CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of North Carolina is investing $325,000 toward Johnson C. Smith University's (JCSU) Sustainability Village.
The money will be used to build three new buildings that will grow fruits and vegetables. The food will be offered to neighbors at reasonable prices.
The hope is the village will help eliminate the food desert that is near the university.
"The closest grocery store to many of those persons is between five and ten miles," BCBS Mike Restaino said, "So going to a grocery store isn't a convenient thing - particularly if they have to rely on transportation."
Restaino says the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in communities impacts about one in five children. He says that could be a problem.
"That impacts not only their health in terms of development, but just their overall ability to perform well - like in school," Restaino said.
The Sustainability Village was developed in 2013 to address the food access in the area, but this latest investment will take it to a new level. BCBS says only between 24 percent to 40 percent of people living in West Charlotte get the food and nutritional assistance they need. Research shows when communities address issues like food access, health care expenditures can decrease by up to 10 percent.
"The stronger we can make a community in terms of health," Restaino said. "We know it will eventually impact health and wellness and the cost of healthcare."
JCSU President Clarence Armbrister says he is excited about the new greenhouses that will come on the university. He says the university is doing its part to tackle food deserts. The president believes partnering with BCBS is the right thing to do.
"We have a long history over 153 years, who have contributed to the greater Charlotte community and to the community here in the West End and when we see a need we aim to fill it," JCSU President Clarence Armbrister said.
JCSU students will manage the greenhouses and also be responsible for community outreach to promote the importance of nutrition. They will also get a life lesson in solving world hunger problems.
"They are really learning about conservation," Armbrister said. "They are learning about all the principles of sustainability. It couldn't be a greater match."
In addition to fruits and vegetables growing in the greenhouses, there will also be room for an aquaponics facility where fish will be raised.
Leaders say the greenhouses should be complete in about nine months and the first harvest should be in Spring 2019.