Introducing Greenville Forward’s Research Intern

GraceMy name is Grace Balte and this summer, I will be Greenville Forward’s summer research intern. Specifically, I will be looking at the status of nonprofits in the Greenville area, and how those nonprofits are attempting to help Greenville grow. Next fall I will be a senior History major with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Davidson College.

Before moving here last Sunday, all I knew about Greenville was that it was roughly halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte, and that about ten years ago, downtown Greenville drastically revitalized it’s image and is now one of the top places to live in the South, if not the U.S. I have been here for less than a week and I already love the city.

I spent part of my first day here exploring downtown, and I immediately saw why Greenville was thriving. People were comfortable and at home walking along the wide sidewalks, seeing the tree-lined streets with shops on either side, instead of the four-lane highway that used to be Main Street. On my second day in Greenville, I took part in a walking tour, led by my boss Russell, around downtown Greenville. We made a loop around Main Street, learning about the people that really pushed for Greenville’s revitalization, including Max Heller. We also saw the parts of downtown that are unique to Greenville, such as the Mice on Main, the Peace Center, and Falls Park. My tour was filled with lots of history about Greenville, so now I have a better picture about what makes Greenville unique. Everyone in Greenville takes such pride in their city. They want to make it a better place both for themselves and for the future.

Part of what makes Greenville so unique is that once they achieve their goals, they don’t just sit on their laurels. Greenville constantly wants to improve itself, as seen from Vision 2025. This Vision is meant to evolve with the needs of the city, not just be a checked off list of things that were accomplished in the past, but a continually evolving goal. I look forward this summer to getting to know both the city itself and the people here who are truly proud to call Greenville home and want to constantly make it a better place.

Introducing Gardening for Good’s Summer Intern

 My name is Graham Browning and I am a summer intern with Gardening for Good. I will be a senior Health Science and Environmental Studies major at Furman in the Fall. I have a passion for helping people help themselves by giving them the tools and knowledge to make informed decisions about their wellbeing. My plans after Furman are to take a year off, travel, and return to pursue a masters in Public Health. I am so excited to work with Gardening for Good and Greenville Forward for the next few months!
  When I got word I received this internship with Gardening for Good, I was in Charleston for Spring Break. I literally started screaming and dancing on Market Street with my mother. And no, it wasn’t just about the money (although that is nice, too). Instead, I was more excited about getting to live out what I love about the Greenville community. The improvements I have seen since I drove through the area as a child are inspiring, but we have so much more to do. I cannot wait to, perhaps, be a part of that change.
    I grew up with a father who put every ounce of love into his cooking. Although he was only home on the weekends due to work, he made sure we sat down to a home-cooked meal together at every possible opportunity. My grandmother also grew her own vegetables on her land in rural Alabama and we spent the summer months picking, preparing, and pickling everything we could get our hands on. I was that 5-year-old kid who, when asked what her favorite food was by the pediatrician, responded “collard greens.”  After participating in the Slow Food Italy trip through Furman last May, I reconnected with my love for the land and the food that comes from that land. I realized why my father and my grandmother took so much pride in their cooking. It was their way of connecting the the Earth and those around them in a way, words simply cannot. I am honored to hopefully help others experience this feeling as well through Gardening for Good. 
    I will mainly be creating a resource database on the Gardening for Good website. Community members and volunteers will be able to find the answers to all their gardening questions in one place without having to waste time scouring the internet. The goal is to make Gardening for Good a central hub for all things gardening-related, both within the Greenville community and beyond. I am also helping launch the Greenville Tool LIbrary, which is set to officially open  in August. We will be working together to configure the logistics of opening this tool renting facility and assess community needs. I am putting together information gathered from surveys that will be up on Gardening for Good’s website before the end of the summer season. I will also be helping out in our Swamp Rabbit Teaching Garden and with various summer club-based gardens across Greenville County. Hopefully I will be leading teaching sessions by the end of the season! Keep an eye out on social media, too. I will be updating the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages throughout the summer! Here are a few pictures from my Slow Food Italy trip in Sora, Italy. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage
    As my first week comes to a close. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity to serve the community that I have fallen in love with over the past few years. Greenville has given me so much during my time at Furman, and I cannot wait to do my part to continue the improvements I have already seen taking place. 

