Food for thought: how can agriculture-focused entrepreneurship promote mental health and social well-being?

Editor’s Note: Brock Pierce is the Marketing Communications Manager for Innovate Carolina.


Chapel Hill – Ever thought of farmers as the ultimate entrepreneur? Or pondered on how the food we eat can taste good and create social good at the same time?

During a discussion panel recently hosted by Innovate Carolina at the 79° West Innovation Hub and Coworking Space, a group of farmers, social innovators, food entrepreneurs, and UNC-Chapel Hill professors discussed the impact of the food we grow on our physical, mental, and emotional health. and discussed the interesting relationship between the physical. Social welfare.

During the hour-long conversation, key insights emerged about how local communities can think differently about the various roles that food-based organizations can play in improving our lives. Attendees also got a glimpse of opportunities to engage with organizations that harness agriculture and food to improve wellness.

  1. Digging in the dirt is good for your mental health. Whether you’re gardening or working a full-scale farm, being outside in the sun and getting your hands dirty while working in the soil increases levels of dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to mental health – in your brain. , says Matt Ballard, program manager at UNC Farms at Penny Lane. The organization houses the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health’s innovative mental health improvement programs, such as therapeutic gardening and other nature-based therapeutic approaches. Ballard says that Penny Lane’s Farm is trying to get the medical system to see that these types of activities—especially being on a farm—are beneficial to a person’s physical and mental health.
  2. Farms don’t just grow crops. They also create new opportunities in life for people. Women recently released from prison face many difficulties and uncertainties. But what if there was a farm where they could live and lay the foundation for a bright future? Tanya Jisa discusses why she was inspired to found Benevolence Farm, which provides employment and housing for women returning from prison. Jisa, who serves as assistant clinical professor as well as community education coordinator for the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at UNC Chapel Hill, spoke to Farmers about the need to create a space that supports women coming out of prison. but how she then worked to make the idea a reality. Today, Benevolence Farm provides housing for the six women who currently live on the farm, says Jisa, and have launched a body-care product line.
  3. The business side of farming – and the mental stress associated with it – requires more education and attention. Farming involves a lot more than just learning how to put seed in the ground, says Michelle Wright, co-founder of the organization The Farmers BAG Wright, who helps with outreach to the farming community, supports older farmers and provides agribusiness education to young people. Is. Farming is a complex business model complicated by uncertainties of seasonal crop yields and generational stress, she explained. And farmers — who face the second-highest rate of suicide among professional sectors — need help developing business plans and models, she said. From obtaining the right licenses and insurance to tax documents and other aspects of starting a small business, farmers benefit from the programs offered by the Wright Sisters’ 11-acre farm, which is a method used by young and Do it to help the old farmers. The organization gives current and future farmers learning experiences that lead to healthy agribusiness practices and personal well-being.
  4. Food insecurity demands novel changes in food systems. Food insecurity – a lack of access to affordable, nutritious food – is an issue that plagues a large number of North Carolinians. A food insecurity report from UNC-Chapel Hill suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the issue in the state: By 2021, one in three children in rural North Carolina was food insecure. Two UNC-affiliated enterprises are using novel business models — and frozen food strategies — to reduce food insecurity and ensure people in communities in North Carolina and beyond have better access to delicious, healthy food . Equity Foods, a startup founded by Alice Ammerman, the Mildred Kauffman Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has created a product called Good Bowls. A frozen meal, Good Bowls uses produce that’s locally sourced from farms, is based on a Mediterranean diet and adapted to Southeastern American food preferences, Ammerman says. Equity Foods also uses a cost-offset model to make the bowls more affordable for low-income people, and the company is currently testing the product at blue-collar workplaces. Seal the Season, a company co-founded by UNC students — now alumni — takes a different track. The company is creating a demand-driven system for local family farm produce to be in grocery stores, says Alex Piasecki, one of the company’s co-founders and chief operating officer. From flash-freezing produce like blueberries, strawberries and peaches at the peak of freshness, Seal Season provides small- to medium-sized local farmers with new markets to sell their produce. It also provides a way for consumers in a wide range of communities to access and buy healthy food.

About the Author

Brock Pierce is the Marketing Communications Manager for Innovate Carolina. Brock reshapes Carolina’s communications by working with faculty, students and staff to tell the story of innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC-Chapel Hill. His communications expertise includes content and creative development, executive communications and messaging, web and social media, email and newsletter communications, news writing and storytelling. Brock has over 20 years of experience working in marketing, branding and communications with global corporations, advertising agencies and in-house creative teams.

(c) UNC-CH

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