With Community, Failure Isn’t Fatal

Fired from a job. Failing a required class. Not having a resume to get a new job. Not graduating on time.

These struggles are all too common among youth in Greenville. And for most of those students, having any two or more of these issues would be too high of a hurdle to overcome. And if all four happened, it could be the end of the story, or at least the beginning of a long and arduous road to recovery.

However, with one youth from Mill Village Farms, these all were milestones on a path of success, which demonstrated the importance of community and perseverance.

Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.
— John Wooden

Dion worked for Mill Village since the spring of 2015. A respectful and hardworking young man, he showed lots of promise. He got along well with others and his team (Village Fashion). He even won the youth entrepreneurship competition in the summer of 2015. As Dion headed into his senior year at Carolina High Academy, his future was looking bright.

But then the roadblocks came. Whether it was him taking on too many opportunities, or a case of “senioritis,” or any number of personal challenges, things started going downhill for Dion.

After repeatedly showing up late or missing work, Dion was fired from the fall 2015 Youth Crew at Mill Village. (We have a generous but rigid “six strikes and you're out policy” for this standard.) We told him that we loved him, and that we wanted him to work for us again, but that he needed to feel the pain of losing a job, in order to learn a lesson for his own sake.

Dion did return in the spring, and was much better about his dependability. He would even ride his bike in the rain to make it to the Powered for Life youth development class on time! It was during this class that Dion learned of an opportunity to intern with BL Harbert, a local construction company. As a hopeful engineer, Dion knew this opportunity could propel him toward success.

One problem: Dion needed to fill out a lengthy application and write a resume. And he needed help.

Dion received that help from his Powered for Life mentor (a volunteer from Grace Church) and got it all done. Again, things were looking bright.

But then Dion’s guidance counselor (Also a mentor in the Powered for Life class) informed us that he was in danger of failing his English class, which was a requirement for graduation. It wasn’t for a lack of intelligence that Dion was failing (he was in a couple of college-level classes his senior year), but more of a lack of effort and focus. He wasn’t turning in the required assignments.

We pushed and encouraged and stressed to him the importance of doing his school work. Dion took several steps forward, but it was too little, too late. Dion would not make up the lost ground. He would not graduate with his classmates in June.

But Dion didn’t quit. And the people who cared about him (family, school staff, Mill Village Farms, the Ally Partner business who hired him) didn’t quit on him either. Dion enrolled in summer school to make up the credit, while still working part time at BL Harbert. He persevered and did all his school work, while gaining invaluable work experience.

In August, Dion received his diploma, and enrolled in college to continue on his path to success in life.

At Mill Village Farms, we agree that “it takes a village to grow a child.”  And we understand that that God has given each person unique gifts, along with struggles and challenges -- some that are unique, and some that are common. 

But with two gifts from God -- inner strength and a loving community -- our youth can hop over life’s hurdles, and flourish in life.

“Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” (Psalm 37:24)

“You never fail until you stop trying.”  -- Albert Einstein



Mill Village Market Celebrates Grand Opening in Village of West Greenville

On a surprisingly beautiful afternoon in late January, Mill Village Market celebrated its official Grand Opening with over 300 neighbors, supporters, and friends. The fellowship was filled with live musical performance by our neighbor Clay Westbrooke and Sloan Click. The party would not have been complete without some great food from our friend James Hester at Wholly Smoke BBQ Food Truck and some authentic quesadillas hand-made by one of our neighbors in Woodside. The festivities even spilled into the streets where neighbors and visitors shared laughs and stories. 

The party concluded with a Green Ribbon Cutting with special guests, Greenville City Council Member and Urban League Executive Director, Jil Littlejon, our business association president and Upstate Business Journal Publisher, Ryan Johnston, and our neighborhood association president and Bethel Bible Pastor, Vardrey Flemming. We even had some of our closest supporters join us, including community advocate Peggy Baxter, ScanSource Charitable Board Member, Joel Douglass, Long Branch Baptist Church's First Lady Satreva Dogan and even former Secretary of Education and Governor Dick Riley.

The celebration marks the beginning of a fresh start in the westside of Greenville with local and fresh food abounding and budding job-training and employment opportunities for teens to be at the forefront of building hope and service in our neighborhoods. 

If you missed it, don't fret, we are already dreaming of another block party in the warmer months! Come stop by and see what everyone is talking about at Mill Village Market located at 8 Lois Ave, Greenville, SC 29611 Monday & Friday: 9am-5pm, Tuesday-Thursday: 9am-7pm, and Saturday 10am-3pm. 



