Low-income residents of the Mid-South’s “food deserts” often have trouble obtaining
fresh,affordable food, resulting in a recent public outcry for a solution. A project
“driven” by the University of Memphis is set to address the problem.
By Sara Hoover
Half a century ago, South Memphians got their fruit and vegetables from the "Market
Man," a neighbor who pushed a cart of his hand-grown produce down the streets and
yelled, "Market, market." Women came out of their houses to buy fresh veggies — mainly
greens, squash and tomatoes.
While the Green Machine Mobile Food Market is not a reinvention of the Market Man,
it has the same idea: to bring fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to South
Memphis neighborhoods that otherwise don’t have access. The Green Machine is a farmer’s
market on wheels, making weekly stops with a converted Memphis Area Transit Authority
The idea began at a community meeting last July, after the graduate program in city
and regional planning in the School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy at the University
of Memphis and the Vance Avenue Collaborative received a grant for neighborhood revitalization.
They decided to combat food deserts, low-income areas that lack access to healthy
and affordable food.
|Recent grad Aury Kangelos (left) and Dr. Ken Reardon, director of the graduate program
in the U of M’s city and regional planning department, have spearheaded a project
that will deliver fresh meal options to Memphis’ “food deserts.”
Areas in South Memphis are considered food deserts, according to USDA requirements.
They have no full-service supermarket or farmer’s market. Tennessee ranks 47th in
overall health, and four of the top 10 causes of death within the state are food-related
South Memphis resident Marva Jones is eager for the bus. "It will enhance the community
because of the natural selections provided and also the innovative way of providing
food to the community, specifically the elderly who lack transportation," she says.
U of M graduate students and alums have been involved since the beginning. Two classes
surveyed residents and held focus groups.
Aury Kangelos (MCRP ’12) created an extensive business development plan that is still
being used to develop the Green Machine. The Union City, Tenn., native was also responsible
for best practice research and many project aspects.
"From spending time in South Memphis, you see that food access is not universal,"
says Kangelos, who started on the project as a graduate assistant. "This bus will
provide a cheap and effective way to make a significant change in the lives of many
elderly and low-income people by providing them access to inexpensive and nutritious
food choices. You’d be surprised by how many people don’t have access to a grocery
store because of a lack of transportation."
Kangelos has worked to involve the Memphis Grizzlies organization, which plans to
provide advertising on the bus to help offset costs. It is possible, too, various
Grizzly players will take part in public service announcements to promote healthy
The team originally implemented a community garden, which was successful, but served
small numbers. A larger scale project was needed to reach those bound by lack of transportation,
child/elderly care or physical disabilities.
Community resident Cathy Winterburn learned about Chicago’s Fresh Moves, a mobile
produce market, and thought it sounded like the solution.
U of M graduate students did GIS mapping. The result: the food was in one area and
the people who needed it were in another.
The team identified five routes with 15 sites. The bus will run weekdays and have
three stops a day.
MATA is leasing the bus for $1 for one year. Architects Looney Ricks Kiss donated
their services to retrofit the interior. Advertising agency archer>malmo created the
branding and public awareness campaign
A unique facet is the educational component. One quarter of the bus’ square footage
is devoted to educational pamphlets and model menus — particularly for people who
have pre-existing health conditions. The University of Tennessee nursing program and
Mid-South Food Bank have developed the materials.
The bus provided job creation. Three full-time positions were developed: a driver
and two sales/nutrition educators. St. Patrick’s Community Outreach, a member of the
Vance Avenue Collaborative, will supervise the staff and manage the bus operation.
Easy Way will be the supplier.
"It’s a third-generation family-owned business in Memphis that has, in good times
and bad times, offered high-quality fruits and vegetables in a variety of neighborhoods,
including low-income and working-class," says Dr. Ken Reardon, director of the graduate
program in city and regional planning.
Eighty-five percent of Easy Way’s seasonal supply is local, within 200 miles of Memphis.
Both parties are open to Easy Way putting a brick-and-mortar store at busy bus locations,
so the Green Machine can find new under-served routes.
The Green Machine will "go green" in the future.
"Once we’re generating some income, we’d like to talk to our funders about redirecting
a portion from general operations for energy enhancements," says Reardon.
The bus is reducing its carbon footprint in other ways. The city has agreed to help
with a MLGW hookup service so the bus won’t run while stopped. Bringing food to people
eliminates multiple cars on the road. Since the food supply is local, the shipping
is much less than if it came across the country or globe.
The bus will cost $250,000 a year initially and by the fourth year will hopefully
The launch is planned for the fall.
If successful, the long-term goals would be expansion and replication. First, expand
into other cities in Shelby County and parts of Arkansas and Mississippi, creating
a regional network. The U of M, as a public university, would make the project materials
available to other universities free of charge for replication.
"You only get lucky every so often in life and this is one of those times where I’ve
actually been blessed to work on something like this," Kangelos says. "A lot of people
go their whole careers hoping for a project like this to come along and here I am
getting to work on something like this. It’s a blessing is all you can say."
Organizations wanting to help fund the bus can contact Reardon at 901/678-2610.