A farmer whose purpose is to improve food access

Last Updated 3/21/2024In On The Farm

By Daniella Cardenas, CFT Marketing & Communications Associate

2024 Update - Janco Community Farms is no longer in business. 

Spring brings light and hope, a much-needed sentiment after last year’s gloomy anxiousness for our health and well-being of our loved ones, as well as the threatening worries of our country’s economic condition. 

Many of us struggled as we saw, or even experienced first-hand, the already unjust structures of our current food system hitting economically distressed communities, low-income households, and Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color with the hardest blow.

But, just as spring brings light, there are also luminaries who shed the light of kindness when it’s most needed.

When you meet Christina Benton, you meet a farmer who not only grows a traditional market farm but goes beyond to think about who might receive her produce on the other end. Her main focus is ACCESS.

After leaving her job as a forensic anthropologist and moving back to North Carolina, Christina wanted to alleviate a current pain point in our food system. She founded Janco Community Farms, a model centered around the idea of taking unusable lots in food apartheid areas, food deserts, and low-income housing communities around Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Then, Christina turned them into small food production areas to feed fresh and nutritious food for those who lacked access. But, once the pandemic hit, Christina thought of expanding the one thing she knew how to do: grow food to feed others.

Her vision grew when she contacted Carolina Farm Trust (CFT) to see if there were any opportunities available to expand her mission. In her own words, it happened serendipitously.

“Our largest lot was only a ¼ acre, and I reached out to Zack – just being a new farmer and BIPOC woman – to see what options there were to access land to expand and be able to feed more than the local community I was feeding," Christina states. It so happened that there was a need for a farmer to manage a property in Statesville, NC and Christina took Zack (President/CEO of CFT) up on the offer. Fast-forward to today and she is farming on-site, growing a plethora of assorted veggies and herbs to get ready for her official launch on March 28th, 2021.

When asked about her big dreams and the future of urban farming, she said, “My goal is to be a food hub and to be able to replicate this idea in metropolitan areas across the country. I want to be able to touch all aspects of food from growing it, to harvesting it, to delivering it to customers. One day I would like to own a food truck or small restaurant.”

This is why Christina’s focus is centered around urban farming – the growing and producing of food in a city or heavily populated area – for the sole reason of wanting to give the urban community a chance to get involved and hands-on in the process. Even if you come from an underserved community, Christina believes that farming is a path for self-sustainability.

“What I am trying to show people is that you do not need to have land, you could simply grow a plot of tomatoes or a potted pepper plant on your patio”, she said optimistically.

The beauty of urban farming is that it makes the connection between the typical urban person to the food they get on their tables. Instead of a child answering that their food came from the supermarket, they will proudly say that it came from the ground through the hands of a farmer.

One of the biggest detriments of our food system is that it has diminished the connection between people and food, making it almost superficial. Urban farming brings the focus back by establishing small farms around metropolitan areas for the open sight of everybody, making food something that is not far removed from daily life.

“It just makes sense to be able to grow the food that you eat. When we lived in Jamaica for half a year, there were fruit trees in the yards everywhere and we could go pick mangoes, jimbilins (Jamaican starfruits), and lemons for free. It was just access,” Christina said, reminiscing. “I wish we could replicate that in the States. The trees that line the city streets should be apple and pear trees and we could easily pick fruit out as we are walking.”

On March 28th, 2021, Christina inaugurated her mobile market bus to start bringing access to those who cannot come to her. She plans to work with both cities, Charlotte and Statesville, to bring fresh produce to public housing and retirement communities, as well as transit centers. The bus will be in operation every week and will act as a walk-in market bus in addition to delivering online orders to people’s doorsteps.

Farming, as we well know, is about the connection between food and people. Changemakers like Christina are one of many farmers that are blending access and equity to create wellbeing and health. After all, everybody should have the access to eat fresh, local food, not as a privilege or social standing, but as a human right. Support Christina by visiting the on-site farmer’s market this opening this spring!

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