The Recipe That Inspired a Career

I will readily admit that I am a grown-up (unfortunately) who often doesn't know which direction I should take in life. I know my greater purpose though, and I believe that if I keep making small steps with good intentions then God will steer me down the path I'm meant to take. And small, seemingly insignificant things done with great intentions, by many people, can lead to monumental changes.

This is why it helps to have a village. The village can raise the child (for better or worse) and the village nurtures the adult. It inspires us to be more than just our solitary selves.

Hannah's journey with Mill Village began when a science teacher did a small thing with good intention; he started a garden at her high school. She took the step of starting a Garden Club to maintain that garden with her best friend. Her interest in the garden let that science teacher to suggest she look to Mill Village Farms for a summer job. She took that step too, and working with MVF put her inside a very unique Village. Here she had access to the resources and the experts who could challenge her to grow. At MVF her group was given a problem to solve: how can MVF get customers to take an interest in the more obscure veggies that grow locally? Things like squash, okra, and eggplant don't seem easy to serve simply steamed; we need some guidance on what to do with them. It seems like an obvious marketing question for a farmer to ask, but it turns out the question had a much higher purpose within it.

About this time, another passionate person intervened with a small thing done with great intentions. Traci Lynne Barr, a long time advocate of the whole food movement, a chef and an educator jumped into the mix. She offered to teach the kids some of the culinary skills they needed to help them solve their problem; how to make worthy stuff out of those poorly understood veggies.

She invited Hannah's work group to her home for a lesson. What resulted was a beautiful Ratatouille and an even more beautiful mentoring relationship. That evening Hannah was so inspired by Traci's energy and passion for the potential of good food that she began down a new path. She realized she enjoyed the process of cooking: going through specific steps to get a unique and personal result and then offering it to others to nurture them, but also to learn their perceptions of it.


The Ratatouille and it's recipe was offered as a sample at MVF's mobile market. It had the desired result of encouraging customers to buy more local, seasonal vegetables to try making it themselves.

Hannah decided to use her new joy of cooking for a project at school and asked Traci to mentor her again. For this project Hannah wrote a recipe book called "Through Curiosity" and presented it at school with a dish Traci had shown her: a simple Butternut Squash Soup served with homemade croutons.

Hannah realized the value in being able to give others comfort and make them healthier with a simple nutritious meal. Her grandmother had also demonstrated this to her with her ability to take the most meager ingredients and turn them into something delicious. Hannah admired the skill & creativity she saw in these formidable women.

Over her time with Traci and MVF, Hannah had also come to appreciate the importance of fresh food to our health, and wants to see everyone have access to it. The fact that some of us are not able to open the fridge and find something natural and unpackaged disturbs her.

Hannah's chosen post-secondary path is now somewhere in the food world and she's currently investigating her options at several Culinary schools in the South. So all those small steps taken within the Village will raise Hannah, and in the long run, all of us to greater heights.

Story written by Tricia Reynolds

The summer begins at our Youth Retreat!

Just under a week ago, I stood in the parking lot of Long Branch Baptist Church anxiously awaiting the arrival of a motley crew of youths ranging from fourteen to seventeen years of age.  These teens are the members of the annual Mill Village Farms Youth Entrepreneurship Program and, before this past weekend, complete strangers.  As an intern, it is my job to lead a crew of seven.  Being my first true position of leadership, my mind raced with the possibilities of the summer:  the fun, the troubles, and the new experiences.  I eagerly paced back and forth on the asphalt.  It was a Friday.

At around 4:30 PM the youth members began trickling in, escorted by their parents.  Each teen sporting a sleeping bag and a backpack full of supplies for the overnight orientation retreat.  With demeanors ranging from sheepish to jubilant, the youth partners mingled and made small talk.  By 5:15 everyone had arrived and Dan Weidenbenner, the Executive Director of Mill Village Farms (MVF), explained to the parents we would be back by 3 PM the next day and we loaded into the cars.

The retreat was fantastic, largely thanks to MVF interns Lauren Taylor and Kristina Benson.  The retreat consisted of a cookout, games, a bonfire, and s’mores, all punctuated by name games and orientation sessions.  While I enjoyed all of the weekend, there was one activity that stood out to me:  fishing.

At Serenity Farm, the location of the retreat and one of MVF’s three farms, there is a small pond stocked with bass and a few turtles.  On its banks is an old john-boat.  Early Saturday morning a young man approached me about taking him out on the boat to try and catch a few bass.  It was his first time on a boat and he stepped into its tin hull like a deer into a clearing.  Being the mature person I am, I immediately began rocking back and forth.  He grabbed onto the sides and angrily commanded me to stop.  After a few minutes, he began to relax.  Fishing has very little to do with farming or the entrepreneurship program but that young man stepped out of his comfort zone and embraced a strange new experience which I believe to be the point of the whole summer.  We may be hot and sweaty but we will learn and experience new things that will help us grow and shape our perspective on the world around us.

