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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.





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.

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!

Heroes Next Door 2013: William O’Neil


Thanks to William O’Neil, an important part of Greenville’s history is being preserved and noticed.  O’Neil, a retired National Park Service employee whose last assignment was at the  Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, has served on the Board for the Friends of Richland Cemetery for many years, including terms as the Chairman of the Board and chair of the Improvement Committee.

Richland Cemetery and was the first municipal African-American cemetery in the City of Greenville. It is the final resting place for some of the most influential black citizens of Greenville. It is also the final resting place of several of O’ Neil’s family members. Personal ties to the cemetery, along with O’Neil’s passion for preservation, have led to O’Neil’s commitment to Richland. O’Neil has been a prominent leader behind the development of a conservation plan for Richland Cemetery, completed by the Chicora Foundation in 2011; the preservation of the simple but historic gateway on Hill St.; the funding for the first phase of grave marker conservation and the reconstruction of the Hilly St. edge to protect historic graves from storm water impact. 

O’Neil was a leader in convincing the Greenville City Council to direct a small percentage of revenue generated from a cell phone tower located on city property adjacent to the cemetery to the Friends of Richland Cemetery so the Friends could contract for stone conservation work. O’Neil worked tirelessly to preserve an important cultural landscape and, has been the “squeaky wheel” who gets things done by working closely and building collaborative relationships with other board members and city staff to plan and fund much needed conservation work. 

Nominator City of Greenville Parks and Recreation director and nominator, Dana Souza says, “He is a champion for historic preservation; a champion for preserving Greenville’s nationally registered historic African-American Cemetery and is one of Greenville’s true unsung hero and, Heroes Next Door.”

Heroes Next Door 2013: Genaro Marin

On November 8, Greenville Forward will honor Horace Mays, Genaro Marin and William O’Neil with the Heroes Next Door award and Maya Simmons with the Generation Forward award. These individuals have been chosen because of their selfless dedication to improving our community. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be sharing more about the winners on our blog. To hear more about their stories and celebrate their work, join us at the Heroes Next Door Awards Breakfast on Friday at Zen in downtown Greenville. Tickets can be purchased here. 

Genaro Marin

Russell Memorial Presbyterian Church

Genaro Marin speaks eloquently, but humbly, about how helping others became a part of his life. After meeting several people who were down-on-their-luck, the Panamanian-born retired psychologist, decided that helping people through their hard times, would be part of the next stage of his life. Since moving to Greenville, 9 years ago, Marin has continued that mission by dedicating his time to help Hispanic immigrants find much-needed resources.

During his time in Greenville, Marin’s work has touched families living throughout Greenville County. Marin helped establish two outreach programs for families, Café Cultura at the Center for Community Services in Simpsonville and a Latino Ministry at Russell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Berea. Marin ensured that the programs featured educational opportunities to better acclimate immigrants to life in Greenville and the United States. Marin continues to dedicate his time to helping families and volunteers at community events, as well as a volunteering with the Red Cross Hispanic Outreach program.

Nominator Joana Hernandez said in her nomination, “I can think of no one that deserves this recognition more than Genaro Marin. He is a dedicated servant to the community. Genaro’s attitude is that everyone, pulling together, can make the Greenville a better place.”  It’s that attitude that has helped Marin make community connections and create more opportunities for the people he serves and it is that attitude that Greenville Forward will honor on Nov. 8th with the Heroes Next Door Award.

Heroes Next Door 2013: Horace Mays

On November 8, Greenville Forward will honor Horace Mays, Genaro Marin and William O’Neil with the Heroes Next Door award and Maya Simmons with the Generation Forward award. These individuals have been chosen because of their selfless dedication to improving our community. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be sharing more about the winners on our blog. To hear more about their stories and celebrate their work, join us at the Heroes Next Door Awards Breakfast on Friday at Zen in downtown Greenville. Tickets can be purchased here. 

Horace Mays

picture provided by Suzanne Newton

Horace Mays is the reason the community garden movement is thriving in Greenville. He’s not an organizer or a funder, he’s a volunteer and the champion behind the St. Anthony of Padua’s school and church garden. He gathers workers for the garden, sometimes even recruiting Gower Street neighbors right off the street, and helps educate students on where their food comes from. Mays, an 88-year-old retired Navy chef and Pratt Whitney employee, is known as the “Garden’s Godfather” and his hard work shows in the beautiful peppers and heads of broccoli that can be found growing at St. Anthony’s.

We met Mays on a cold morning in the garden to record a video for the Heroes Next Door event, and he proudly took us on a tour of his garden. It was impressive, but more impressive than the great-looking produce, was Mays’ welcoming spirit. He emphasized that the produce in the garden was available to anyone who wanted to come pick it, and that his fenceless garden was there to feed the community. And it does. The garden’s produce supplements the church’s food pantry and community members come pick okra, collards and other beautiful produce.

But while Mays is passionate about the garden, he is more than just a grower. As nominator Suzanne Newton said, “At 88, Greenville native Mr. Horace Mays has more energy and resolve than most people half his age.” Mays is also a volunteer caretaker for the grounds at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic, involved with other volunteer organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, and he uses his chef expertise to teach cooking classes at St. Anthony’s.

In her nomination Newton, summed up best why we’ll be honoring Mays on Nov. 8th. She said, “This man is the soul of Christian kindness, as well as a great mentor and example of truly living well in one’s later years.”

A Homecoming of Sorts


My name Ana Parra and I’m Greenville Forward’s new Community Relations Director.  After being away from Greenville for five years, I am beyond thrilled to return to the city that I call home and to work with the dynamic team at Greenville Forward.

The reasons for wanting to return are pretty obvious. We all know Greenville is thriving. We can see it on our walks, bike rides and drives through town. It’s as evident in Travelers Rest, as it is in downtown. And as someone who moved here with her family in 1994, it leaves me amazed every time I see the progress.  It’s not just seeing the buildings that are going up, but also experiencing the diversity in our population and leadership that leaves me cheering for Greenville.

Many of the items outlined in the Vision 2025 are no longer just hopes for this city, but actual tangible goals that have been reached. That’s awesome to be in the middle of, but that’s not the only reason for my homecoming.

When an opportunity to be a part of an organization that has been the catalyst for progress came along, I enthusiastically jumped on board. I came back because this is an opportunity to brag about my hometown and at the same time have serious conversations about how we can make it better for all its citizens. At Greenville Forward, we continue to refine and evolve the goals of Vision 2025. It’s not about growing but growing in a way that keeps Greenville learning, green, healthy, creative, connected, inclusive and innovative.

As Community Relations Director, I get to do the thing I love most, work side-by-side with community members to improve Greenville. Specifically I’ll be working on development, marketing and membership for Greenville Forward. I’m ready to get started and tell you more about Greenville Forward’s story and how we can work together.  This is a great time to talk about Greenville’s story and a great time to get to work on the next chapter.