Farmer helps with nutritious diet throughout pandemic

Bonita Clemons helped recruit volunteers and farmers to feed the South Carolinians through their nonprofit Diannes Call and FarmaSis.

COLUMBIA, SC – Over the past year, many restaurants have had to close due to COVID-19.

Farmers looked for places to sell their products.

A Midlands farmer immediately went to work feeding the most underserved neighborhoods.

In our “Surviving COVID: Farm-to-Table” series, we learn more about the impact of the pandemic on local farmers and restaurant owners.

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Bonita Clemons helped feed thousands of South Carolinians in 2020.

“When I went to my grandmother’s house, we played in the fields. Instead of going into the house to eat, we just ate what was in the fields and we kept playing.”

Clemons grew up eating fresh produce from the soil on her family’s farm.

In 2001, she took what she had learned from her childhood and health studies and created the nonprofit Dianne’s Call, named for her mother, who passed away at the age of 42.

“It is part of my mission to improve the health of African American women,” said Clemons. “So I knew that diet was the first line of defense.”

To continue her mission, Clemons founded FarmaSis in 2016.

“We are an army of women,” said Clemons. “We don’t kill, we heal.”

FarmaSis is a group of 11 black women farmers from the Midlands who work together to grow vegetables like corn, garlic, cabbage vegetables and carrots.

Anything they can grow on half an acre of land at Clemson University’s Sandhill Research and Education Center feeds their families.

“FarmaSis, we’re helping and training how food is medicine,” said Clemons. “We sometimes sell to the public at nominal cost and sometimes we have given food to the food center on the North Main.”

Last year when businesses closed and people lost their jobs, FarmaSis and Diannes Call rolled up their sleeves.

“We immediately put on our masks, put on our gloves, and brought food to the people,” said Clemons.

Their food center, Axiom Farms, has partnered with Harvest Hope Food Bank, the state Department of Agriculture, and farmers in South Carolina to feed the families hardest hit by COVID-19.

“When Covid hit, we fed over 10,000 families from May to September,” she said. “I work with farmers. So you had to get your food from farmers in South Carolina, and that is how we could feed many families from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture-sponsored Farmers to Food Bank program.”

According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website, Farmers to Food Banks has supported 33 farms in three funding rounds and distributed 20,959 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need.

In 2021, Clemons says she will continue to teach health education classes. Since her time in graduate school, she has helped residents of the 29203 region of Colombia focus on improving their health.

“Many years ago researchers had identified this area because it had one of the highest amputation rates in the country. I think that was around 2012. Since I was already working there, I just stayed there … We have I’m going north, Denmark, gone to the remote rural areas that people sometimes overlook or may not think about, “said Clemons. “Now we’re getting ready to branch to 29223.”

In addition to serving young farmers this year, Clemons also plans to sell crops in underserved communities.

She expects to open a mobile grocery store by the end of the year.

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“We can really feed on the foods that are made in South Carolina.”

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