In May’s River Citizen newsletter you got a chance to explore the benefits of local foods for you and the River.Well, I would like to share a success story about my neighborhood’s journey to fresh foods with their mobile food bus: The Green Machine.

Did you know that only seven out of 77 low-income census tracks
in urban Memphis have access to a full-service supermarket?

Food Desert Screen shot of USDA Food Access Research Atlas for Memphis, TN

Food Desert Screen shot of USDA Food Access Research Atlas for Memphis, TN

Less than seven years ago, Memphis was the #1 food desert in the nation.

A food desert is usually characterized as a low-income neighborhood with little to no access to affordable healthy food options. In the Memphis Metropolitan Area more than 26 percent of our families live in such areas. Residents of these areas typically travel at least 2 to 2.5 miles to get to a full-service food store. Sadly, Memphis is not alone in facing food insecurity! Access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods is a major problem throughout the nation. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of childhood obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in the U.S.

Recognizing the need for a full service grocery store in the 38126 zip code, Reverend Timothy Sullivan of the St. Patrick Catholic Church took action with the assistance of the University of Memphis’ Graduate Programs in City and Regional Planning and Anthropology to create the Vance Avenue Collaborative. The Collaborative is an active coalition of 22 faith-based organizations, social service agencies, public schools, resident associations and businesses serving the Vance Avenue neighborhood.

kids in front for food truck

To compliment the parish’s already extremely popular Food Ministry, two leaders Anne Stubblefield and Allen Stiles (both are River Citizens) of the Vance Avenue Collaborative created a community garden called the Common Ground. Completely organic, the garden has decreased the need for packaged foods while increasing the supply and accessibility of fresh local produce, to include beans, peas, okra, radishes and a variety of leafy greens delivered by the Green Machine. To top it off, many members of the community come during their spare time to maintain the garden by de-weeding plants and watering them with an oil soap and water mixture to combat plant lice!

Today, the Green Machine Mobile Food Market is serving more than 200 customers each week. Modeled after Chicago’s Fresh Moves, it provides access to healthy foods five days a week, Monday-Friday. The Green Machine has 5 weekly routes with 18 stops at various senior living facilities, community centers and neighborhood associations.

green machine photo credit-Dr. Kenneth Reardon

Photo credit: Dr. Kenneth Reardon

The return on this investment is immeasurable. The combined effects of St. Patrick’s Food Ministries not only provides a much needed service to combat food insecurities in the neighborhood; but it also provides a community with green space, opportunities for building social capital and ultimately, lessens the neighborhood’s overall ecological footprint reducing its negative impact on the Earth’s ecosystem.

Photo Credit: Green Machine

Photo Credit: Green Machine

Now community members know what success looks like. Finding quality and healthy food options are less daunting.
Through education, vision and leading by example such as this we will become real stewards of our communities.

Visit the Green Machine’s Facebook page for more information on their work!

Join us and help create a more vibrant, sustainable, safe and equitable urban environment for your community, become a River Citizen, today!


karen cropped headshot



Karen Thornton, 1 Mississippi Outreach Assistant

Get in touch with Karen at: