That’s right, I’m not done with the Village! There’s so much going on in this neighborhood that I can’t stop telling its stories.
Mill Community Ministries was started by Dan Weidenbenner. They are a non-profit organization focused on community development and targeted, wholistic, development on the West Side.
Dan’s path began when he was doing mission work for Grace Church. After about a year, he joined his neighborhood Long Branch Baptist Church. This spurred a partnership between the two churches. They each came together to help with community development in the Village of Greenville.
“There is a difference between development between charity and development,” Dan said. “There’s a lot more charity going on than development. Development is more expensive. We aimed to create enterprises that support what we are doing. This lets us play the long game rather than the short.”
Dan lived across the street from Long Branch Baptist Church and was able to get to know the parents and teachers. It became increasingly obvious to him that there was a significant need for teen programs. As he scoped out what needs there were, he learned from the parents that the majority of them wanted their kids to have a job and learn life skills.
The Village is considered to be located in a food desert. There are no grocery stores in the area for several miles. When considering the fact that a lot of the community either uses a bike or walks to get places rather than a vehicle, the need for healthy access to food is immediate.
Mill Village Farms was born. They started with a small community garden and hired four kids to help run it. They then took the food to the surrounding community for sale.
“It went bonkers from there,” Dan said. “Now we have 60 kids working for us. We have a refrigerated mobile market that goes to 12 different locations every week from May to October. We have a rooftop farm, 50 hydroponic tower garden systems, and a rural farm with about 5 acres.”
Mill Village Farms opened up their brick and mortar store about a year ago. Currently, they’re working on expanding beyond just produce and offer a wide selection of groceries and serve sandwiches for lunch.
“We operate with a social enterprise business model,” Dan explained. “About 30% of revenue comes from Sales. We also raise support from local churches and community members that donate.” Mill Community Ministries has been able to operate almost entirely by word of mouth. Instead of having their customers come to them, they go to where they are. So they often are outside of Community Centers, church Bible studies, or schools for when parents pick up their kids. This allows for them to also pick up their vegetables.
“We works to be an incubator for small business,” Dan said. “We work with community groups and hold classes for underfunded entrepreneurs. A lot of our businesses that we are working with right now are woman owned businesses and side hustles. We have a lady that makes soaps, another that makes clothing, and one that even makes her own energy bars and sells them at The Village Grind.”
He continued, “Our kids who work for us are able to earn money as well as take life skills class. They learn how to small talk, give a handshake, budget for themselves, write resumes, have interviews, and we even offer an entrepreneurship class. We want to help them build wells, metaphorically speaking.”
Dan and Mill Community Ministries have been incredibly successful in creating job opportunities for teens. In their training of these kids and helping them with life skills they’ve also been able to partner with local restaurants and business’ to hire kids beyond the Mill Community. “If every business on Augusta road would higher one teenager it would make a massive difference.”