Former Bachelor Matt James isn’t just cultivating relationships, he’s helping to grow food, too.
James, the franchise’s first Black Bachelor, has finally met his match, and we don’t just mean with love. The food justice advocate has entered into a partnership with Lettuce Grow, a company with a mission to create “[s]ustainable food for life…a way for everyone—regardless of space, time, knowledge, income or experience—to grow their own food quickly and easily” with their Farmstand. The hydroponic gardening system is self-watering and self-fertilizing, helping people grow their own food at home.
James is now one of the company’s newest Empowerment Ambassadors.
Discussing his interest in the partnership, he told ESSENCE: “[I’ve] always been passionate about helping children…Growing up [in] a single-parent household, not having a lot, I knew what it was like when…families took a special interest in me and took me out to eat. I don’t think I’ve found a better way to connect with people than sharing a meal and sharing food.”
As a student athlete at Wake Forest, James recognized the disparities in his new backyard. “One of the cool things our athletic department did was invite students from the community on campus to eat with the athletes,” he told People. “Winston-Salem has a very large wealth divide and a lot of those students are underserved and under-recognized, and it was just this organic interaction that wasn’t supervised.”
This formative experience during his undergraduate years became the seed of inspiration for ABC Food Tours, a nonprofit charity, which he founded a few years later with his former college football teammate and fellow Bachelor Nation alum, Tyler Cameron, “to create experiences for New York City students facing challenges in food insecurity and adversity at home….expos[ing] them to positive role models for healthy lifestyles.”
As he shared with ESSENCE, “Initially we were introducing students to different cultures, different restaurants, via these meals that we’re sharing with them. And when that was no longer a possibility with restaurants shutting down [during the pandemic], [it became a question of] how do we still engage our students with healthy alternatives?”
This is unfortunately not a unique problem and extends beyond the borders of New York City. It was exacerbated by COVID-19, which created additional disparities, especially for communities of color. As it stands, every day in America hunger and food insecurity are two problems that plague millions of families and children. According to Feeding America, “Hunger hits Black communities harder. The Black community consistently faces hunger at higher rates than whites due to social, economic and environmental challenges. In 2020, 24 percent of Black individuals experienced food insecurity—more than three times the rate of white households.”
During this time, James’ first thought was of the students he worked with, many of whom “have fallen into these classifications of Americans that went without…and I heard about this incredible company Lettuce Grow that shared our mission and [was on] the same journey that we were on and connecting people with food that we grow personally.” The company also has a fan in Oprah—it was featured on April’s Sustainability Edition of the O List.
This partnership with the Lettuce Grow Farmstand is especially salient as research demonstrates that “children eat more fruits and vegetables if they are homegrown.”
James is looking forward to “help[ing] engage [young people] in the process of seeing where our food comes from. If you ask one of our students where lettuce comes from before…[y]ou’re going to get an answer [like] the grocery store, where they’re not wrong in that. But it’s a process. When they’re growing the same foods in their home, students begin to understand this whole process…[and] they’re excited about…eating healthy, growing their own food, and becoming farmers.”
What’s next for Matt James? “I’m excited about what the future looks like with our plans to get these in classrooms and continue to educate our students around all things farming,” he told ESSENCE. He also noted to stay tuned for future partnership opportunities, where he plans to broaden the scope of his impact as a youth nutritional equity advocate beyond the tristate area.