Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) received $325,000 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) on Wednesday to expand the university’s Sustainability Village, a food access initiative launched in 2013.
Blue Cross NC’s investment will help support the village’s year-round harvests for West Charlotte communities by funding the construction of two new hydroponics facilities and an aquaponics facility. The facilities will increase food production capacity between four to five times more than current levels, officials said.
“We hope to continue chipping at our mission of addressing food insecurity in the community, building our academic programs on campus and building stronger community partnerships aimed at addressing the unbearable social and economic inequalities that residents in our community face daily by virtue of their zip codes,” said Dr. Philip E. Otienoburu, director of JCSU’s Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability and an assistant professor of biology.
Sustainability Village hosts a greenhouse, an aquaponics facility and a hydroponics garden. Harvests offer items such as fresh produce, vegetables and tilapia to residents in the Northwest Corridor of Charlotte. In addition, JCSU students maintain the facilities, market the harvests and focus on community outreach to promote nutrition education and community garden development.
JCSU and Blue Cross NC’s latest announcement is significant because the Northwest Corridor – representing two areas of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County – is known to be a “food desert,” signaling a lack of, or limited access to, grocery stores or healthy food providers.
Leaders point to research showing the crucial impact of fostering partnerships between health care organizations and communities in order to improve community health outcomes.
“The Sustainability Village is an important step toward addressing food insecurity in West Charlotte,” said Mike Restaino, Blue Cross NC District Manager of Community Relations. “Improving the health and well-being of North Carolinians in West Charlotte is a goal JCSU and Blue Cross NC share, and one that sets an example for communities across the state.”
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