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A local food distribution center in west Charlotte could soon help fight food deserts

Carolina Farm Trust's Michael Bowling and Erin Barbee embrace at a groundbreaking for a new food distribution center in west Charlotte on Aug. 3, 2023.
Nick de la Canal
Carolina Farm Trust's Michael Bowling and Erin Barbee embrace at a groundbreaking for a new food distribution center in west Charlotte on Aug. 3, 2023.

What's now a vacant warehouse in northwest Charlotte may soon become a bustling food distribution center where Charlotteans can purchase locally-sourced meat, dairy and produce — and even learn how to prepare and cook the food.

At a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday morning, project supporters and elected officials filled the empty warehouse. They examined project renderings and took pictures beside yellow construction tape that wrapped around walls and some construction vehicles.

The warehouse at 511 South Hoskins Rd. was originally built as an egg processing plant, but has sat vacant in recent years. It's in an area of northwest Charlotte that has few grocery stores, said Zack Wyatt, president and CEO of the local nonprofit Carolina Farm Trust, which is spearheading the project.

Wyatt said his goal for the food center was to support local farmers and also provide more healthy options to people around Mecklenburg County who lack access to fresh meat and vegetables.

"Eating healthy and all this has to be as easy as walking down the street to a bodega or a McDonald's," he said. "We have to make it easy for our farming community to participate in, and we have to make it easy for our consumers to participate in."

The groundbreaking on Thursday marks the beginning of the project's first phase, which will transform the 20,000 square foot warehouse into a wholesale food distribution center with a commercial kitchen. The first phase of the project received $6 million in funding from Mecklenburg County, $1.5 million from the city of Charlotte and $4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Wyatt said.

Wyatt said he hopes to finish construction by May 2024, and then begin reselling food to the community through pop-up markets and possibly a mobile grocery bus.

The project's second phase, which does not yet have a timeline, would add an on-site grocery store, an outdoor patio, a teaching kitchen, an event space and a meat processing facility.

Michael Bowling, who has worked with Carolina Farm Trust for years and officially became the group's general manager on Aug. 1, told the audience Thursday he hoped to one day host cooking classes on site and create a program that trains ex-offenders to work in the hospitality industry.

"It's not just a place where we're going to bring food in and push food out. We're going to bring people in, and hopefully, when they leave, their day is a little brighter than when they came in," Bowling said.

County Manager Dena Diorio told the audience Thursday that she had previously asked other grocery stores to build in west Charlotte to improve food access in the area, but "the companies didn't come, and they didn't build."

She said that left the county searching for other ways to address food insecurity in west Charlotte.

"When the county tried to find solutions to broad food delivery and access, we were mostly unsuccessful, but ... our refusals did not stop us from trying to solve this problem, and today marks an important step in what buying local looks like in Mecklenburg County," Diorio said.

Wyatt said his group still needs to fundraise for the project's second phase, and he hopes to receive donations from the community to make it a reality.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal
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