“What we’re always trying to do is find ways to invest in a food system that can ultimately operate without our support,” says Margaret Devos, executive director of Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT). “That’s what we’ve been doing for years.”
SCLT recently reached a significant milestone – 40 years of connecting growers with land, fostering agricultural knowledge, and addressing food insecurity in South Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls. They also opened a Healthy Food Hub on 404 Broad Street, a game changer for selling and distributing local fresh food.
“The first year we launched our aggregation program, in which farmers drop off their crops and we get it to the customers, we sold $10,000 [worth of produce] working with six farmers. Year one of the Healthy Food Hub, we reached $80,000 and worked with 12 farmers. In the next few years, we’re going to triple that amount of food,” says Devos. Their growth is also contingent on helping farmers access land, “but that’s something we’re pretty good at!”
The new hub’s central location in the Southside also helps SCLT expand their distribution of wholesome food. “We are very mindful that the food we eat in many cases, particularly in marginalized communities, is very unhealthy food,” says board president Rochelle Lee. “We have intentionally built in a practice of growing food as chemical-free as we can, with a heavy emphasis on education.”
The need for affordable healthy food access in the state has never been greater. According to Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s 2022 status report, 31 percent of households are facing food insecurity, with nearly 44 percent in communities of color. Coupled with the rising cost of land ownership in low-income neighborhoods, it becomes clear: “The economy isn’t functioning for people in these communities,” says Devos, “so we’re trying to make food available but also create an economic foundation that people in these neighborhoods have access to. We don’t need to replicate an economy that marginalizes folks.”
Reason for Optimism: “It really is important that we find a way to strengthen local access by using economic resources,” says Lee. “[Our work] is an economic engine, and 404 Broad Street helps us really start the engine and keep it going. I’m really happy that we’re able to successfully get this accomplished. I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg – we’ve got a lot ahead of us.”
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