On Thursday afternoons, Peggy Crawford, Ed Auman, and several other volunteers gather at West End Presbyterian Church in West End, North Carolina to prepare for the delivery of sixty-five boxes of fresh local produce. West End Presbyterian Church is a delivery site for Sandhills Farm to Table, a cooperative business that distributes produce grown in Moore County and the eight surrounding counties to co-op members on a weekly basis. Sandhills Farm to Table (SF2T) was started with grant funds from the Rural Advancement Foundation’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Program, and in it’s first year, it generated more than $320,000 in sales for local farmers. West End is one of several sites that offers its space for delivery and distribution in exchange for a small percentage of the co-op’s profits, but according to Peggy and Ed, the church’s annual income of $3,500 from serving as a host site doesn’t nearly reflect the importance of its three-year partnership with SF2T.
Peggy and Ed trace West End’s participation in Sandhills Farm to Table back to the church’s “Creation Care-Takers” Committee, which met to find ways church members could become better stewards of the Earth. Sandhills Farm to Table was invited to have its inaugural meeting as a co-op at West End Presbyterian, and Peggy was elected as a Consumer Representative on the founding Board of Directors, where she serves as secretary. Peggy was drawn to SF2T because of her years working in schools where kids’ poor diets affected their health and capacity to learn. Frustrated that it was “cheaper to go to McDonald’s than to buy a bag of apples”, Peggy connected with SF2T’s mission of “neighbors feeding neighbors” and its goal of increasing food security and food access to all community members.
Having grown up selling grapes from his family’s farm in Moore County, Ed found resonance in the social aspect of produce distribution and delivery. Delivery day on Thursday transforms West End into a multi-generational hub, with produce boxes stacked high for pick-up by co-op members or for delivery to nearby offices. People greet each other, catch up, and admire the fresh peaches, corn, and blackberries that fill each box. About a third of the co-op members who come to West End are church members; the rest are residents from the area. This year, left-over produce from Thursdays is delivered to the elderly, and for the first two years, a member of West End Presbyterian brought it to Latino families who were involved in the church’s tutoring program and struggled to afford healthy food.
Peggy notes that despite the success of the program, coordinating distribution day and keeping the 500-member church and surrounding community engaged in local food and diet change is challenging. She half-jokingly references Margaret Mead’s quote – ‘It’s easier to change a man’s religion than it is his diet’ – to explain the resistance many people of faith have to changing what they eat. People are extremely protective of their dietary habits, she said, even when it harms their body and the planet.
Ed says that for many clients, seeing food so recently harvested from local farms is an essential part of re-engaging with the food system and recognizing their own capacity to eat and grow healthy food. Last year, the produce boxes included sprigs of rosemary. Some co-op members reacted with trepidation; what were they supposed to do with a whole mess of twiggy herbs? Through the help of SF2T recipes and conversations amongst each other, co-op members learned to use rosemary in their cooking and propagate the plant on their own. Many now no longer need the rosemary that comes in produce boxes because they have enough growing at their houses, but they continue to participate in the co-op and discover new varieties of produce. Ed’s story may appear inconsequential, but it speaks to the transformation – in both lifestyle and mindset – made possible by West End’s partnership with Sandhills Farm to Table.