-Hal McLeod, MVF Crew Leader

Fishing has very little to do with farming or the entrepreneurship program but that young man stepped out of his comfort zone and embraced a strange new experience which I believe to be the point of the whole summer.

Greenville Women giving generously awards $61,000 for Mill Village Farms' Youth Program

 On May 6th  2015, Greenville Women Giving held its Ninth Annual Celebration to award its 2015 grantees. Mill Village Farms was awarded $61,000 to expand and improve its job training and employment opportunities for youth (ages 14-18) in Greenville County. 

“We are humbled and honored that Greenville Women Giving has chosen to generously award Mill Village Farms this year. We are truly inspired to see the faithful dedication of these women to continuously give back and invest in the good work of our community. Because of their commitment to our community, we are eager to see the impact that these funds will have on our local youth,” said Dan Weidenbenner, Mill Village Farms Executive Director

Mill Village Farms began nearly three years ago with a mission to empower our community’s underserved youth with a first-time job opportunity while also teaching basic job skills, sustainable agriculture, and entrepreneurship. Through the financial commitment of Greenville Women Giving, Mill Village Farms expects to provide over 55 youth with an opportunity to serve their neighbors by growing farm fresh foods while also learning invaluable soft-skills, responsibility, and leadership.

About Greenville Women Giving: Greenville Women Giving (GWG) granted $541,218 to eight nonprofit organizations at its ninth Annual Meeting on May 6, 2015. In total, GWG has awarded over $3.6 million to Greenville County non-profits. Membership is open to any woman who commits to donate $1,000 per year for 3 years to the collective fund. To learn more about GWG, visit:

See the coverage here in the Greenville News

Mill Village Farms teams up with Euphoria and Greenville County Schools to launch Healthy Lunchtime Throwdown

I can’t imagine a better way to secure a better food future than teaching the wee ones the value of food, the work that goes into growing and preparing it, and encouraging the creativity and joy that goes into making a meal for loved ones. - See more at: Cooking Light

For the first time in its ten-year history, euphoria will celebrate the skills and culinary achievements of Greenville’s young chefs by hosting the first annual Kids in the Kitchen: Healthy Lunchtime Throwdown contest. 

Open to all Greenville County Schools students between the ages of 8 and 12, the recipe and cooking contest allows district students from across the area to submit their original, healthy, affordable and delicious recipes online at now through May 29. The winner, who will be selected at a special cook-off event during euphoria on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, will win a prize package from LiveWell Greenville, Tupelo Honey Cafe and Mill Village Farms and have his or her recipe added to the Greenville County Schools menu during the 2015-2016 school year. 

The euphoria contest is modeled after First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and Kids’ State Dinner, an annual event that promotes healthy eating and healthy lifestyles for children across the United States. 

“Greenville County Schools is dedicated to providing fresh, healthy meals each day during the school year to the district’s nearly 72,000 students, and we encourage kids to take an active role in making healthy food choices year-round,” said Joe Urban, director of Greenville County Schools Food and Nutrition Services. “This contest provides a phenomenal opportunity to help children across our community understand the importance of balanced nutrition -- not to mention the fact that cooking and eating healthy can be fun and rewarding,” added Urban. 

Judges of the contest include Tanya Steel, founder of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and Kids’ State Dinner in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Steel is also Award Director of the Julia Child Award, former editor-in-chief of and also was an editor at Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines. She’s the author of Real Food for Healthy Kids and the Epicurious Cookbook. At euphoria, Steel will be joined by celebrity chefs Curtis Duffy (chef/owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant Grace in Chicago) and David Kinch (chef/owner of the Michelin two-star restaurant Manresa in San Francisco) along with “star” chefs from schools across the district to help prepare the top recipes submitted for the contest. 

“Challenging kids and their parents to take an interest in what they eat, to choose healthy ingredients and focus on healthy meal preparation provides an opportunity to educate and shift perceptions,” said Steel. “The goal of this contest as well as the national Healthy Lunchtime Challenge is not only to enhance understanding of the benefits of healthy eating and healthy lifestyles, but to also make America’s kids true stakeholders in their own health and nutrition for a lifetime.” 

