Part 2 | Resilience in the Face of Food Apartheid

by Asha Gowan

Asheville is often celebrated as a “Foodtopia,” where tourists flock to local restaurants and breweries. But the historically Black neighborhood of Southside tells a different story. This area exemplifies food apartheida systemic lack of access to affordable, nutritious food as a result of racial and economic disparities. Even with this challenge, Southside Community Farm has emerged as a beacon of hope and resilience. 

At the end of Part One, we left you with these questions:

  • What is food apartheid?
  • How did Southside Community Farm respond to food insecurity?
  • What does the Southside food apartheid look like today?
  • What difference has the farm made?

This article describes the lasting effects of Southside’s food apartheid and how we’re meeting these challenges head on.

Donate here. 

Sign our petition to fight for our future.

Find more ways to support and protect the farm.

There was a time before urban removal when many households in the Southside neighborhood had their own fruit trees. Now, Southside Community Farm honors that history by growing fruit trees for community use, including apples, pears, and elderberries.

At the Root of Food Apartheid

Southside’s journey from food security to scarcity is rooted in the troubled history of both redlining and urban renewal, which you can read more about in Part One of this series: Southside Behind the Red Line

Despite segregation, Southside was once self-sufficient. Residents like Shuvonda Harper, co-founder of Southside Community Farm, recall a time of abundance. Her great-grandmother’s property boasted:

“fruit trees — grapevines, pear trees, apple trees, black walnut trees, cherry trees… accessible right in their backyard.” 

A critical network of local corner stores, while more expensive than supermarkets, also provided necessities, often operating on credit systems that allowed residents to pay later. 

The promises of urban renewal – including a much-needed supermarket identified in a 1966 community study – never materialized. Instead, between 1970 and 1975, urban renewal decimated local food infrastructure, reducing grocery stores from seven to zero. It’s been almost 50 years and Southside still hasn’t seen one grocery store.

Original graphic depicting the 39 years from the closure of the last grocery store in Southside to the farm’s inception. 10 years later, the neighborhood still doesn’t have a grocery store.

Gentrification Today

Southside remains one of Asheville’s six USDA-designated “food deserts”. For food in the neighborhood, residents rely on Green’s, a gas station convenience store selling mostly processed foods. Simply driving to a supermarket isn’t an option for everyone. USDA Food Access Research shows what neighborhood residents already know – that limited vehicle access is a huge barrier to fresh food access in Southside.

For those who do not own a car, traveling to a grocery store might mean catching a bus. But there is no direct bus route from Southside to a supermarket either. Residents must take a bus to the downtown station, and then transfer buses in order to reach a grocery store. How many groceries can you carry while transferring buses – especially if you are elderly, disabled, and/or caring for young children? And how fresh will those groceries be by the time you get them back home? Driving to a supermarket is a less affordable option for a neighborhood, as last recorded in 2021, with a median household income of just $19,747 – the lowest among 27 Buncombe County neighborhoods surveyed.

This economic disparity is only being compounded by rapid gentrification. Restaurants crop up near the Southside boundaries but the high cost of living makes eating out unfeasible. Gentrification has made living in Southside especially unaffordable. From 2016 to 2021, average home sale prices in Southside rose by a staggering 116%, the highest increase in Buncombe County.

To provide larger context, in Asheville overall, black communities represent 13% of the population but 71.8% of public housing residents. All nine of Asheville’s public housing complexes are located a mile or more from an affordable grocery store.

CiCi Weston, a Southside resident since 2004, notes the demographic shift in Southside as black neighbors continue to be priced out: 

“The neighborhood used to be mostly African American: 90% I estimated when I moved in. Now the Black population has dropped significantly.”

At the time of the 2020 census, Southside was 55% Black/African American, a slim majority.

Original graphic explaining the difference between the terms food desert and food apartheid. Like many Black food activists, we at Southside Community Farm prefer to use the term food apartheid.

Southside Community Farm: A Grassroots Solution

Responding to this crisis, residents including Shuvonda Harper and Musa Fardan co-founded Southside Community Farm to provide fresh food with and for their community. Our farm aims to reclaim food sovereignty and address generations of disinvestment through empowering programs:

1. Free Grocery Program: In 2023, more than 60% of the farm’s produce was freely distributed through this program, which includes outdoor refrigerators and pantry spaces throughout the neighborhood.

