For many neighborhoods in Memphis, the only hurdle to fresh fruits and vegetables is the cost accrued at the checkout. However, for residents of some underserved communities — like Hickory Hill and South Memphis, for example — the barrier to fresh produce can stretch for miles.
To address the need, two area churches and an associated nonprofit recently collaborated to open Fresh Roots Farmers Markets.
The Fresh Roots Farmers Markets can be found in the parking lots of New Direction Christian Church (Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m.) and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church (Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.) in Memphis. Operations began in June and will run through September.
“We are looking at this farmers market as an opportunity to serve … so there’s going to be a market feel. You’ll be able to drive up or walk up and get your fruit and your vegetables,” says Alexis Gwin-Miller, executive director at Power Center CDC
. “You’ll have the opportunity to shop with farmers, and also to shop with some of the small business owners and vendors.”
Power Center CDC is the non-profit arm of New Direction Christian Church
, which is located in Hickory Hill.
“We feel like if we really build this, people of Hickory Hill will not only benefit from this, they’ll have an opportunity to bring light to our area and also make food — fresh vegetables — more accessible,” says Gwin-Miller. (Photo: New Direction)
Other options are being explored, such as vendors who offer information on health and wellness. Screenings and vaccinations are being considered too. SNAP benefits, EBT cards, and senior vouchers are welcome.
Similar to New Direction, the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church
farmers market is set up in its South Memphis parking lot.
“Vendors each have a tent. They are arranged along our parking lot. We have managers for our vendors, who are kind of directing the flow of traffic. Patrons are able to go table to table, tent to tent, and get what they need,” says Pilgrim Rest pastor Ashton Alexander.
From a desert to an oasis
The endeavors are a step forward in addressing a systemic problem. Food insecurity has always existed, to a degree, in Hickory Hill. The neighborhood has never had an anchor grocery store. Many in neighboring communities closed during the last economic downturn, too.
“Those stores were really critical to the heart of Hickory Hill. They have been gone probably about a good 15 years or so,” says Gwin-Miller.
Currently, the neighborhood is served by small convenience stores. Most of the food is processed and overpriced. The same can be said in South Memphis.
A recent Tuesday market at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. (Photo courtesy of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church)
“South Memphis is a food desert. There are very few grocery stores, which makes healthy eating very hard to achieve. We wanted to tackle that by offering citizens of South Memphis the opportunity to get fresh produce,” says Alexander.
Many in both communities also lack access to reliable transportation.
“Because of the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club being so far down the Hacks Cross area, if you’re a family and you don’t have a car, you’re certainly not trying to walk down there. You have to have a ride,” says Gwin-Miller.
With a pervasive gap in service and no outside investment in sight, the problem fell to local organizations.
“The Black Clergy Collaborative, many months ago, reached out and wanted to know if we were interested. When they reached out, they actually looked at what we needed,” says Gwin-Miller.
The Black Clergy Collaborative
nonprofit is a network of multi-denominational Black congregations. In addition to basic food needs, the BCC works to address several issues in long-neglected African-American communities.
“It was clear that in many majority Black neighborhoods in Memphis, all these determinants are lacking. After some discussion, we agreed that at this time, we could begin to address access to food, quality and safety of housing, and access to health care,” says Dr. Shirley Bondon, executive director for the BCC.
On paper, there is a ready customer base. Apartment buildings surround New Direction; Pilgrims Rest, too. Yet, with a fundamental need, the success of the markets aren’t a foregone conclusion. Work still needs to be done to attract vendors. To build confidence in the locations, turnout is a must.
The Fresh Roots Farmers Markets can be found in the parking lots of New Direction Christian Church (Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m.) and Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church (Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.) in Memphis. (Photo courtesy of New Direction Christian Church)
“We’ve tried to think along the lines of all demographics of people,” Gwin-Miller says. “Around town, there have been some really huge efforts over the years. Collierville has a really nice market. Downtown has a really nice market. So, we feel like if we really build this, people of Hickory Hill will not only benefit from this, they’ll have an opportunity to bring light to our area and also make food — fresh vegetables — more accessible.”
A co-op has been floated as an idea. Farmers would agree to sell at the markets once a month, until numbers are up. By sharing the responsibility, it would ease potential losses.
“We're also interested in partnering with more churches to start urban gardens and make the markets more viable,” says Bondon.
The Shelby County Juvenile Court’s Children’s Division has also been approached about a potential partnership. The pitch includes job prospects for non-violent offenders as they re-enter society.
“The name ‘Fresh Roots Farmers Market’ was chosen because we want to connect this work to the roots of food in gardens, the origins of Black people, and possibly a fresh start for some,” says Bondon. “Our vision includes providing opportunities for the previously incarcerated who may find employment in our future urban farms, farmers markets, and community-owned grocery stores. It's a long-term vision, but all things are possible.”
Pilgrims Rest Baptist Church is located at 491 E. McLemore. For more information call (901) 492-3914 or visit their website. New Direction Christian Church is located at 6120 Winchester Rd. It can be reached at (901) 433-3871 or via their website.