The high number of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton residents dealing with food insecurity might be surprising to many Lowcountry visitors and locals. But regional nonprofits, including the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, are very aware that food insecurity is a pressing issue.
So when Volunteers in Medicine (VIM), a Hilton Head Island-based clinic that offers free medical services for residents and workers in need, sent the Community Foundation a grant proposal in February aimed at alleviating food insecurity, we took action. In partnership with the Town of Hilton Head, the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry awarded VIM a grant to fund a hydroponic farm, located in VIM’s office space.
The genesis of the hydroponic farm was the positive impact fresh produce had previously had on VIM patients.
“Community gardens would drop off excess produce to VIM,” said VIM Executive Director John Newman, MD. “And the produce brought such joy to the patients who received it. The produce would quickly go out the door. And we thought ‘What could VIM do to help the community in need with fresh produce?’”
Just a few months after funds were received, it is remarkable to witness the amazing progress the VIM Clinic’s Farm-acy has made in a short time. Eight vertical hydroponic Flex Farms (and a storage refrigerator) are full of leafy greens and vegetables: romaine lettuce, arugula, collard greens, kale, basil, and spinach. Tomatoes, okra, bell peppers, and jalapenos are started in Flex Farms, then placed in cups with dirt and given to patients to plant. By mid-May, more than 250 plants had been given to patients.
In addition to patients receiving produce, VIM donates produce to three nonprofit organizations: Second Helpings, Deep Well Project, and Sandalwood Community Food Pantry. In return, these organizations supply VIM with other food items to distribute to their patients.
“Second Helpings is really thankful for VIM including us in their produce distribution,” said Leah Long, operations administrator for Second Helpings, a Lowcountry food rescue organization. “A lot of our donated food is canned goods, so whenever we can provide fresh produce, it is a real treat.”
Scott Wierman is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.