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NC’s Rural Communities Finding Food Solutions Amid COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many North Carolina residents to start their own gardens.(Adobe Stock)
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many North Carolina residents to start their own gardens.(Adobe Stock)
July 2, 2020

WASHINGTON, N.C. -- Rural communities across North Carolina are working to meet the rising needs of residents who are unable to access healthy food as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Many already grappled with longstanding health inequities before COVID-19, but local groups have stepped up efforts amid the public-health crisis.

Bill Booth, executive director of the Alpha Life Enrichment Center in Beaufort County, said most of the farming done in the area involves row crops -- like corn, soybeans and tobacco -- rather than fresh vegetables that residents can access locally.

Instead, most live in so-called "food deserts" with limited options for grocery shopping. Booth added that more than 32% of Beaufort County's population lives in poverty. His organization is spearheading an effort to build a community food co-op in the town of Aurora.

"In the next couple of weeks, hopefully, we'll be able to go in and begin to transform that building into a cooperative grocery store," Booth said. "We'll be working with the local growers in the area."

The group also is providing regular meals to front-line health-care workers at Vidant Beaufort Hospital, and has donated personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to local emergency hunger-relief groups.

In Halifax County, Chester Williams of the group A Better Chance, A Better Community (ABC2) said while workshops and community dinners have been canceled, some residents are growing their own food in response to the pandemic, using gardening starter kits provided by his organization.

As ABC2's founder and CEO, he's convinced that the coronavirus is changing how residents think about health and access to fresh food.

"We have a young person that started a salad garden, and now, they have salad they can eat with their family," Williams explained. "So, it's going through different conversations and different actions of change. Not relying on other but relying on yourself -- and then, interdependent in our community to sustain ourselves. "

According to 2019 data from Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, more than 12,000 in Halifax County are considered food insecure, a number that is expected to increase because of the pandemic.

More information about these and other local efforts to improve food security is online as part of the Healthy Places NC Initiative on the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust website.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC