By Scott Miller, Clemson University

 

The idea struck Cathy Carden as she was discarding unwanted food at a grocery store, products to be loaded into banana boxes and shipped away to warehouses.

“It was too much waste, too much waste,” said Carden, who worked in merchandising at a local grocery store.

So she bought it and keeps buying it. Carden and her husband, Scott, opened Banana Box Market in Boiling Springs, selling reclaimed food at discount, often one-third of the retail cost.

Looking to open two new locations and fine-tune her business plan, Cathy Carden enrolled in Feeding Innovation, a program created by the South Carolina Community Loan Fund in partnership with the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service to bring healthy food to under-served communities throughout South Carolina. Feeding Innovation includes eight weeks of entrepreneurship and business-planning courses taught by Clemson Extension agribusiness agent Will Culler with help from faculty experts from Clemson University. Through the eight weeks, participants carefully craft business plans with instruction on financial planning, operations management, law and regulation, marketing and more.

At the conclusion of the program, participants pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that picks a winner to receive $12,500 in seed capital for their business. The Cardens won the most recent Feeding Innovation program in Spartanburg.

“It’s going to allow us to do wonderful things,” Cathy Carden said.

The program, which is held in multiple locations throughout the state, attracts a variety of businesses, including mobile markets, grocery stores, agri-tourism businesses, farmers markets, farmers and others. Anyone working to bring healthy food to under-served areas, or “food deserts,” is eligible to participate.

Dylan Nitskorski, the farm-to-school coordinator for Spartanburg County School District Six, participated in Feeding Innovation to craft a plan for a farm that could supply food to school cafeterias.

“We want to provide agricultural education to our students. We want to serve locally grown, sustainably produced food in our cafeteria, and we also want to really expand the discourse of what local foods are in our community,” he said. “This was a great opportunity for us to figure out what we want to do with our farm, what we want to grow. It really helped us put investments in the right place to start our business, and the class really tries to cultivate a lot of relationships.”

Participants in the Spartanburg Feeding Innovation program are already negotiating plans to conduct business together. Carden said she is working to sell local produce grown by a classmate, for example.

“We really got along well and we really had a blast after class,” she said. We would stand around and brainstorm and congratulate each other and lift each other up and help each other out.”

South Carolina Community Loan Fund works to provide equitable access to capital in underserved communities by providing loans and technical assistance for affordable housing, health food enterprises, community facilities and community businesses.

“There are a lot of great healthy food retail ideas out there but there aren’t a lot of solid business plans to execute these projects,” said Anna Hamilton Lewin, Chief Operating Officer for South Carolina Community Loan Fund. “Feeding Innovation provides the opportunity and resources entrepreneurs need to expand on these ideas and make them a reality.”

“It’s a great way for us to get involved with the communities, get involved with these aspiring entrepreneurs as they go forward and create healthy food enterprises in their communities,” Culler said.

South Carolina Community Loan Fund and Clemson Extension have partnered on five Feeding Innovation programs in various parts of the state. Details on the next Feeding Innovation program will be announced in the fall.

Learn more about South Carolina Community Loan Fund’s healthy food program HERE.