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Partnering for Success

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By:  Sabrenna Bryant, SC NRCS Public Affairs Specialist

While NRCS is certainly in the business of helping people help the land, usually farmers, the reach of the agency can also extend off the farm.  Through strong partnerships with grassroots organizations, such as the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED), NRCS is able to impact communities across the state with limited access to fresh produce.

SCACED is a statewide trade association and funding intermediary for Community Development Corprations (CDCs), Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and various community economic development (CED) stakeholders in South Carolina, that strives to improve the quality of life for low wealth families and communities. Through a two-year contribution agreement totally $300,000, the partnership between NRCS and SCACED aims to increase participation in Farm Bill programs to under-served landowners, as well as increase community gardens in low-income, low-access, food desert or rural neighborhoods.

To achieve these goals, SCACED works with community advocate groups, such as the Southeastern Housing and Community Development organization, who seek funding to improve the lives of low income residents in rural South Carolina. While this organization pushes many initiatives to help rural communities, establishing community gardens in local churches, schools and public housing areas has also been a major goal.  Robert Thomas (pictured below, second from right), Southeastern's Executive Director hired Lara Buss (pictured below, left) as the Community Engagement Program Manager in August 2018. Buss manages a community garden on the company's property in Bamberg county, which serves as a learning tool for the organization, as well as others interested in implementing community gardens.

the housing crewOverflowing with beautiful, fresh produce, this bustling garden produces 25-30 gallons of produce each week, most of which is donated to local food pantries and food drives, as well as local public housing units that use the produce in cooking classes designed to teach low-income residents fresh, healthy recipes.  Through the NRCS and SCACED partnership, Southeastern was able to receive a $10,000 re-grant to build a seasonal high tunnel.  The high tunnel will also be used for demonstration to teach community residents how to grow fresh produce, and according to Buss, will help to "train the trainer". Through these initiatives, Southeastern ultimately hopes to create a prosperous food economy in Bamberg county.