REV Birmingham’s Urban Food Project is vigorously striving to reshape nutrition in food deserts across the Birmingham region. By connecting local farmers with retailers who want to locally source their produce, the Urban Food Project is bridging the gap between supplier and consumer.
As they continually work to connect farmers with buyers, they are also simultaneously bringing healthy, home-grown options to the more than 88,000 Birmingham residents living in food deserts.
The Urban Food Project began as a grass-root effort to bring healthy options to the city’s low-income communities and has since grown into a fairly extensive network. In 2014 alone, REV added 18 new restaurants to their buyer list. Sales from their distribution schedule have risen 65% in the last year, generating over $35k for Alabama farmers. With more than 65 different products ranging from fresh produce to honey, nuts, and grains, the Urban Food Project is one of the city’s most unique food suppliers.
“As we’ve grown and demonstrated our ability to deliver quality, Alabama grown produce, we have restaurants contacting us directly to source food,”said Taylor Clark, director of the Urban Food Project. “The restaurant support we’ve received has been unbelievable. Our partners understand that their purchases allow us to bring the same beautiful, locally grown produce to communities that need it most. I believe they truly share our team’s passion for creating healthy food access and that’s made the difference.”
When considering markets and restaurants for involvement in the program, Clark and her colleagues do their research. First, they canvas the community and identify potential retail partners. Next, she says they engage community members, including neighborhood associations to determine where and how they prefer to purchase their produce.
“From there, we further engage store owners, determine the best model for implementation and provide marketing support in addition to the delivery of produce,” Clark said.
Products supplied through the Urban Food Project come from more than 30 farmers all across the state of Alabama. “Our network of producers is vast and diverse,” explains Clark. From North Alabama to South Alabama, conventional to certified organic, cooperatives to one-man operations, and 40-acre rural farms to one-acre urban farms, partners can feel confident they’re getting great foods straight from all types of statewide sources.
REV recently received a USDA grant for their Farm to Corner Store initiative, making it possible to obtain a refrigerated truck and a Distribution Specialist position. Now, they can deliver fresh produce to restaurant and retail partners without losing any quality in transit.
“These two pieces are integral to our operations and have allowed us to be more impactful in our efforts,” said Clark.
In the coming year, REV Birmingham will likely conduct workshops for their current farmer network to better meet the needs of clients. Right now, they are channeling their energy into the development of training platforms for corner store partners, so retailers can become self-sustaining in buying and selling fresh produce without REV’s assistance. There are also plans for a Train-the-Trainer nutrition education model called “Farm Fresh Cooking” that Clark and her team hope community and faith-based leaders will embrace.
To learn more about the Urban Food Project or to get involved, visit www.revbirmingham.org. To become a partner, contact Taylor Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.