Community Engagement & Collaboration in Greenville, SC
Greenville offers ample opportunities for residents to get involved in community projects, beautification efforts
Dan Weidenbenner, Mill Village Farms:
Florida native Dan Weidenbenner moved to Greenville in 2007 to attend Furman University, and after falling in love with the community, he decided to stick around after graduation and put down roots in a more permanent way by launching Mill Village Farms in 2012.
Based in West Greenville, Mill Village Farms is a nonprofit organization that transforms vacant properties into gardens to grow produce for communities with limited access to fresh and local foods. Weidenbenner says he started the effort, which is part of Mill Community Ministries, after realizing there was a need for both fresh produce and jobs in the community – specifically for those in high school.
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“Healthy food access can be a real challenge in our neighborhood of Greater Sullivan, and we realized we had a lot of vacant land where we could grow fruits and vegetables,” Weidenbenner says. “We started with a small urban farm on our church’s property [Long Branch Baptist Church] and raised the money necessary to employ teens who wanted jobs, then sold the produce back into the neighborhood at an affordable rate.”
Mill Village Farms quickly expanded and is now operating four farms in Greenville that employ more than 40 teenagers throughout the year, and their produce is available at local farmers markets and through a branch of FoodShare SC, a fresh food box program. In addition, the organization offers educational programs for young people in areas such as entrepreneurship, cooking, wellness, personal finance and workforce development.
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“Greenville is a generous, philanthropic community,” Weidenbenner says. “People tend to be very generous with their resources, both time and money, to help facilitate a lot of growth and help meet needs. It’s easy to get involved and help out if you’re interested – there are so many opportunities here.”
Adam Schrimmer, Blank Canvas Mural Co.:
Through the creation of public art, Adam Schrimmer with Blank Canvas Mural Co. is helping enhance neighborhoods across Greenville while bringing residents together in a unique and meaningful way.
Schrimmer is involved with the Greenville Housing Authority’s (TGHA) Communities of Opportunity Mural Program, in which he works with those living in TGHA properties to design and create murals that contain prominent historic figures and other concepts such as pride and freedom. While Schrimmer typically paints one of each community’s murals, residents paint the rest with his guidance, and all works of art are displayed on formerly plain dumpster enclosures in their residences.
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“We’re finding ways to beautify neighborhoods while giving the residents a real sense of ownership,” says Schrimmer, an artist who has lived in Greenville since 2011. “The message behind each mural is whatever the community wants to say, and kids love getting involved, so there’s a lot of fun and whimsy in every design.”
The first Communities of Opportunity Mural Program concept is on display at the Gallery at West Greenville, a 66-unit unit complex on South Textile Street that includes 12 units for artists. Painted by Schrimmer and inspired by residents’ ideas, the complex now features a large mural of Maya Angelou adorned with flowers – a powerful image that will be enjoyed and admired for years to come.
“Public art brings people together,” Schrimmer says. “This is a wonderful way for people to express themselves, and I believe this program has the ability to find great success in Greenville.”