Meet April Jones: The Pinehurst Farmers Market Manager
It's been a little too easy over the past year to find ourselves in weary moments of isolation, watching the news, trying to remember where the hope comes from. It was a moment just like this, where endless scrolling and clicking was sending me into an anxiety spiral. That's when April's email hit my inbox. April Jones, the manager of the Pinehurst Farmers Market located in the Pinehurst neighborhood of downtown Columbia, South Carolina had been in touch several times recently regarding the successes of her local market. I opened the email and sighed. Her tone was upbeat, optimistic even, and the essential services she spoke of were an immediate reminder of the prosperity that can be shared by a community dedicated to its people.
April Jones founded the Pinehurst Farmers Market almost two years ago after the sudden closing of the only two grocery stories within a one mile walking distance of the Pinehurst neighborhood. The issue of the closure of these two stores wasn't simply an inconvenience, it was food apartheid.
Recognizing the serious situation her community would face without access to fresh foods, April chose to act. She drew inspiration for starting a local farmers market from her experience at a Black Urban Garden Society Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. She was struck by the words of activist farmer Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm who said, “If you are looking for someone to save you, no one is coming. You will have to save yourself.” She recognized that if she wanted to see change in her neighborhood, she would need to be it.
From that conference, she began to create the concept for the market. “The vision was to form a self-reliant, self-sustainable plan of action that would create healthy, organic food options for the community, supporting the local economy and giving residents access to food sovereignty.” It was a lofty goal and would require perseverance to see it through. Managing a farmers market requires organization, patience and an endless dedication to the cause. Though it is challenging, April's love for her community outweighed the obstacles faced. “The best part of Pinehurst Neighborhood is the community feel of love and solidarity. It has a slow pace, and everyone is peaceful and kind to each other. The Pinehurst neighborhood boasts the Pinehurst Park, walking trails, sidewalks and easy access to downtown amenities.”
A Gathering of Hope
The Pinehurst Market's mission goes beyond simply being a venue where you can grab a local tomato. It is a hub of commerce promoting food justice and food sovereignty. It is a place where community action and self reliance allow people to blossom. It is a way that the Pinehurst community members can connect to one another, nurture their foodways and be in support of the natural world that makes it all possible. “The market allows the farmers to use their organic, regenerative growing methods and cultural experiences, with shared solidarity to create food access and life-giving nutrition for members of the Pinehurst community and residents throughout the City of Columbia. The Pinehurst Farmers Market farmers are uniquely situated in the State of South Carolina which has a lot of access to farmland and has a rich history of local foodways. The Pinehurst farmers are committed to growing extraordinary, sustainable, and nutrient dense food.”
In 2020, the global pandemic brought with it unexpected changes to business as usual. As small businesses across the country were forced to shutter their doors and essential workers were tasked with risking their health to keep communities going, farmers markets began developing and implementing new procedures to keep market shoppers and vendors safe. April believes that while these have been trying times, the pandemic has actually brought her community together. “When the community comes together to support the farmers it creates a deeper connection to the land and to the produce that customers are eating because customers feel as if they are a part of the success! Covid-19 has allowed us to come together as a community.”
Making a Difference
When asked what was something that made her proud of the market, April had to shout out her vendors and team. “We have the most amazing women farmers!!! It’s an all women market crew which is a feat in itself.” When asked what we could do as citizens to help bring about positive change, April brought it all back to supporting your local growers. “The most important thing that people can do is to support their local farmer with their dollars. The more people spend, the better it is for their community and the farmers--especially with helping to support and expand food access. When you spend money in your community, that money circulates 10-15 times, compared to a box store where that same money would only circulate once. Spending with your local farmer boosts your local economy.”
Even so, the year 2020 was very revealing about the historic and systemic racism in our food system and in our agricultural programs. As the nation continues grappling with internalized and overtly racist structures and working towards better support for individuals who have been historically blocked from deriving success and prosperity from the land, April thinks the answer to injustice is choosing to get involved. “We all need to get involved to help create solutions. I would suggest for everyone to read the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson it talks a lot about what can be done to address injustice.”
It is easy to become pessimistic and inactive when facing agriculture's long history of oppression, theft, slavery and exploitation. April, on the other hand, doesn't have any time for pessimism at all. When asked what makes her pessimistic about the future of our food system, she could only reply with optimism. “I am forever optimistic about the growth and change that is possible. Seeing the amazing work that has been done in South Carolina led by our amazing Leader Hugh Weathers of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. He has done a lot of the ground work to support our local farmers. We need to show solidarity and fraternity with each other. We need to be consistently kind, appreciative and giving to others and not hoard resources.”
The Organic Growers School
April and her team are always learning. Alongside keeping an essential market open for business, April has continued her education into the many practices and methodologies of sustainable agriculture. “At the Pinehurst Farmers Market, we were also able to expand our knowledge of sustainable growing by attending the Organic Growers School 2020 Conference in Asheville, North Carolina which brought great joy! We feel it is important to always increase our regenerative knowledge base to increase our yields for our loyal customers. Each farmer is eager for knowledge about how to be more sustainable and better stewards of the land.
The Organic Growers School located in Asheville, NC is committed to providing practical organic education. They build vibrant communities, and feature hands on training workshops and conferences. While attending the conference, I was able to learn new skills, and build upon existing skills. In 2021, I have some fun, interesting speaking gigs coming up. I’ll be speaking at the 2021 Organic Growers School Conference about the local food economy and community action. I’ll share my secrets and tips on how to be successful and have fun in the food movement while building your community. I encourage everyone to come out and support.”
Support April's Work
As for looking ahead, April hopes to do her part to ensure that her community is taken care of. “It is so important that everyone has access to high quality food and has food sovereignty. I hope to be a part of the solution in sunny Columbia, South Carolina and in the US. I am hopeful about the growth of the Pinehurst Farmers Market and the growth of our nonprofit Pinehurst Community Action. We have a lot of innovative and exciting projects coming up in 2021 that address these issues in our community.
We are currently fundraising for our Covid-19 relief boxes. These allow older residents in our community to have access to high quality food from our Pinehurst market. I encourage everyone to give and show solidarity with their community. You can give at our Facebook Page Pinehurst Community Action."