Greenville’s Growing Local Food System

Greenville Forward's food panel included Chef Anthony Gray from Bacon Bros. Public House, Adrienne Hawkins from TR Farmers' Market, Amy Bishop from Greenbrier Farms and Scott Parks from Greenville County Planning and was facilitated by Edible Upcountry's Sam Wallace.

Greenville Forward’s food panel was one of several events we had during the month of May focusing on local foods.

It’s my favorite time of the year – Market season. I feel giddy going from vendor to vendor racking up my fresh greens, strawberries, locally-produced dips and spreads and locally-raised meats. I learned a while ago that my tummy would thank me for the early Saturday morning market visits and it has, time and time again.

So, it made sense that during the month of May, when farmers’ markets are starting, that we at Greenville Forward talk about local foods. We are currently in our Green quarter and creating a stronger local food system was one of the first topics we wanted to tackle in our discussions and programming. In the last few weeks we have  discussed food at a Food Panel discussion, at our monthly Momentum series where we asked “What Does It Really Mean to Eat Local?” and at our Progression series where Furman’s Dr. Alicia Powers’ did her first public presentation on Greenville Food Deserts.

A little disclosure, local foods is not mentioned in Vision 2025. Not once. Ten years ago, when the Vision was created this wasn’t a topic on Greenville’s radar, and that’s why it was so great to have such a magnificent panel representing producers, restaurants, distributors and planners in our area at our first event.We were lucky enough to have Amy Bishop from Greenbrier Farm, Adrienne Hawkins from the Travelers Rest Farmers’ Market,Chef Anthony Gray from Bacon Bros. Public House and Scott Parks from Greenville County Planning on the panel. And we not only had great panelists, but we also had a great partner for the panel, Edible Upcountry. Publisher Sam Wallace was kind enough to facilitate the discussion. Our panelists made some great points about the growth of the local food scene in Greenville and about the barriers that are preventing further growth. Amy said that the demand for local food is increasing and that goes hand-in-hand with the cultural renaissance that Greenville is experiencing. “Food is an art and Greenville is a very artistic community,” Amy said.

When asked what they would do if they had a magic wand, the group agreed that there are still some missing links in creating a more robust food system including reaching more low-income populations, the need for more capacity-building resources for local farmers and producers and  the need for education on preparing seasonal, local foods.

At our Momentum (Eating Close to Home) there was a lot of discussion around what local actually  means. While everyone had their own interpretation of the number of miles that define a locally-sourced item, the group spoke about the different types of farmers in the Upstate and how we can creative a more supportive community. There were many ideas about what we can do to become more of a local food hub,but the same missing links that came up at the Panel once again came up at the Momentum discussion.

Our Progression series had a little bit of a different focus. Dr.  Alicia Powers from Furman University has been conducting research on every food establishment in Greenville County. Beyond looking at where these establishments, such as grocery stores and convenient stores, are located, her team collected information on the availability, quality and pricing of healthy food options in these places. The research gives us a good picture of where Greenville’s food deserts are located and the populations most affected by lack of fresh foods. Dr. Powers has been conducting her research for the last four years and its exciting and necessary work. 

As we go through a re-visioning process to update the goals of Vision 2025, it is obvious that creating a healthier, local food system is now on Greenville’s radar. It’s obvious at my beloved farmers’ markets, at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, at our Gardening for Good community gardens and at some of  our restaurants. But our discussions and presentations have left no doubt that two things are needed – more support and resources for local farmers and more accessibility for all of Greenville residents. And while there may be some gaps in Greenville’s local food system,  we have some talented, innovative people working on solutions. Greenville Forward is excited to be working with them and I’m sure our tummies will thank them in the future, over and over again.


