How would you describe the concept of Food Is Medicine?
“It should be our first line of defense. What we put into our bodies is so important as far as nutrition and nourishment. The concept of Food Is Medicine is around that — just putting the right things, like fresh fruits and vegetables, into your body. Nothing that’s processed, no GMOs, so there’s no chemicals — things that are not good for us.”
What’s the transition from Bare Roots downtown to establishing the Food Mill here In Bibb City been like for you?
“It’s been great. But it’s had its challenges, obviously, with the pandemic.
We transitioned this location from the catering location for Bare Roots to the Food Mill in August 2020. That was really in response to a project I’ve been working on for several years, and also working with Sharayah Davis, who founded UGrow. We partnered together — both of us having similar missions, as far as creating more access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and how it relates to our overall health.
After the pandemic started, we started a 2-for-1 program, where for every 2 meals that were purchased, we donated 1 back to someone in need here in the North Highland community. It was really an organic transition since I had already been working on the project. The pandemic made the need even greater in this area.”
What all does the Food Mill do?
“We have our cafe that we serve breakfast and lunch out of as well as offer catering services. That revenue helps us cover our operating expenses. That’s a little bit different than the traditional non-profit model where you rely exclusively on grants and donations.
As far as our community programs, my initial thought process was working with MercyMed for a Medically Tailored Meals program. My passion is in culinary medicine and that is a main priority for the Food Mill — our Medically Tailored Meals program.
We hired a dietician in partnership with MercyMed back in November 2020 and she is in the process of creating the program — seeing patients, referring them to the program. We will start distributing on a weekly basis meals to patients who are food insecure and also suffer from diet-related illnesses in June. We prepare the meals that the dietician, Jamie Benefield, creates for them. She works with them on an individual level to treat diabetes and heart disease.
We also have a program with Fox Elementary. A lot of times students are going hungry over the weekend, so we want to fill that gap to make sure students and families are not going without that nourishment they need over the weekend. We’re currently working with 16 families — that’s a little over 100 people — that we’re serving every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when we deliver healthy prepared meals to them. A lot of the meat and produce comes from Feeding the Valley; we have a partnership with them. We also utilize a lot of produce from MercyMed Farm.
We also provide breakfast to students at Truth Spring Academy every morning before school to make sure they have the wholesome breakfast to get the school day started.
We deliver Individually prepared meals in the North Highland area along with Take the City, who covers Bradley Circle and some other locations in Columbus that are experiencing food insecurity.”
How do y’all fit into the transformation of this stretch of 2nd Avenue?
“We do in a couple of different ways.
This area has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Columbus. So it was very intentional that we started here. Also being next to MercyMed for the Medically Tailored Meals and addressing the needs in this area and creating greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, all in turn helps reduce the rate of diet-related illnesses.
With MercyMed, our partnership is also working with Keith Sims as far as utilizing produce that he provides for us not only for the cafe but also into the community. That helps create access as well.
There’s a lot of focus on revitalizing this area so we ‘ve been able to get a lot of support in a very short time period.”
What can you tell me about the Planty Pantry event coming up on Saturday?
“The Planty Pantry is a fundraising event for UGrow, the Food Mill and MercyMed for our Medically Tailored Meal program.
We’re going to have over 25 differing vendors, to include food trucks. We’re having live music — 2 really great bands. We’re blocking off 38th Street and there’ll be lots of fun with activities for the kids. Farmer Keith is doing tours of MercyMed Farms.
We wanted to do something to bring back outdoor festivals and begin to ease back into that as well raise funds for our organizations.”
What is your ultimate vision for the Food Mill and UGrow?
“We have some big goals and dreams.
We’re currently working on a large urban-agriculture center [at the former Farmer’s Market site on 10th Avenue at Victory Drive] with the city. That’s a 5-year goal of ours.
Our next goal here at the food Mill is a farmer’s market space and mobile market so we can reach areas outside just the North Highland area.
After that, we have the concept of a shared kitchen space that we will be building in this area in partnership with Open Door Community House to provide a space for their participants in a culinary incubator program, where if they’d like to go on to own a food-based business, then they have a state-certified space to operate out of.”
How do we, as a community, solve the problem of food insecurity?
“It’s not a quick fix. The biggest hurdle and challenge is access. Whether that’s barriers like not having transportation, not having child care, single-parent homes, low-income. There are a lot of different barriers.
We focus on how we can go into the community instead of trying to create something where the community is coming to us . We want to serve them directly in their neighborhood. That will help with several of the barriers — transportation, time constraints, things like that — to have that mobile market going into areas of Columbus that are currently food deserts.”
Education: Columbus High School, Class of 1993. Columbus State University, Bachelor of Science degree. Currently enrolled in Tulane University’s School of Public Health master’s program.
Work experience: “Right out of college I went into pharmaceutical sales, which is where my passion for Food Is Medicine started. I saw a really big disconnect with patients once they were diagnosed and they were told to change their lifestyle, change their eating habits, to get healthier.
A lot of people, no matter their socio-economic status, they don’t really know how to do that. Because it’s generations of habits. That became a passion of mine: to translate to the general public what that looks like, what you’re supposed to be eating, to live a healthier lifestyle.”
Favorite meal: Sushi
Worst experience as a restaurant owner: COVID
Best experience as a restaurant owner: “Opening Bare Roots and being the first true farm-to-table restaurant in Columbus and showing the community that healthy doesn’t mean tasteless.”
Personal inspiration: “The Columbus community inspires me — especially seeing how we’ve come together over the past year and really met the needs of the people here.”
Reason for getting up and going to work everyday: “My love and passion for food, specifically for food as medicine, and wanting to share that with people. And being able to provide hope to people who are currently living in situations where they are experiencing hunger, experiencing food insecurity. To let them know that we’re working on a solution for that and we want to change that really quickly for them.”