By Liz Segrist
Published Nov. 8, 2015
From the Oct. 19, 2015, print edition
Armed with $47,000 from a one-month Kickstarter campaign and an old school bus, Lindsey Barrow Jr. plans to improve access to fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods in Charleston.
Barrow is the founder and director of Lowcountry Street Grocery, which is essentially a farmers market on wheels. The idea for the business came to him while working as a legislative aid in Hawaii, where he was tasked with reducing the diabetes rate in his district. Barrow opened a farmers market there.
|Lindsey Barrow Jr., Lowcountry Street Grocery founder and director, plans to retrofit a school bus into a mobile farmers market. (Photo/Liz Segrist)|
“I love plants. There’s something romantic and soulful about farmers markets. ... I didn’t really understand why we didn’t have access to more farmers markets and why some people in Charleston didn’t have access to anything healthy at all in their neighborhoods,” Barrow said.
Barrow and associate director Kate DeWitt run the business out of a small office in Local Works, Lowcountry Local First’s co-working space at 1630 Meeting St. Their bus, dubbed Nell, sits outside. It still needs shelves, refrigeration and a paint job.
“We both do this full time and work another full-time job. It can be crazy working 100 hours a week. You’re kind of dead after four to five days, but we’re almost there,” Barrow said of launching the bus venture.
Barrow said he refers to Lowcountry Street Grocery as a social enterprise, a business that does the work of a nonprofit through a revenue-generating business model.
He said he plans to operate the mobile farmers market in an affluent area and a low-income one. Barrow said tomatoes might sell for $3.50 a pound in downtown Charleston and for about $1.50 in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood of North Charleston, for example.
He said he hopes the revenue from sales in wealthier neighborhoods will help offset the discounted prices in lower-income areas. He is also partnering with local farms, restaurants and grocery stores to sell food that would otherwise be thrown out. Some of the food will come from a farm Barrow is leasing in Ravenel.
Barrow said securing grants can be difficult because the business is not a nonprofit, but he said he plans to pursue additional grant resources and investors.
“It’s been very helpful for us honestly to not have access to finances right away because it made us work so hard to find innovative revenue streams, like going through the Kickstarter campaign,” he said.
Over time, Barrow said he would like to have an urban farm and a nearby storefront with a kitchen where staff could do cooking demos and educational outreach.
For now, he is focusing on outfitting the bus and building relationships with community, nonprofit and church leaders. He said building trust with residents is the linchpin to his vision.
“We’re a couple of miles from some of the best restaurants in the South if not in the country, and just a couple of miles up the road, we have children living further beneath the poverty line than anywhere else in the state of South Carolina,” Barrow said. “That’s insane. ... We want to provide access to fruits and vegetables and education to make it something tangible for people.”
Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.
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Lowcountry Street Grocery