Improving Access to Food to Energize a City

Clare Algozin

REV Birmingham (REV) is focused on creating vibrancy in the City of Birmingham, Alabama by promoting economic development, stimulating business growth, and improving quality of life in the city. Through their many initiatives, including their Urban Food Project, REV works to fuel commercial vitality, encourage investments, and support economic growth.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Katelyn Wilbanks, Communications Coordinator at REV Birmingham.

Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?

Katelyn Wilbanks (KW): REV is creating healthy food access in Birmingham through the Urban Food Project (UFP), launched in 2010. REV’s Farm to Corner Store initiative works with corner store owners in low-income communities to help them successfully source, market, and sell fresh fruits and vegetables to their communities. This is creating healthy food access for the 88,000 Birmingham residents living in food deserts. By working with a network of more than 30 Alabama farmers through our local food distribution system, the Urban Food Project is supporting Alabama agriculture by bringing fresh, local produce to Birmingham's finest restaurants and retailers while creating healthy food access.

FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of? Please explain. 

KW: We’ve created a viable micro-distribution system to help corner stores in food deserts source fresh produce while meeting the growing demand among restaurateurs for quality locally grown produce. More than 2,000 Birmingham residents currently have access to some of the same fresh produce served in Birmingham’s James Beard Award Winning restaurants. Thanks to federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for a refrigerated truck and a full-time driver, REV’s Urban Food Project serves six stores and more than 25 restaurants. In 2014, our local distribution system, fueled by 30 producers experienced a 62 percent increase over 2013 sales, generating US$40,000 for Alabama farmers. 

FT: What are your goals for 2015 and beyond? 

KW: In 2015 and beyond, the Urban Food Project will expand the distribution system and Farm to Corner Store initiative to better serve low-income residents in food deserts. In addition to targeting corner stores, REV will also begin engaging childcare centers serving low income communities to further improve access to fresh, healthy produce for all Birmingham residents. To drive market demand for fresh, local fruits and vegetables, the Urban Food Project will promote nutrition education through Urban Food Chef Corps, by hosting cooking demos in corner stores, and through Farm Fresh Cooking by teaching community leaders to replicate a multifaceted nutrition education model. 

FT: In one sentence, what is the most important thing eaters and consumers can do today to support a more sustainable food system?

KW: Put your money where your mouth is by eating local! Shop your local farmers markets, buy local produce as much as possible, and dine at restaurants that source produce for their menu from local producers.

FT: How can individuals become more involved in your organization?

KW: The best way to get involved with Urban Food Project is to become an Urban Food Chef Corps member. Members host monthly cooking demos in corner stores, sharing simple recipes using items available in the stores. We provide everything needed—Chef Corps members only need to bring their cooking skills, their enthusiasm for fresh, healthy food, and smiling faces! 

Download the 2014 Good Food Org Guide HERE.

Submit your suggestions for the 2015 guide HERE.