Entrants of the first annual Kids in the Kitchen: Healthy Lunchtime Throwdown contest are required to submit original recipes that adhere to My Plate guidelines, are healthy, delicious and economical. Based on these criteria, finalists will be selected by a panel of local judges in June 2015 and will be announced in August 2015. These finalists will participate in a live cook off – which is the first kids’ event in euphoria’s ten-year history – on Sept. 20, 2015. 

About euphoria

This year, euphoria celebrates its 10th year as one of the country’s premier food, wine and music festivals, September 17 – 20, 2015 (; @AchieveEuphoria). What began in 2006 as a one-day festival highlighting Greenville, SC’s culture, depth of talent and outstanding revitalized downtown, now draws more than 6,000 people from 30 states and multiple countries for a four-day weekend featuring nationally acclaimed chefs, celebrity singers and songwriters, craft brewers, Master Sommeliers, and unique luxury experiences. Proceeds from euphoria Food, Wine & Music Festival benefit charitable organizations that focus on providing sustenance to those in need, educating through music, and supporting children in need across the Upstate of South Carolina. 

Prepare for a 4-day state of food, wine + music euphoria: September 17 – 20, 2015.


Mill Village Farms dedicated South Carolina’s first rooftop farm in downtown Greenville

atop the commercial building at the northeast corner of Main and Washington streets. The event also served as a celebration of the city’s urban sustainability efforts on the eve of Earth Day. The rooftop farm includes 50 aeroponic tower gardens that will harvest up to 600 plants weekly for use in downtown restaurants. The harvested produce will also be available directly to local residents from Mill Village Farms mobile farmers market. 

“Much of Greenville’s progress has been powered by entrepreneurs, companies and non-profits that have developed successful partnerships that prioritize the wellbeing, health and prosperity of our community and environment,” said Mayor Knox White. “As the city continues to develop and thrive, we remain committed to supporting and celebrating sustainability projects such as the Mill Village Farms rooftop farm.” 

In addition to providing fresh produce, the rooftop farm will support Mill Village Farms’ mission of employing and developing at-risk and high-potential youth in the community by providing job training and professional skills development, along with experience in sustainable agriculture, personal finance and entrepreneurship. 

“With the addition of the rooftop farm, we aim to yield upwards of 15,000 of produce in 2015 while employing and training more than 45 teens in our community throughout the year,” said Dan Weidenbenner, director of Mill Village Farms. “Thanks to the ongoing support of the city, individual donors and the business community, Mill Village Farms continues to promote sustainability, healthy lifestyles and job creation in Greenville.” 

According to Weidenbenner, the vertical aeroponic garden towers use less than ten percent of the water and land required by traditional, soil-based agriculture. Each vertical garden tower grows up to 44 plants and occupies only 2.5 by 2.5 feet of space at a height of 8 feet per tower. These vertical systems recycle 100 percent of nutrients and water while growing plants at twice the speed of normal soil-based farming. 

The launch of the state’s first rooftop farm is the result of the generosity of a variety of business sponsors that help fund the purchase, planting, growth and maintenance of the towers. The rooftop space for the farm is provided by Hughes Development Corporation. 

We're growing and growing! So now we're hiring!


Are you highly-motivated, community-minded, and passionate about local food? Check out some of the available job and internship opportunities at Mill Village Farms and Good to Go Mobile Market! Click and learn about each position below. Apply by submitting your resume to

Full-Time, Good to Go Mobile Market Executive Director

Part-Time, Seasonal, Good to Go Market Manager

Crew Leader, Internship  

Come lend a hand at Farm Fresh Fair 2014


As summer fades and fall dawns, we are in great anticipation for Farm Fresh Fair 2014 out at The Farm at Rabon Creek! This curated event is filled with local entrepreneurs offering vintage trinkets to organic treats all surrounded by farm animals and live music. This event is benefiting Mill Village Farms and we need your help! We are looking for volunteers to help set-up on Friday, September 19th from 3pm-7pm (SPOTS FILLED) OR on Saturday, September 20th from 1pm-5pm for this special occasion. Whether it's assisting our vendors, selling tickets at the door, or just parking cars... we need you! As an extra bonus, you will receive a one of our Farm Fresh Fair 2014 fitted tees. Please complete the form to sign up and we will be in touch. We are looking for 25 volunteers to join!  Are you ready?

Name *

Come volunteer with us at our urban farms!


Calling all spring gardeners! We thrilled to be on our way to the spring season. We would love for you to come join us in volunteering at either one of our downtown urban farms (Sullivan Street and Mills Mill) on Saturday, March 8th from 8:30am-Noon. We will be prepping many of our beds while seeding some of our spring crops. We will all meet at 8:30am at our Sullivan St Farm on the campus of Long Branch Baptist Church (28 Bolt Street, Greenville, SC 29605). Please bring garden gloves. Sign up below to join!

