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    Organization aims to provide fresh fruit, vegetables for poor as well as others

    Fredric Koeppel


    Photos by Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal April 25, 2014 - From left, Stuart Harris, Noah Campbell, Cierra Martin, Sara Studdard, and Chris Ramezanpur at their office and storehouse for Bring it! Food Hub, a new local farm produce distributorship program. The nonprofit, a subsidiary of the Memphis Center for Food and Faith, Bring It! delivers local produce to congregations, hospitals, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and households. (Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal)


    We have to consume food to live, yet many people eat food that can lead to illness and death.
    This fact drives Chris Ramezanpour crazy.
    “I’m driven to crack the code of food security,” said Ramezanpour, co-founder of Bring It Food Hub. By food security, he means nutritional guarantees, access to healthy produce, the ability to purchase that food and the knowledge that it’s available.
    Bring It Food Hub, which will make its first deliveries at the end of May, is a nonprofit group dedicated to providing nutritional food where it is most needed — in urban “food desert” areas that lack grocery stores — while building a customer base in other parts of the city as well as with the restaurant trade.
    Located in The Edge district, between the Medical Center and Downtown, Bring It Food Hub will offer several levels of subscriptions for weekly boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables gathered from family-owned farms and orchards within a 150-mile radius of Memphis. Delivery points are at the organization’s headquarters, 694 Madison, and at stations being set up in Binghamton, Frayser, South Memphis, East Memphis, Downtown and Midtown and in Germantown.
    Boxes are available in “The Classic,” recommended for a couple, and “The Deluxe,” intended for a family. Restaurant deliveries are tailored to the needs of the individual establishment. A subscription starts in May and runs for 20 weeks.
    “The Food Hub will broadly serve as an aggregate,” said board member Jill Forrester, owner, with her husband Keith, of Whitten Farms in the Arkansas Delta and of the Trolley Stop Market. “For example, I would love to expand our food production, but I don’t have time to add distribution channels. So part of the motivation of the Food Hub is to create access for farmers.”
    About 20 farms in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri have signed on to the Bring It Food Hub project. Being certified organic is not a requirement, but all the farms involved practice some degree of sustainable methodology.
    Ramezanpour’s entry into food knowledge came about 10 years ago, when he worked with small-scale farmers in Kenya for the Peace Corps and the United Nations.
    “I came to understand the problems,” he said, “and while Memphis is not Kenya, many similar problems of availability and access exist here. People in these food desert neighborhoods eat the crap they buy in convenience stores” — processed food high in fat content, salt and sugar — “and it’s almost impossible for them to reach the age of 30 and not have diabetes. The solution takes creativity and hard work.”
    When a reporter said that Ramezanpour is obviously passionate about his mission, Forrester laughed and replied, “You don’t know the half of it.”
    Access works both ways, though, and while those people who read newspapers and magazines or own computers can easily learn about and subscribe to Bring It Food Hub, what about underprivileged residents of food desert communities?
    “That’s where our sponsors are important,” said Ramezanpour. “One of our most important partnerships is with the Church Health Center, which has a wonderful capacity for networking and outreach that we could never achieve on our own.” Word is also spread through church congregations in the appropriate neighborhoods and other sponsors such as Advance Memphis, the Hyde Foundation and the Community Foundation.
    “The project of the Bring It Food Hub is a perfect tie-in to our services,” said Randy Kostiuk, manager of wellness education and nutrition for the Church Health Center. “There are multiple components in wellness, and nutrition is an important aspect. One of our goals is to educate the local underserved population in food desert areas of our city toward eating better. At the same time, we want to give strength to local growers.”
    The involvement of the Church Health Center with the Food Hub is twofold, Kostiuk said. “We’re trying to provide access for all levels of the population with idea-sharing and passing the word. And we’re trying to get the information directly into the hands of the underserved populace.”
    Ramezanpour calls Memphis “a perfect example of the huge marketing opportunity for fresh food and vegetables. More restaurants are opening, food trucks, entrepreneurship. The scale of the problem of access equals the scale of the opportunities. It’s pretty indisputable that something has to change. All you have to do is get the food.”
    Bring It Food Hub
    For information about subscriptions to Bring It Food Hub, call 901-444-3055 or visit bringitfoodhub.com.
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