The Bulb helps bring fresh produce to Charlotte’s food-insecure areas.
by Michelle Boudin
Alisha Street was a social worker when she moved to Charlotte in 2012 and quickly realized the people she was trying to help struggled to get access to healthy food. She even accompanied a client on a bus ride to the food pantry to get a sense of just how tough it is for people living in food-insecure areas to get what they need.
“They were a family of nine, and you can only take two bags on the bus, so they couldn’t get enough food. Then it was a two-hour bus ride, and the food they got at the pantry was very unhealthy. I was really disheartened,” Street recalls.
Street grew up with farmers on both sides of her family, and she and her husband, Ben, operate Street Fare Farm, a family farm in Concord. She started thinking about how she could get healthy food — especially fresh fruits and vegetables — to her clients.
She turned to area farmers and was met with an overwhelming response. She got so many donations she had to trade in her Ford Focus for a truck to be able to store and distribute everything.
“Within three months of trying to do this for 20 families, I noticed a huge increase in their health. People were saying they didn’t deserve this food. … they were starting to cook again because they finally had the food to cook with.” Street wanted to help even more people.
“I knew I had to do something, so I started reaching out to nonprofits to see if this was already happening.” It wasn’t.
So in 2016, Street launched The Bulb. The nonprofit buys extra food from local farmers and rescues damaged food from Trader Joe’s, then distributes all of it at free farmers markets in parts of town that don’t have easy access to a grocery store.
The Bulb now works with 100 farmers. The nonprofit gets the food at a discounted rate and offers it free at 11 pickup sites across Charlotte. They ask people to make a small donation when they can.
“That to me is a big win, being able to connect local farmers to a nonprofit and the people who need food,” Street says.
“It’s great to be that bridge between,” says Ebonee Bailey, The Bulb’s executive director.
The group also delivers food to people who are ill or don’t have access to transportation. Bailey says doing a delivery run is often the best part of her job.
“It gives you chills. It’s good for my mind, body and soul. I’m an emotional person, and sometimes people cry because they are so grateful for this food. If for some reason we’re running late, people will call asking where we are. They very much rely on this produce. They call to make sure they’re on the list, and then they call to say thank you.”
In 2021 The Bulb delivered food to more than 1,100 homes and hosted 580 mobile markets. Street still can’t believe how her little idea blossomed. “We served 38,000 people last year. In my wildest dreams, I never thought me coming into town with a bunch of veggies in the back of my truck to help 20 families would grow into this.” SP
photographs courtesy The Bulb