‘If not now, when?’: New nonprofit forms to address issues of food insecurity in St. Clair County

There’s a new nonprofit in St. Clair County, one that is putting a lot on its plate in order to put food on the plates of others.

Heather Fagan, Lisa Green, Tyler Moldovan, and Shannon Raynard have come together to form the Seed & Soul Society, an equitable nonprofit collective dedicating itself to sustainable agriculture and mutual growth. It’s a multi-faceted organization, concerned with a range of activities but centered on food insecurity throughout St. Clair County.

While some of its founding members have been working toward building something like this for several years now, it was the COVID-19 pandemic that seemed to set things into motion.

“I think the pandemic kind of instilled in all of us the idea of: If not now, when? That seems like the motivating factor for all of us because we all kind of had ideas about [food insecurity],” Moldovan says.

“With Heather, she's always wanted to start a nonprofit doing something similar to this. But I think it really kind of just lit a fire under our asses. You know, the thin veil of society kind of came apart.”

Heather Fagan, who, as Tyler says, planned to start a nonprofit addressing food insecurity in the region prior to the pandemic, agrees.

“It was like knocking on our door basically. Like, look, here's an issue and we're putting it right in front of your face, because so many questions were raised. How were some kids going to get meals if they're not in school? How are people going to have access to food if we're not doing contact delivery service?” she says.

“We just really got faced with an issue that we knew was there. And like Tyler said, that veil just just broke and said, ‘Yep, here I am.’ What are we gonna do about it?”

“We want to help give people a little fresher food options,” says Fagan.Building a network

Just as there is no one solution to solving issues of food insecurity in St. Clair County, the Seed & Soul Society approach to addressing those issues is multi-faceted. It involves building up local farms and gardens, a network of community partnerships, expanding educational opportunities, and more.

“The Blue Water Indigenous Alliance is letting us borrow land to grow on. So we'll grow different crops there, like corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers. And, in turn, they will keep some of the crops. Then we'll take some of them so that we can help supplement food for mutual aid groups, food banks, food giveaways — so that it's not just all dehydrated items or items with a bunch of preservatives,” Fagan says.

“We want to help give people a little fresher food options. And I have a garden, Shannon has a garden. We have a friend who is also letting us use his property for a garden. And so we have several places where we can grow.”

Since forming only a few months ago, the Seed & Soul Society has established partnerships with the Blue Water Indigenous Alliance, Blue Water Mutual Aid, Helping Hands Community Garden of PH, MSU Extension Master Gardener Program, and Thumb Food Policy Council. They also work to support the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

“We have these strong relationships with these people and we collaborate with them. We’ll say, ‘What do you need? We'll help you get what you need.’ And then they do the same for us,” says Lisa Green.

“It's fully beneficial to start building this supportive network, and not always have to be isolated. Everyone's helping each other.”

“We want to take on multiple angles, because there are so many variables to this one problem,” Raynard says. “And if we can strengthen our community network, then the possibilities to what we can do are endless,” says Raynard.Food = Love

While addressing issues of food insecurity is one of the group’s top priorities, another major component will be health and education. Though food banks perform a service distributing food to those in need, often the food items initially donated are canned and processed, either full of preservatives or nearing their expiration dates. Growing fresh produce, and educating the community how to grow and utilize their own fresh produce, can go a long way.

“If you can educate people how to be self-sustaining and healthy, it's very empowering. And it's also helpful and cost-effective. Because healthy people who are eating produce and fresh foods are less likely to encounter illness,” says Shannon Raynard, who also co-owns Moe’s Corner Deli in Port Huron.

One of the group’s first educational events is a foraging workshop scheduled for Saturday, May 22. A certified forager with 20 years experience will lead the workshop, foraging for fresh mushrooms. Information can be found on their website.

“[The workshops will teach] what to look for, best practices, and things like that. And just teaching people, not only as a city to be sustainable, in terms of where we're getting our food from, but as an individual,” Moldovan says. “It’s providing the tools and information they need to grow their own food, or what to do if they do get that fresh produce and they don't know how to cook it or prepare it or make it stretch.”

In taking a multi-faceted approach, the Seed & Soul Society believes a holistic model can better address food insecurity in the region.

“We want to take on multiple angles, because there are so many variables to this one problem,” Raynard says. “And if we can strengthen our community network, then the possibilities to what we can do are endless.”

The Seed & Soul Society has started a membership drive to bolster the organization. There are four levels, each with their own set of benefits, but all of them go to help the organization’s mission. The group’s founders also recommend connecting with them via social media, including Instagram, Facebook, and the Seed & Soul Society Affiliates.

“I grew up in a Hispanic family. And I remember at one point, there were eight of us, living in one house at my grandmother's house in Miami. And everybody always had a million things going on, everyone was always running around. But the one thing that we always had was food at the table. That was one thing that always brought us together,” Fagan says.

“My entire life, I've always been taught to equate food with love. So if you're feeding people, you're showing them love. And it's like you're giving them hope. And I really hope that that's a message that can go across the board.