When thinking about farming and agriculture in North Carolina, it’s easy to picture big, lush fields that stretch out for miles. But for Henry and Ardis Crews, farming looks a lot like their neighborhood in Vance County.
“We grow everything from collard greens to artichokes,” says Ardis. “We’ve made an agrihood out here in Henderson.”An agrihood is the name for a community that integrates micro-farms and agricultural practices within residential areas; the Crews family owns and operates a micro-market farm in Henderson, and all throughout their neighborhood are pockets of agricultural development. Henry and Ardis, in addition to maintaining their micro-market farm sites, run Green Rural Redevelopment Organization (GRRO), a nonprofit organization devoted to revitalizing the rural communities in the Kerr-Tar region and strengthening food systems in the area.
GRRO is a part of the NC Rural Center’s Rural Food Business Assistance Project, which is funded through the USDA Rural Business Development Grant. The Rural Food Business Assistance Project provides direct technical training to agribusinesses and builds regional networks to support local farmers, value-added processors, and food service businesses.
GRRO maintains many partnerships in the region, most notably with the Vance-Granville County Health Department and Maria Parham Health. These partnerships support food-as-medicine programs, such as their Prescription Produce Program.
“Because we’re so interested in health and overall health outcomes, our premise is to provide organic produce for less,” says Ardis. The Prescription Produce Program provides a combination of fresh, organic produce to low-income patients that is tailored to their specific health concerns, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. “Many of the constituencies GRRO serves live in food deserts or areas in which there are not accessible places to get fresh food,” says Henry.
For the deputy director of GRRO, Lucette Mercer, the Prescription Produce Program and the other food and health programs GRRO operates are deeply personal. “By changing my father’s diet to include more fresh vegetables and healthier options, I was able to help him get off of insulin for his Type-2 diabetes,” says Mercer. “We at GRRO are a part of the community and experience those same health issues that the people we serve experience—and we know that these health issues can be ameliorated, or even reversed, by expanding access to healthy food.”
“We have a lot of skin in the game,” says Mercer. “All of our programs are designed with our community in mind. GRRO is all about self-advocacy and lifting our community up in the ways that work best for them.”
GRRO also operates a mobile farmer’s market. At one point, the mobile market was set up in the YMCA next to the Vance County Department of Social Services. “We were able to accept SNAP and EBT, all while reaching out to people who wouldn’t be able to make it to a regular farmer’s market,” says Henry. “It was a unique opportunity for us, and it was what sparked the partnerships with the hospital.”
In the near future, the Crews and GRRO will be starting a garden on Maria Parham Health’s campus and will be operating a mobile healthy food pantry program.
“We are unapologetically rural. Everything we do is from a rural perspective,” says Henry. “Too often, rural farmers don’t have an opportunity to participate in a lot of these organizations. One of the things the Rural Center has offered us is the opportunity to participate in these workshops and educational experiences to see the new and innovative ways of growing.”