Lots of Love for Greenville

I think it goes without saying but at Greenville Forward, we really love Greenville. Maybe its all that green, we’re seeing lately with the arrival of Spring, but we’re feeling especially head over heels these days with our community. All of these warm fuzzy feelings make us feel especially excited for our upcoming Places We Love at Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery. There are a few spots left if you would like to join us as we celebrate the Cafe and its contribution to developing community along the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

We’ve also been inspired to wax poetic about Greenville, after reading about the The Love Letters Project, “an anthology of reflections on American places by the local people that define them.”  I’m submitting the following letter to the project about our lovely community and maybe you’ll be inspired to contribute your own.

Dear Greenville, 

When I first met you, we weren’t ready for each other. I was a child who was scared by your pastures, big box stores, desolate downtown and Southern accent. But as I got older, I saw past first impressions and fell in love with your kindness and your willingness to let me be me, and show me new sides of myself that I never knew existed. Who knew I liked the mountains and (mostly) year-round warm weather? You did. But I wasn’t ready just yet and neither were you.

We both needed to grow.

You started learning about new cultures and adopting them into the fabric of your landscape. You started to open yourself up to new traditions and intentionally let more people in. I was impressed with your ability to dream of bigger things and realize those dreams. You decided to become more connected and allow people to see more of yourself. You paid special attention to your downtown and built a beautiful pedestrian bridge where cars once traveled. You realized the potential of people meeting face to face, instead of driving by without engaging with each other. And now your towns are growing too with trails and breweries, farmers’ markets and gardens, and your community is growing stronger with every new smile and handshake.

While I was away, I realized your beauty and the opportunity to become a better person through all of the opportunities you offered. Whether I was in big cities or in small rural towns, I began to appreciate my hometown’s ability to take criticism, to learn from the past and to embrace progress. You were so different than the other places, because you weren’t happy being mediocre. 

And so we reunited. And I’ve never been happier. This new Greenville gives me plenty of cultural experiences –concerts and plays and opportunities to learn about history and eat great food– but yet still embraces me with its beautiful outdoors and kind words from strangers. It continues to look at how it can be better and be gentler to people.This Greenville has become a mid-sized city that fits me perfectly.

I love you Greenville. Not just because of who you are but because how far you have come and how much you’ve learned in the process. I love how you have grown but never forgotten who you are, and I feel like you expect the same thing from me. I am proud to call you my hometown and I hope that others will see the work you’ve put in to becoming better, not just for me, but for anyone who is lucky enough to know you. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years bring.





Inclusion Quarter Wrap-Up

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Greenville Forward implements and facilitates the goals of Vision 2025. The current vision emphasizes ensuring a high quality of life in Greenville around seven primary focus areas – Learning, Creative, Inclusion, Green, Health, Innovation, and Connected. Each quarter we plan our programming around one focus area.

For the past three months, Greenville Forward’s programs and events have centered on the Inclusion focus area of Vision 2025. It has been an exciting, yet challenging, quarter as we’ve explored how Greenville can be inclusive of everyone. Through lunch discussions, presentations, tours and more, we’ve sought to understand the issues and create dialogue in order to shepherd our community toward Vision 2025 goals:

“In 2025, we dream that Greenville is open and welcoming to all, regardless of what you look like, how much you make, where and if you worship, where you come from, or who you love.”

In January, we kicked off the quarter with a packed Momentum discussion on LGBT relations. Despite the fact that Greenville County still has an anti-gay resolution on the books, attendees agreed that a closed-minded approach is not representative of the Greenville community at large. In contrast, there are many groups that are welcoming and affirming of all sexualities, such as Gender Benders, Warehouse Theatre, Greenville UU and more, helping to move the conversation forward. In response to the discussion, Greenville Forward took the opportunity to add a clause in its Equal Employment Opportunity Policy to explicitly include sexuality.

