Post and Courier
By Jenna Schiferl

A Charleston nonprofit is set to break ground on a new urban garden that will effectively double the size of its operation, but fundraising efforts for the project are still ongoing.

After more than two years of planning, construction of the new garden space at the William Enston Home, an affordable housing complex at King and Huger streets, will start Nov. 15.

The project has raised about half of its $2.1 million goal needed to fund the operation sustainability over the next five years.

“Of that $2.1 million, about one-quarter of it is for the farm infrastructure, and about three-quarters of it is for operations and programming,” said Jesse Blom, the executive director of the Green Heart Project.

The money raised so far will pay for the costs of creating the farm space’s infrastructure, Blom said, which includes a produce stand, a pavilion and raised garden beds. Its final fundraising phase was launched Wednesday.

The last chunk of money will help keep the project going in its early years. Blom said by year six, the hope is the project will make enough money to sustain itself.

The farm will serve the community on a larger scale, including residents of the Enston Home, other neighbors and students from The Charleston Catholic School, James Simons Elementary and the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science.

The creation of the garden at Enston Home means that fruits and vegetables grown through the Green Heart Project will increase from 2,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds a year, Blom said, and the number of students served will increase by 1,000.

“We’re basically doubling the size of our organization, in terms of our budget, our staff capacity, the number of students we reach, the amount of food that we’re growing,” Blom said.

All food grown through the project is used as part of classroom lessons, donated to students’ families, or donated to school cafeterias for use in the lunch line.

This model will also be used at the Enston Home, but its additional production capacity also will be sold at a market stand that will sell produce on a “pay-what-you-can sliding scale,” Blom said.

The Green Heart Project started as a small school garden at Mitchell Elementary School in downtown Charleston. Most Mitchell students come from low-income households that often lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“As we’ve grown our programming and we’ve grown our mission, we have come to understand that it is not just the students in low-income populations and in Title 1 schools, but it’s all students who need this education, and that connection to healthy food,” said Drew Harrison, the project’s development director.

Since it began in 2009, the Green Heart Project has focused on building gardens on elementary school campuses. The Enston Homes site is the first time partnership schools will include middle and high schools, Blom said.

This summer, eight high school students will be hired for an eight-week paid internship position. Interns will spend half of their time managing and maintaining the farm site and half attending educational sessions on career and life skills, Blom said.

The garden at Enston Home will also see a continuation of the Green Heart Project’s traditional programming, such as health and wellness or STEM curriculum.

The Charleston Housing Authority agreed to lease the space to the Green Heart Project for free. It signed a five-year lease, with the option to renew, according to authority CEO Donald Cameron.

“I would say that the way they have acted in concert with the housing authority, that it’s going to be beneficial and will be a long term relationship,” he said, adding he is looking forward to seeing students interact with some of Enston Home’s older residents.

“That helps keeps seniors active, their minds active and alert, and it’s also something to look forward to,” he said.

The housing authority and Green Heart Project hope the new site becomes a community gathering space.

“More so than the fruits and vegetables and fresh produce that you grow, you’re really growing people,” Harrison said. “And so we see that this urban farm will be an extension of our mission to serve, not only the students and the residents of the Enston Homes, but it will definitely grow a community.”

The farm will help fulfill a vision that William Enston, a successful Charleston businessman, laid out in his will more than 150 years ago, when the wealthy benefactor left behind part of his fortune to construct group housing for elderly residents.

“He asked that the cottages be placed with sufficient land around them for gardens to keep the occupants busy and occupied,” Cameron said. “This is the last ingredient missing on the property.”

The garden is expected to open by summer.

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter @jennaschif.