Much of the justice work of the United Church of Christ around food (sustainable agriculture), exercise, health and literacy is converging this summer –– on a former slave plantation in North Carolina.
The UCC's Franklinton Center at Bricks in Whitakers, N.C. (FCAB), is living into its mission as a center for education and social transformation with just three full-time staff members. Director Vivian Lucas is the conduit through which all things flow. Right now, she, her colleagues, and community volunteers are tending a two-acre garden, getting ready for a government food summit, hosting a summer enrichment camp, and putting finishing touches on a family literacy retreat.
"Vivian not only is a visionary leader, she has a long history with the Center, having served on staff nearly 20 years ago," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. "Since becoming director just over a year ago, she has rekindled relationships with the surrounding communities, which are eager to partner in programming and support of the Center's promising future."
This spring, with the help of a farmer who plants cotton on part of the 97 acres of agriculturally designated farmland on the Franklinton Center campus, the FCAB team broke new ground for the "Just Food" project. The center is growing cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, corn, collards, onions, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, turnip greens, green beans, peas, kale, butter beans, beets, watermelon, cantiloupe, honey dew melons, eggplant, and all kinds of herbs. It's a learning experience for the center and the staff, with the hope that area families in need of food assistance reap the rewards of the harvest.
"We plan to serve center-grown fruits and vegetables to our conferees, give some of the produce away to families with need, and establish a community supported produce stand, and ultimately establish a farmers'market with the area's small farmers," said Lucas. "Did you know that this area, in North Carolina, is the second largest food desert in the country?"
Of the 435 congressional districts in the United States, the area of 24 counties which make up North Carolina's first congressional district is second only to the Bronx, N.Y., known as the largest food desert in the United States. It is the goal of Franklinton Center at Bricks to work with the local residents, farmers, the faith community, and elected officials to help address this concerns.
That's a primary reason why Franklinton Center is hosting a food summit June 26 with Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C., 1st district). It is hoped the gathering of small farmers will find ways to use the land to grow fruits and vegetables to address food insecurity in the district, and to focus on the health issues that plague the people of the rural communities in area.
Lucas gets a lot of support from the UCC's Southern Conference, but she says there isn't a UCC church in North Carolina within an hour's drive. "One of my goals is to grow a worshipping community in the area attracted to the UCC, to help live into the work we are trying to accomplish here," Lucas said.
Jaramillo says the Center is all about partnership. "Justice and Witness Ministries is blessed to be in partnership with Franklinton Center, a relationship that dates back to the 19th century when the American Missionary Assocation operated the Brick School. It became the North Carolina office of the UCC's Commission for Racial Justice several decades ago."
A summer enrichment camp, which will be held weekdays June 25-August 9. In addition, a family literacy retreat will take place July 16-20 for parents, children teachers and staff from Inborden Elementary School in Halifax, N.C. The group will be involved in an applied learning course of study, working in the garden, and reading.
Oh, and if you know a lifeguard who can help get the center pool up and running this summer, please let Lucas know. That will help her get more organized exercise into the program.
Learn more about Franklinton Center.