In 2010, the Food Research and Action Center reported that 26 percent of Memphis residents experience food insecurity. Just four years later, a report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors showed that some 46 percent of emergency food assistance requests were going unmet.
For the vast numbers of residents experiencing food insecurities, the solutions needed are multipronged, and in most cases, too intricate for the individual efforts of any one local food justice nonprofit group.
Enter Memphis Tilth, a nonprofit organization that offshoots from Seattle Tilth. The goal of Tilth will be to serve as the umbrella covering several nonprofit organizations that have been previously battling one or more of the many components of food insecurity, thereby creating cohesion among each nonprofit's ability.
The ribs in Tilth's umbrella — Bring It Food Hub, Memphis Center for Food and Faith (MCFF), GrowMemphis, and Urban Farms-Memphis — will have the ability to collaborate for maximum food distribution through community partners, such as church congregations and community centers. It's like a network of capillaries now being fed by a main artery.
For Noah Campbell, the director of MCFF, food justice comes down to three components: access, choice of food beyond limited availabilities, and food sovereignty, or the ability to choose and grow your own food.
"I think our hope is that with these different programs — which each have very specific functions in the local food system and food access network — we will be able to create programs and relationships with partners that can really attend to all three factors that I think of when I think of food justice," Campbell said.
Alex and Lori Greene of the Bring It Food Hub will be one of the organizations gathered under the wings of Memphis Tilth. They offer subscriptions to produce, grains, and eggs from local farmers in the greater tristate area. Alex refers to the community-sponsored agriculture subscriptions as the Hub's "bread and butter," yet they still find themselves with an abundance of leftover subscriptions.
"Unused bags of the Food Hub subscriptions are redistributed to community contacts," Lori said. "Or sometimes even the First Congo kitchen or the Urban Bicycle [Food] Ministry. It's all about finding the avenues for the food to get into the proper hands."
Through Tilth, Bring It Food Hub and the other food justice organizations involved will be able to use their combined resources to get food into the hands of people who need it the most.
"Our great hope is that as it expands, it will provide us with an opportunity to provide that food for free to food-insecure families located in food deserts," Alex said, referring to the census tracts that define densely populated areas without walking access to a traditional grocery store.
Seattle Tilth was able to serve 74,000 residents in 2014 alone. Should Memphis Tilth enjoy the same amount of cohesion and success, those stranded in Memphis' food deserts may finally find their oasis.