2. Feed AVL Veggie Boxes: This program delivers weekly free, fresh food boxes to 30 BIPOC households for 20 weeks during the farming season.

3. BIPOC Farmers Market: Held monthly from May to October, this market provides a platform for local BIPOC vendors and increases access to fresh, culturally relevant foods.

4. Southside Free Seed Library: This initiative supports home gardening, promoting long-term food sovereignty.

5. Medicine to the People: The farm grows medicinal plants and offers free workshops on herbal medicine, addressing broader community health needs.

Co-founder Musa Fardan, along with leadership team member Tikisha Mweta, gets the farm ready for spring by adding rich compost.

Impact and Community Response

Southside Community Farm has become a community hub and vital source of fresh produce. Just hear it from our community members themselves.The farm’s programs directly address food insecurity while supporting local BIPOC businesses and preserving cultural heritage. A local resident, Maria Johnson, shares, 

“Before the farm, finding fresh vegetables meant a long bus ride. Now, I can walk down the street and pick my own tomatoes. It’s changed how my family eats.”

Challenges and Call to Action

Despite its successes, Southside Community Farm now faces a critical challenge: the risk of losing its land due to a resolution by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA). This potential loss threatens to undo years of community-building work and to exacerbate Southside’s food insecurity.

John Bay, a Southside resident since 2011, emphasizes the importance of preserving the farm and the community:

“One of the things that we treasure about this neighborhood is the diversity. To watch a historically African American community be priced out is just the same old story. I think that more needs to be done to allow existing homeowners to remain here.”

Southside Community Farm provides an abundance of free, fresh food for the community. From tomatoes and peppers to turnips and collard greens, the farm grows and distributes beautiful, seasonal foods all year round.

How You Can Help

1. Sign the petition advocating for the preservation of Southside Community Farm land.

2. Contact Asheville City Council members and HACA board members to express your support.

3. Donate to support the farm’s efforts and ongoing programs.

4. Volunteer your time and skills to the farm.

5. Spread awareness about the farm’s situation on social media and within your community.

6. Attend city council meetings to voice your support for policies that protect community food initiatives.

7. Support BIPOC-owned businesses, including vendors at the Southside BIPOC Farmers Market.

Southside Community Farm stands as a powerful example of community resilience in the face of food apartheid. Through its multifaceted approach to food production, education, and advocacy, the farm is not only feeding bodies but nourishing a community’s spirit and reclaiming its food sovereignty.

By rallying behind Southside Community Farm and pushing for broader systemic changes, we can work towards a future where every Asheville resident, regardless of race or zip code, has access to fresh, affordable, and culturally significant foods. Only then can Asheville truly live up to its “Foodtopia” moniker – not just for some, but for all.

Take Action Now!

Southside Community Farm needs your help to continue this vital work. 

Donate here. 

Sign our petition to fight for our future.

Find more ways to support and protect the farm.

Part 3 Coming Soon! “New Growth and Sharing the Bounty” will explore:

  • How we’re reaching out to our community this year
  • New partnerships and alliances
  • Our favorite highlights from your letters of support
  • **A special feature on our youth programs**

<< Back to Part 1: Southside behind the Red Line

>> Forward to Part 3: New Growth and Sharing the Bounty (Coming Soon)

About the Author

Asha Gowan is an eco-conscious copywriter, conservancy advocate, philosopher, artist, and poet with a multiethnic background. Asha has over 7 years of experience as a copywriter, and is transitioning into full time eco-conscious/sustainability writing.

Instagram | Website

One response to “Part 2 | Resilience in the Face of Food Apartheid”

  1. Amy Gowan Avatar
    Amy Gowan

    Powerful article! Love that your shedding light on such an important topic. Educate and inform to spark the fire of interest and support!

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One Thought to “Part 2 | Resilience in the Face of Food Apartheid”

  1. Amy Gowan

    Powerful article! Love that your shedding light on such an important topic. Educate and inform to spark the fire of interest and support!

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