In February, we took a closer look at poverty and race relations. After a series of Greenville News articles last November, there is a renewed interest in Greenville’s homeless population, and many are eager to help. Beth Templeton, with Our Eyes Were Opened, led a poverty simulation at Long Branch Baptist Church, which allowed participants to have a more personal experience of the myriad effects and impacts of poverty. Greenville Forward members also toured the White Horse Road crescent, one of Greenville’s most impoverished neighborhoods, and learned about the work being done by United Way partners to educate, empower and uplift these communities out of poverty.

In March, we turned our focus to religious diversity and celebrated Upstate International month. At another packed Momentum discussion, participants shared that Greenville may be known as the “heart of the Bible belt,” but is actually more accepting than they expected (despite having to answer “where do you go to church” quite often). At our Progression series, Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship minister, Pat Jobe, poignantly shared how religious inclusion is necessary for Greenville’s future and how groups such as the Year of Altruism and the InterFaith Forum are bridging the divide through their work.

Reflecting on the past quarter, the overall consensus is that we’ve come a long way, but can still improve some areas, namely LGBT relations, race relations, and religious diversity.  Although our programs are transitioning to the Green focus area in April, the conversation on diversity and inclusion does not end here.  In the coming weeks, Greenville Forward will re-launch our Inclusion Task Force to re-look at the Vision so that we are sure to keep moving toward a Greenville that is open welcoming to all. Please join us in this journey.

Getting to Know Your Neighbor

Since Lyn Riddle’s article in the Greenville News last November about homelessness and Tent City, there has been a lot of talk about the issue of homelessness in Greenville County.  The articles focusing on Tent City, including poignant photos of life under the Pete Hollis Bridge, exposed the many challenges facing Greenville’s homeless, and began to tell the stories of those who live on the streets and those helping them.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but despite the long list of recommended agencies already working to address homelessness, many responded to the articles by dropping off food, clothes, blankets, and firewood for those living in Tent City.  Often this caused more harm than good.

Tent City

Source: Greenville News

As someone who lives on the so-called “homeless triangle,” the route between service providers to the homeless in Downtown Greenville, I am an observer to the prevalence of homelessness in our community and the people who walk the streets day and night.  In fact, my front porch has become a safe haven for those who need refuge from the rain or a quiet place to sleep at night.  Although it makes my parents queasy, I don’t ask these people to leave; instead I ask for their names.  These individuals, who I could prematurely write off as drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill, are still valuable members of our society, whether or not any of those identifiers are true.  Many of them look at me like I’m crazy for not immediately disregarding them.  Then they start to tell me their stories, very similar to the ones told in the Greenville News article.  Each of the stories is equally heartbreaking, but I resist the urge to hand out cash, instead seeking to relate to this individual as an equal and better understand their struggles and needs.

A few years ago, my response would have been very different, but then I started to volunteer at Triune Mercy Center, read books like Toxic Charity, and attended poverty tours and simulations with Beth Templeton’s “Our Eyes Were Opened.”  Through these experiences, I learned that I must first understand the complexity and humanity of poverty before I can respond with wisdom and compassion.  And as someone who did not grow up in poverty, I cannot learn about poverty solely from books, but from listening to those living in poverty and allowing my mindset to change.

This weekend, Greenville Forward invites you to participate in a poverty simulation with Beth Templeton from “Our Eyes Were Opened.”  In this 2-hour facilitated simulation, you will experience what others in our community experience 24-7.  You will be forced to work with others to survive, and probably experience a wide range of emotions accordingly.  Through this simulation, your mindset towards poverty may just begin to change.  In the discussion afterward we will discuss the different ways to address poverty in our community.  Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience.  Get to know your neighbor better.

Register HERE.