Name *
Phone *

Five (simple) things that are probably holding your Garden back

1. Bare Soil

This is the most simple fix you can do for your garden. Quickly think about how things grow when people are not involved. What do you see in your mind? Trees, shrubs, vines, and lots of "stuff" on the ground. Nature covers the ground where ever it can. If it can't cover with plants, grasses, or "weeds" it will cover with fallen leaves, bark, and flowers. Covering the soil has many benefits. It keeps in moisture, heat in the winter, cool in the summer, and keeps the soil in place so it won't wash away with each watering or rain. Its very easy to mimic this in your garden.

Nature covers the ground where ever it can.

If you have beds with walking paths in between, let your weeds grow there. You don't care about your weeds anyways so you won't have to feel bad about trampling them. (The one exception to this suggestion is Bermuda grass, get that devil grass out of your garden with a vengeance. It will suffocate everything.)

Now in the beds themselves cover any bare soil with "brown matter." That is leaves, mulch, or straw, whatever is easily available for you. (Specifically straw. Straw is just the stalk part of hay. Hay has all the seeds left in it. You have no clue what was growing where that hay came from and in all likelihood you'll end up with a garden full of invasive plants suffocating your beautiful, prized, heirloom tomatoes.)

2. Full Sunlight

because large leafed plants evolved the large surface area to collect as much sun as possible on the forest floor. Whereas small leafed plants evolve to collect sunlight from various angles and directions without being scorched in a prairie or valley.

Again thinking about how nature does it, what typically grows in full sunlight? Grasses and trees. A couple things to help you decide what needs what type of light. If the plant has large leaves, like lettuces, plant them in partial shade. If the plant has smaller leaves, like tomatoes, give them more sun. This is because large leafed plants evolved the large surface area to collect as much sun as possible on the forest floor. Whereas small leafed plants evolve to collect sunlight from various angles and directions without being scorched in a prairie or valley.

The second way to help you decide is based on what you're growing. If you're growing for fruit or roots, you plant in sunnier areas. This is because fruit and roots take more energy to produce and develop. If the plant is growing for the leaves it should go in partial shade. Now your saying "But what about squash and zucchini?!" Darn good question. When in doubt, experiment. Try one in both places and see how it goes. The worst that's going to happen is you're going to lose a seed. It's okay, there are more.

3. No Rotation


If you're anything like me, you drive the same route day after day. Have you ever taken the time to observe what's growing along the side of the road? On my route there were beautiful lilies in every color during the spring time, but come late August the lilies had been replaced with daisies. As we take another lesson from nature we learn that planting the same thing over and over again in the same spot is counterproductive. Each plant family has different needs. Legumes, beans and peas, leave a lot of nitrogen in soil, which happens to be corn's biggest need.

This is really simple to accomplish in your own garden. You just need to keep track of what you plant each season and where. So next season just make sure you plant something different there. For example, tomatoes, lettuce, beans, corn, rest. The last step is essential. Sometime between five and seven seasons, you need to let that specific plot rest. Once you've picked everything off your last crop, just leave it be. Don't pull it up. Throw a cover crop down and walk away. A cover crop is a plant you don't harvest from, it just exists to feed the soil and let it rest. You can use clover, buckwheat, alfalfa, or something of your own choosing.

4. Tilling

Tiling is the number one most destructive thing you can do to your land. It depletes the soil of the built up nutrients and micro flora and fauna (more on this in a later post). It also leaves the soil completely uncovered, which you already know from the first point to be a very bad thing. Besides that it uncovers all those nasty weed seeds. Seeds that lay too deep to grow, suddenly they're all at the top and super excited to stretch their roots into your beautiful garden.

So you want to avoid that? Simple don't till. Continue to add new material to the top of your soil and use a pitch fork randomly to gently lift the soil without turning it over. The point of tilling is to get oxygen into the soil to boost fertility. You can accomplish the same thing by just loosening the soil.

5. Little Variety

As we take another lesson from nature we learn that planting the same thing over and over again in the same spot is counterproductive.

We often get trapped by thinking the only things we can grown in back yard gardens is tomatoes, beans, and squash. But there is so much more out there. Try something you've never heard of or something you're not sure you'll like. Part of gardening is just enjoying yourself, so grow something fun. Buttercup squash looks funny and actually makes a really yummy dessert (yes, I know it sounds weird). Cuban oregano is fuzzy and soft. Watermelons actually come in yellow, orange, and white too. Stretch your legs and have some fun.

Happy Gardening,
Alyse Gajda, Garden Green Girl