The PAY WHAT YOU CAN Produce Stand

The PAY WHAT YOU CAN Produce Stand

A Mutual Aid and Community Funded Project

Located in a food desert in Jasper County, South Carolina, learn about how Whippoorwill Farms SC is going above and beyond to help their community access real, local, Natural food.

The dream didn’t begin like this. The original dream was to provide natural food for just their family, a closeness to the land and earth for their daughter and a commitment to being producers instead of consumers. The people of Jasper County inspired the rest. The neighbors they learned to know and love, inspired them to push further.

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If you ride our country roads, you might not see it. Acres of timber land and farm land line the landscape of this rural county. Time has moved development forward in the county in the areas closer to more industry and wealth, but has still left so many behind in the process in our more rural areas. Each year more homes dot the roads, but that’s about it. Opportunity continues to be out of reach for so many in our county. Nestled along the back roads and long winding drives are some of the hardest working folks, that have lived on this land long before many of us. The working class, the ones that have helped build this county and their family before them, still at times, struggle to find economic stability. Add to it, the lack of access of quality publicly funded K-12 education, lack of transportation, health care and of course, a lack of food access to name a few and the county in places, can seem all but just forgotten.

I’ll be honest, I never thought about it until I saw it first hand. Our first farm, 2 modest wooded acres, far off into the country, a left turn or two off a dirt road, a ways out from the grocery store, medical facilities and schools. I remember running out of sugar one time, stopping by the corner store and paying a fortune for the same thing that would cost a fraction in town, just to make a cup of coffee. Ellie got electrocuted when she was about three, out in our barn. It was traumatic, her legs gave out and she couldn’t stand. Beside myself, I contemplated calling 911, but I thought about how far out we were and instead I got her into the car immediately and drove ourselves 45 minutes to the nearest hospital. As she got older, everyone asked what we were going to do about school, pressing upon me that I’d have to travel out of the county for her to have a decent education or pay for private school.

I was able to solve these problems I encountered when we moved to the county. My husband and I had our own reliable transportation to jobs within the city of Savannah where we were paid more than a living wage. I didn’t grow up in this county, I came from a wealthy public school district in NJ, where even if I hadn’t attended college, I would’ve been further ahead than where my same aged peers would be in the Jasper County School districts. We had opportunities at our finger tips, even in high school. My husband, grew up in poverty, somehow he got out, made something of himself, but he is not the typical tale. And as far as our daughter was concerned, we could pay for private school if we needed to, if we wanted to, thanks to our good paying jobs outside of the county we lived in. And food? We’d just shop when we were in Savannah or Bluffton, it was never a real concern.

And in my solutions, I’d still see those struggling. I’d wave, everyday, to my neighbors that would walk the same roads I’d drive. Headed toward the corner store, miles from their house to be picked up by the bus to ride more than an hour one way to the same areas we worked, hoping to find stability. I’d wave as they’d ride their bikes in the opposite direction I was going. On days I had the truck, I’d pull in front of them and load the bike in and ride them to wherever they were going. I got to know them. From them, I learned what days the food bank was open, who gave them rides to get food, who helped them get to the doctor when they were sick, what their kids were able to eat from what they’d be given at the food bank. I saw swollen cheeks from teeth abscessing, where my neighbors would wait days for care because they didn’t have rides. I saw a lot of injuries, with care a second thought because of their transportation concerns. And in our most intimate of conversations, they’d reveal when the last real meal they’d eaten was or when the last time, they lived in a house with a functioning roof was. I could only do so much to help and the thought of all the need was overwhelming.

As we grew food for ourselves, I couldn’t help but think of them too. A warm tomato off the vine, a crisp cucumber in the summer heat, a stewed cabbage on a cold day, maybe even with a little of our bacon in it. In the spring, I’d see them out in a small patch on the side of their house with an old broken hoe and a rake. The summer heat would come in and the garden would just wilt and die. No means for watering, running the well, no money for fertilizer. By the end of June, the hopes of a little produce, long gone. And so the goal shifted, from not just providing for just ourselves, but for our community too.

So we buckled down and got to work, trying to make the money back that we’d put in building out of first farm by selling products at farmers markets and to restaurants, yet to break even or make a profit, but we were recouping something. James and I worked our regular jobs and busted our butts on market days and on the weekends to keep growing. The neighbors would stop by and we’d share what we could. Sometimes, they’d be too shy to ask, knowing all we’d continue to try to do for them. I kept pushing. When the opportunity came to me for more growing space through a free lease, I jumped at the chance. And after planting my first real 200 feet of tomatoes, I pondered over the best way to share in the harvest with my neighbors.

And so the PAY WHAT YOU CAN Produce Stand was born, a crowd funded, $1,500 project to build a stand at the front of our farm. A judgement free place where my neighbors from near and far could come and take what they needed and pay what they could, if they could. Immediately it was a success. Not in terms of the financial returns for us, but for what it did to bridge the gap for those in our community that went from going weeks without fresh food to having fresh, natural food available down the street from them at whatever price they could afford.

Over the years the produce stand has expanded in it’s offerings. When we moved to our big farm back in the end of 2019, we made sure to run power to the stand which we brought along with us. We put a freezer out at the stand where we could put natural chicken and pork for folks in need as well. I’ve had a goal of harvesting for the stand every day, a goal I have yet to meet since starting the project in the Spring of 2019. But each week we get closer in our expansion of our farm and our products to do just that.

Since it’s inception I have committed to putting out 20% worth of all vegetable sales each month on the produce stand in the form of meat, eggs, veggies and flowers. In the beginning, that often looked like $100 in goods per month. Now, in the summer months, we typically are able to put about $1000 per month in goods on the stand. But the more we grow and sell to our Lowcountry Farm Box Subscribers and at our farmers markets, the more we can put on the PAY WHAT YOU CAN Produce Stand and the more we can serve our community. We are currently writing a grant to help us face the issue of food insecurity more in our community. We want to show the grant readers that not only has this program been working for our community, but we have long term support and community funding commitments for it too. To achieve our goals of producing more food and providing more for our community, we need your help. By subscribing to a monthly “donation” (we are not a 501c3), you are helping us make up the cost of some of the food we are putting on the stand, allowing us to continue to add garden spaces, buy materials needed and fund labor as we grow. You are guaranteeing real, natural food from our farm, for those in need in our community. No monthly subscription is too small to be impactful. Even just $5 per month, from many of you, would be impactful.

If there is one thing our community has seen over the years in following our journey, it’s our transparency. Our transparency in what we do, how we treat the earth, how we raise our animals, how we grow our crops, how we treat our team members and how we take care of our community. We can promise, that these funds will be used for exactly what they say they are being used for, in the mission to expand the PAY WHAT YOU CAN Produce Stand and help us serve our community even better. Together, we can make a difference for food insecurity in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Together, we can make a difference.