WRITTEN BY Sarah DuBose
Since its creation in 2012, Mill Village Farms has stood for a simple concept: to build small and sustainably managed farms that promote holistic development in the Greenville communities through providing employment opportunities and fresh produce in food desert areas.
Mill Village Farms (MVF) is centered on growth within the greater Greenville community. More specifically, MVF works to grow fresh and local produce for low income communities that otherwise lack access. Furthermore, MVF is committed to growing and expanding job opportunities for the community’s youth, ultimately creating purpose and spreading hope among surrounding neighborhoods.
MVF includes three farms across the greater Greenville area: Sullivan Street Farm, Serenity Farm, and Minnie’s Farm. This organization has turned vacant properties into hot spots for beautiful gardens and valuable experiences, further enhancing the city.
“With Mill Village, there’s an incredible entrepreneurial connection or component to what they’re doing, and this gives us, as a community, the opportunity to expose these children to entrepreneurship and business, to follow their passions and their dreams, and to understand that there are not just roadblocks everywhere—there is opportunity,” explains Steve Frabitore, owner of Tupelo Honey Cafe and partner of Mill Village Farms.
MVF offers youth development classes, teaching subjects including fitness, cooking and nutrition, future planning, personal finance, and “Powered For Life” courses. Powered For Life classes are 11-week courses in which participants learn resume and application writing, interview skills, and appropriate behavior in the workplace. This organization hopes to set up area youth for success in all areas of life. Through providing youth in at-risk neighborhoods with first-time jobs, MVF empowers and motivates.
“MVF got me my first actual job; it taught me how to be more responsible. I had to get more mature—and it especially taught me how to be on time. I think it helped me in the real world, too,” says youth partner Jimmy Thompson.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on low-income neighborhoods. Individuals suddenly have found themselves unemployed; they are having to feed and care for themselves and their children who are no longer in school where they were previously provided with sufficient food. With the increasing need for healthy food within these Greenville food deserts, Executive Director Dan Weidenbenner is tasked with bringing immediate and crucial relief to these communities.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, MVF has worked around the clock to ensure that its vulnerable communities will still have access to affordable fresh foods through their FoodShare Food Box Program. MVF partnered with FoodShareSC in 2018 to provide families they serve with boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables. These “Fresh Food Boxes” come with a combination of 10 to 12 locally and seasonally produced fruits and vegetables along with recipe cards in both English and Spanish, providing easy yet creative ways to use the produce.
As part of MVF’s COVID-19 summer relief plan, the Fresh Food Boxes are delivered every week; they are filled with $20 to $25 worth of produce, but cost only $5 cash, guaranteeing that the organization is helping to meet the growing demand for families in need of food in the Greenville community.
“This year, we are having to slightly scale back our Youth Program on the farm due to COVID-19. However, already in 2020, our FoodShare program has reached more people than in 2018 and 2019 combined,” says MVF team member Rob Cain. They have already distributed 54,000 pounds of food and almost 5,000 Fresh Food Boxes from 30 different locations across Greenville since the beginning of the pandemic.
Mill Village Farms is an inspiration to the surrounding communities, encouraging neighbors to come together in doing something positive for the community from cultivating fresh, local, and affordable produce to nurturing a successful future for its youth. And while Greenville neighborhoods face significant obstacles due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, with its dedication to serve, MVF is up for the challenge.