College of Charleston researchers are working on a new project that will help boost the local economy as well as improve the school nutrition environment and child health outcomes.

Health and Human Performance assistant professor Dr. Olivia M. Thompson of the College of Charleston’s new Public Health program has assembled a team of College of Charleston researchers along with national, state, and local public health innovators to pilot a farm-to-school initiative designed to be both sustainable and scalable.

The farm-to-school pilot is scheduled for implementation in Mitchell Elementary School in downtown Charleston and in Hunley Park Elementary School in North Charleston during the 2012/2013 school year. The initiative is funded by a $120,000 charitable investment from Boeing.

“The goal of the farm-to-school initiative is to increase the availability of and access to healthful, local foods as well as to stimulate the local economy,” says Thompson. “Buying and eating local foods builds a strong local economy and preserves personal and community health. Farm-to-school programs create a market for area farmers and make it possible for children to have consistent access to nutrient-packed foods such as locally grown fruits and vegetables.”

In addition to Charleston County School District partners, local project leadership is provided by the Green Heart Project and Lowcountry Local First. The Green Heart Project, a community volunteer organization underwritten by local restaurant Taco Boy, is committed to teaching children math and science concepts along with character building through hands-on learning experiences. The organization has an urban garden at Mitchell Elementary School that will be expanded in both scope and size with support from the farm-to-school initiative. Green Heart Project program director, Mr. Drew Harrison, states that “they are elated at the opportunity to collaborate with the College of Charleston team in developing and implementing the larger farm-to-school initiative.”

The Green Heart Project will be hosting their bi-annual Spring Harvest Dinner on May 24th from 6 to 8pm to celebrate the expansion of their urban garden and larger, collaborative program. The dinner will be held outside, alongside the gardens at Mitchell Elementary School (2 Perry Street, Charleston, SC 29403) and will feature local produce provided by Limehouse Produce as well as the children’s very own garden! Tickets are $5 and can be bought in advance – please contact Mr. Drew Harrison at

Lowcountry Local First, a non-profit organization committed to increasing both the supply and demand of local foods, will work with the College of Charleston team to increase the number of Lowcountry farmers eligible for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, a milestone achievement that will enable farmers to sell their products to third-party organizations such as schools. Lowcountry Local First sustainable agricultural director Ms. Nikki Seibert adds that “to meet the increased demand for local foods, the Lowcountry must build a strong local food system that provides tools, resources, and trainings to ensure local farmers are able to easily connect with a variety of markets to sell their products.”

Lessons learned from the pilot farm-to-school initiative’s evaluation will be used in conjunction with those from other South Carolina-based initiatives to guide the development, implementation, and evaluation of future programs.