Back to School


When Greenville Forward organizes an Eye on Education tour with Greenville County schools, our goal is to give community leaders and members a look at all the positive things going on in our public school system. But every time we step back into the schools, we come away impressed and inspired ourselves. This year was no different, thanks to a great tour on Monday, February 3rd that included tours of four schools, we were able to see what students were learning, what new approaches faculty were trying and the efforts by administrators to improve the educational experience for Greenville’s kids.

With just one day back in school we learned a tremendous amount about how hard everyone is working to make students successful. All the schools we visited were impressive, and once the group had the opportunity to hear from Superintendent Burke Royster we also realized the scale of what faculty and staff work with every day. Did you know Greenville County is the 45th largest school district in the country and County school buses travel 26,000 miles a day?

We wanted to share some of the highlights of our tour with you in hopes that we continue to be a community that values our schools and ultimately a community that values learning.

Blythe Academy/ Culinary Creations
We started our day at Blythe Academy of Languages and then had our group split up. One group toured Hughes Academy and Grove Elementary and the other group went to Sterling School and Washington Center. While we didn’t receive a formal tour of Blythe, it was a treat to hear Spanish and other languages being spoken in the halls of the elementary school by students and teachers. We also experienced the lunch line again at Blythe and had a meal created from the Culinary Creations’ menu. Culinary Creations is a menu concept that emphasizes scratch cooking in lieu of processed foods and promotes the consumption of whole grains and fruits and vegetables. The menu program is now at all of Greenville County elementary schools and will be implemented in middle schools next year. For our lunch we had the choice between, soup (Broccoli Cheddar) and salad, grilled chicken sandwiches or quesadillas.

Hughes Academy
At Hughes we were welcomed by the PAC or the Principal Advisory Council. The PAC was the idea of new principal Andrew Hooker, who brought these impressive group of students together, to help him promote student achievement and bring awareness and aid in reducing school bullying. The PAC served as our school guides and showed us the many programs the school has implemented to improve the Hughes experience.

Grove Elementary
While Grove is a Title 1 school, it’s a school with a big heart and dedicated teachers. In the classrooms we saw teachers working one-on-one with ESOL (English as a Second Language) students to help improve their skills, as well as Balanced Literacy lessons being given to help students a more hands-on approach to Language Arts. We also were impressed with the school’s beautiful murals and how they made the school halls a more welcoming place.

Sterling School/Charles Townes Center
These two schools that act as one have a pristine learning environment where Greenville’s best and brightest intermingle with at-risk students from the Nicholtown neighborhood. They do their best to take learning outside the classroom and are very community focused. And unlike the typical classroom, most of the students at Sterling were out of their desks working on laptops and iPads (the school is completely wifi) in groups.
Washington Center
Washington Center serves the top .1% physically handicapped from across Greenville County.  At first, the halls seemed chaotic with screaming and yelling, until we realized it was managed chaos and actual communication among the students, many of whom are non-verbal.  The teachers were probably the most positive people we’ve ever met and all of the rooms had the latest technology, including smart boards and a special multi-sensory room with a full massage chair. Needless to say, the kids stole our hearts with their big smiles and warm hearts.

Building Community in the Garden

This weekend marks the second community garden symposium, hosted by Gardening for Good.  On Saturday, Jan. 18, over 100 new, aspiring and experienced gardeners from across the Upstate region will come together at Roper Mountain Science Center for a full day of dynamic speakers and local vendors to help them become successful in the community garden setting.  For those new to gardening, Master Gardeners will present basic tips and insider secrets for getting your “green thumb.”  For those who enjoy the end product of gardening (fresh produce!), local chefs and dietitians will present on how to build a seasonal, healthful menu.  For those looking to start or join a community garden, there are panel discussions with experienced community gardens equipped to answer all of your questions.  No matter your interest or experience, there is something for you to enjoy at the Community Garden Symposium (including lunch catered by the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery). 


