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In a community prone to flooding, now sits the South’s first environmental justice training center

Rev. Leo Woodberry
Thelisha Eaddy
Rev. Leo Woodberry

Local pastor and activist Rev. Leo Woodberry opened an environmental justice training center in the rural, unincorporated community of Britton's Neck in Marion County. He's hoping the small community can make a big impact in helping people live resilient lives.

At the end of a gravel-covered dirt road in Marion County is where you will find what’s being called the South’s first environmental justice training center. On the 7.5 acres are hydro panels that pull moisture out of the air, to provide clean water; a greenhouse to grow crops sustainably; pollinator gardens to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other creatures that transfer pollen and the new building that is equipped with classrooms and meetings spaces. Founder, Rev. Leo Woodberry hopes the years-long, project-in-the-making, will be filled with locals learning how to help themselves and others.

“With this training center, we’re going to create a model for communities that are being impacted by climate change daily. We will teach people how to grow food sustainably, so no matter what happens, you won’t go hungry.”

During a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center, Woodberry expressed the need for more awareness on environmental justice issues.

“Our wish is that environmental justice is embedded into the foundation of this nation in every way; every day.”

Woodberry is a local pastor and also the executive director of New Alpha Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit that helps low and middle income families when it comes to environmental health and community economic development issues. There is no shortage of issues for the small, rural unincorporated area. Britton’s Neck sits between the Little and Great Pee Dee Rivers and in recent years have experienced extreme flooding.

In 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, Rev. Woodberry’s brother Marvin was one of more than 200 who were evacuated.

“It was nothing good to go through; having to move out for ten days to have to go live in a shelter.”

During the Earth-Day ribbon-cutting ceremony, Rev. Woodberry said it’s his hope that climate change will be dealt with like the emergency it is, but recognizes that residents have a role to play as well.

“We realized that the cavalry may not be coming; that the cavalry is us and that we had to build our own centers of resilience.”

He’s partnered with several organizations like Dogwood alliance of Asheville North Carolina. Executive Director Danna Smith says heavy logging in the area contributes to climate issues the Woodberrys and others constantly deal with.

“Britton’s Neck and this county are in the Coastal Plains of the US South, where the rate and scale of logging is four times as that of the South American Rain forests.”

Woodberry also works with one of South Carolina’s eight Historically Black Colleges and University’s (HBCUs) to educate locals on how to become resilient. South Carolina State University in Orangeburg is home to a research and demonstration farm. Florence Anuroah is a professor at the University and will teach classes at Woodberry’s training center.

“I’m going to teach about growing things environmentally so its adaptable and resilient to our changing weather.”

Anuroah said her classes will focus on selecting the right types of crops to grow in a flood-prone area like Britton’s Neck, along with teaching when to plant and harvest and ways to preserve the crops. The center’s first class is scheduled for June.

Thelisha Eaddy is the local Morning Edition host for South Carolina Public Radio.