition, gardening and cooking will be taught.

Emmons said there won’t be one section of land that isn’t edible.

“It will be food as far as the eye can see,” she said. “We will also have fresh eggs, three beehives and fresh honey, and have a greenhouse built.”

At a cleanup of the property last week, volunteers cleaned out brush, gutted the inside of the home, and did a general cleanup of the landscape. Sharon Wright, who’s been volunteering with Sow Much Good since the beginning, said she is inspired by what the farm has accomplished.

“Robin’s passion and energy is magnetic,” she said. “It makes anyone who meets her fall in love with what she’s doing in this community.”

The farm on Sunset Road will open mid-May and will stay open through late fall.

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