The goal of the Community Garden Symposium is to equip community gardeners across the Upstate with the tools and knowledge necessary to garden successfully and sustainably in their respective communities.  Already, the community garden movement has expanded rapidly throughout the Upstate and continues to grow everyday.  It is our hope to support this movement by providing community gardeners with the opportunity to hear from keynote speakers, attend workshops, information sessions, panel discussions, and visit vendors to help them become equipped for future gardening ventures.  For the full agenda visit HERE.  And to register visit HERE.

Gardening for Good, a program of Greenville Forward, is a network of local community gardens that builds upon the energy of the community garden movement, coordinates neighborhood redevelopment efforts, improves the health of residents and neighborhoods, and transforms Greenville through gardening.

Starting the New Year with Inclusion

For many people the new year, means setting resolutions. I have my own list and it includes the usual cliche goals. But this year among the need to exercise more and limit my carb consumption, I’m also adding a goal to live more inclusively.

You see, every quarter, Greenville Forward focuses on a different Vision. We have seven – Learning, Creative, Innovative, Connected, Healthy, Green and Inclusive – and they each describe what kind of community we want Greenville to be. In January, we began the Inclusive Quarter and have a variety of programming planned around what Greenville can do to be a more accepting and diverse community. During this quarter, we’ll cover inclusion of race, sexual orientation, religion and economic status. We hope you’ll join us for some of the conversations and events we’ll be hosting because in order to be inclusive, we’ll need as many perspectives and voices present.

But back to those resolutions. Greenville Forward’s Vision for this quarter, got me thinking about how can we lead a life that’s more inclusive and create a more Inclusive Greenville. For me, it will mean more conversations this year with people who, not only have a different background or come from a different culture, but also people who have different perspectives and opinions. My resolution is to spend less time trying to convince people to think like me and spend more time listening to their story and appreciating their experiences. I‘m excited to do this as a member of the 2014 spring class of the Diversity Leadership Institute, at our monthly Momentums, and during Upstate International Month, but I’m also excited about trying to be more inclusive on a daily basis. I I’d love to hear more about what “living more inclusively” means to you and what you think Greenville can do to be more inclusive. Leave a comment below or join us at our events this quarter. I look forward to starting a conversation with you.

Progression: Tobi Kinsell

Last year, Greenville Forward started a new series called Progression. We really like to start conversations at this organization, so we thought that we could begin a few of them by inviting community experts and leaders to share more about the cool things their working on and give Greenvillians an opportunity “to learn, engage, and discuss topics that help shape our community.”

Because our focus area for this quarter was Education, we invited Tobi Kinsell, director of Furman’s Bridges to the Brighter program to share more about Bridges and the state of education in Greenville County. It was a great presentation about a dynamic program. Tobi introduced us to Bridges, a program that includes a 4-week summer program, Saturday College and help and mentoring with the college application process for Greenville County high school students whose potential outdistances their circumstances. We compiled some of Tobi’s quotes below and included a list of the challenges she sees for student success in Greenville County.

Tobi Kinsell

On the Bridges Comprehensive program:

“We want to address their social,emotional and mental health so that they can become healthy people and healthy adults.”

On creating individual relationships with the students in the program:
“In order to move someone forward, you have to know them as an individual. Visits to their home, taking them to the SATs; that’s not written in the mission. It’s not written in my job description but you just got to do what you got to do.”

On the importance of Grit:
“If you’re growing up in that circumstance its difficult to see what’s beyond what’s in front of you. We have to build the resiliency and coping mechanisms to go back to that environment and keep moving forward.”

On the College Application:
“The process to apply to college is very confusing. If you don’t know how to navigate that system you just don’t. There are small barriers that keeps students from being the best they can be and ultimately being productive citizens”

Challenges As I See Them:

  • Academic Preparation – ACT, SAT, college readiness
  • The small barriers
  • College Admissions. Financial Aid and Enrollment
  • Many negative voices
  • College enrollment is not the finish line
  • Need for more post-secondary options and access to the options.
  • A college degree does not guarantee that someone moves out of poverty.

Read more about Bridges on their website. And join us for our next Progression series at Coffee Underground on March 12th!