The push to “eat local” is pervasive, but unless you’re stopping by farms as part of your weekly shopping trip, how does food from your immediate area actually get to your plate?
Diane Terrell and Heather Jamerson, founders of 275 Food Project, recognized the health and economic benefits that bringing more local food into the Memphis community could provide, along with the challenges inherent in that goal. Their nonprofit — named for the 275-mile radius from which they source — seeks to build a stronger local food infrastructure through hands-on help at every step in the process. That means everything from increasing farmers’ yields in sustainable ways to distributing products to restaurants and grocers to building culinary careers with a focus on local assets.
Through their research, the 275 Food team determined that only about 1% of food farmed in the immediate area — including produce, dairy and meats — is actually finding its way to local shelves and tables. To reduce this gap, they have partnered with the New South Produce Cooperative to fund and operate a warehouse, commercial kitchen, and event venue on Mud Island, along with a logistics process to help lower costs and risks for both farmers and buyers. Their goal is to raise that 1% to 20% within five years.
The organization is also putting its mission into delicious practice at radical., a fast-casual dining option at the newly launched Puck Food Hall at 409 South Main. The salads served at radical. follow the 275-mile food principle, and as a 275 Food-certified facility, Puck Food Hall’s other vendors are also committed to using local, seasonal ingredients in their wide range of offerings. Yolanda Manning, general manager of radical., also operates her own vegan dessert business, which is supported and distributed through 275 Food Project’s partners.
True to the agricultural roots of the foundation, 275 Food Project is also looking toward ways to prepare for a more abundant future. This summer, they launched their first culinary fellowship program, the Ground Up Initiative, which will place aspiring chefs and restaurateurs alongside established professionals Dave and Amanda Krog. This mentorship and networking opportunity will be focused within a new container restaurant in the Soulsville neighborhood, providing both professional and nutritional opportunities in the area.
As the former executive director of the Grizzlies Foundation before co-founding 275 Food, Diane had focused community efforts in Soulsville and has brought the Grizzlies Foundation on-board as a partner in the restaurant. Heather also brings experience with the Pyramid Peak Foundation’s philanthropic efforts. But while both come from charitable backgrounds, the intent of 275 Food is to build long-term independence — and inter-dependence — for local chefs and farmers, especially among groups that have long been under-represented in the more highly compensated levels of the food industry.
According to a 2017 report by McKinsey&Company, “Women are underrepresented at all levels in the food industry corporate pipeline, from entry-level to the C-suite. While women make up 49 percent of employees at the entry-level, representation drops steeply at higher levels along the pipeline. At the top, women represent only 23 percent of the food industry’s C-suite executives … Women of color, who are also underrepresented in the food-service industry, make up only 14 percent of employees at the entry level and hold only 3 percent of C-suite spots.”
Addressing this gap is also part of 275 Food Project’s mission and is at the heart of their 275 Food Fellowship program. In a world-renowned food city that is both majority-female and majority-minority, a more representative culinary scene has tremendous potential for economic impact. This program provides the mentorship and resources to help current and aspiring women chefs and chefs of color find lasting success.
So the next time you see a local product touted on a menu or grocery sign, stop to consider the effort that went into getting it there and the difference it can make in your community. When you take the time to support what’s nearby, you’ll realize there’s a lot to find within 275 miles.
Learn more about the 275 Food Project at 275foodproject.org.
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