Growing fresh produce in a 'food desert'

Published 4:53 PM ET, Fri December 4, 2015
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Top 10 CNN Hero Rev. Richard Joyner is leading his rural North Carolina community to better health by helping young people grow and distribute fresh food. David S. Holloway/CNN
Conetoe, North Carolina -- population 300 -- lies an hour east of Raleigh. The town is surrounded by farmland, but the nearest grocery store is 10 miles away, making it one of the country's many "food deserts." David S. Holloway/CNN
Now more than 80 young people help Joyner plan, plant and harvest nearly 50,000 pounds of fresh food a year. Much of this produce is given away to local residents. David S. Holloway/CNN
His nonprofit, the Conetoe Family Life Center, manages more than 20 plots of land, including one 25-acre site. David S. Holloway/CNN
The students also sell the food -- including their own brand of honey -- to businesses and restaurants, raising money for school supplies and scholarships. David S. Holloway/CNN
The children also learn how to cook the food in a nutritious way, steering their families toward better choices at home. As a result, many people are now reaping the benefits of Joyner's efforts. Emergency room visits are down, and the community as a whole is healthier. David S. Holloway/CNN
Joyner started his efforts after watching many of his parishioners die from preventable diseases. "Diabetes, high blood pressure -- when we first got started, we counted 30 funerals in one year," Joyner said. "I couldn't ignore it." David S. Holloway/CNN
Joyner: "Growing food calls us to work together," he said. "By nourishing plants, you're nourishing community. It's one and the same." David S. Holloway/CNN
When Joyner first started, he did not like farming. "I didn't have a good experience with the soil growing up. My family, we were sharecroppers. ... For me, working in the garden has been a healing place." David S. Holloway/CNN