Food Advocate Shares Her Story at ESMMYC Meeting

by Liz Duda, Past Chair, Communications & Advocacy, ESMMYC

June 20, 2021 (York County, SC) Eat Smart Move More York County welcomed Demetria L. Cox-Thomas to our April 2021 general meeting to share her passion for veggie gardening, food justice, and plant-based cooking. While Ms. Cox-Thomas is currently a master’s student at Winthrop University majoring in human nutrition, she already has experienced and accomplished so much!

What is she doing?

She now is the Southminster Retirement Community’s Community Garden Manager. In this role, she grows vegetables to donate to local nonprofits (e.g., The Bulb and Meals on Wheels) to give to communities with food insecurity issues and lacking healthy food access. Since she has been in this role, they have donated 3,000 pounds of produce. Previously, Ms. Cox-Thomas taught elementary students how to grow food in the Charlotte area.

What are her roots?

Demetria is a third-generation farmer. She was born and raised in Charlotte, where she now lives with her husband and daughter. She described how her late father taught her how to cook and grow her food. In fact, now in the same family home that she grew up in, she and her daughter work in the same garden that she and her father tended! In our meeting, she shared beautiful photos depicting her “love for everything food.”

How did she get here?

When she lost access to garden going to college, Demetria became exposed to food insecurity. Her school was in a “food swamp” (an area with a glut of unhealthy food sources) – with two fast food places; no grocery store; and subpar cafeteria food. Most freshmen could not afford taxi service to get to healthy food sources. She missed her garden. She started working with Pop Up Produce, a non profit that assisted with building school gardens and taught students how to grow their own food.

Now at Winthrop, Ms. Cox-Thomas has supported food-insecurity-related projects. She showed people how to use SNAP dollars. Going forward, she hopes to bring partnerships between chefs and farmers. She also hopes to get healthier foods into the food pantry. She will be working with the Rock Hill Educational Community Garden to teach nutrition students to grow food. She also hopes to find space closer to campus to grow produce. She looks forward to combining her passions of growing food with her Dietetics career.

What were her greatest challenges?

We all are familiar with this one: funding limitations – grants are competitive! To overcome this, she worked in collaborative partnerships which reduced competition and built on strength. They ultimately created a raised bed garden in a local Charlotte school.

Other limitations have been policy limitations (e.g., students were not permitted to bring produce home from the school garden; and GAP certification requirements to use produce in the cafeterias), and recognizing that everyone is busy with competing priorities, it is hard to get parent involvement and find enough teacher support. But she finds that active policy work and outreach to parents and staff who will champion the efforts ultimately can lead to success over the long term.

To conclude the meeting, Ms. Cox-Thomas wishes us all a Happy National Garden Month (April) and encourages us all to get outside and enjoy the inspiration of a garden!