Like most major metropolitan areas, it is not unusual to see a street bus in the daily hubbub of traffic. However, on any given day for some people, seeing a bright, lime green renovated MATA bus adorned with snazzy pictures of fruits, veggies, and music artistry roaming down the streets might be enough to turn a few heads.
While the Green Machine is fairly new to the city of Memphis, the need for fresh, healthy food options is not. The Green Machine is seeking to fill that void in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
The Green Machine, which has been transformed into a vehicle for mobile fruits, vegetables, dry goods and a nutrition education center, began as nothing more than an idea to meet the needs of the less fortunate.
It delivers “high quality, competitively priced, and culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables” to affordable housing complexes, senior citizen centers, parks, recreational facilities, and public schools located in 15 of the city’s poorest areas, also known as food deserts. Its weekly visits range from areas in the University District to parts of South Memphis in the Downtown area.
The eye-catching design and careful construction that transformed the bus into a retail sales facility stemmed from the thoughtful skills of Antonio Raciti, a University of Memphis visiting professor in city and regional planning.
Raciti along with the help of student volunteers from Hollis Price Leadership Academy High School, who also assisted in painting the mural for the South Memphis Farmers Market, was eager to “continue promoting healthy living.” Several local businesses such as the Memphis Grizzlies and the Church Health Center also offered support.
Aside from the flashy exterior, the inside of the bus houses is what is most important. Upon entering the Green Machine, one is transported into what looks like a small, yet well stocked functional fresh market. The walls are lined with numerous shelves, top to bottom, stocked with a variety of healthy options including squash, oranges, greens, peaches and more.
There is also an area devoted to educational guidance where shoppers can watch one-minute health tips produced by Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. and WMC-TV's news anchor Joe Birch. The video spots feature tips for eating well with diabetes, arthritis, obesity and other common health ailments.
In the rear of the mobile market, customers can have their items weighed and purchase them using cash, credit, debit, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits/food stamps.
Karlita Weaver, who has been with the Green Machine since it began operation in July 2013, operates the register and has the opportunity to directly interact and see the impact the Green Machine is making in the lives of those it assists.
“My favorite part about working with the Green Machine is helping the elderly and seeing the smiles on their faces from being able to have healthy options," Weaver said. "We might be the only people they talk to for the day, besides in their building. They come out here, they talk to us, they laugh, they enjoy their experience.”
While Weaver said that anyone can purchase items from the Green Machine, its mission is to assist people in the areas where food markets are not easily available. She also added that in that effort, she feels it is “going well.”
“The areas are picked due to the people not having a full service grocery store at their disposal," Weaver added. "So that’s how they are chosen. They don’t have a grocery store in this facility (nursing home). It’s out on Popular or Lamar, so that’s how they choose for the need of helping the community.”
Saint Patrick Community Outreach Inc., a non-profit organization, operates the Green Machine on behalf of the Vance Avenue Collaborative, a coalition of community-based organizations and churches. Saint Patrick has operated a number of successful food ministries and is located just south of the FedEx Forum.
“The Green Machine visits several neighborhoods every week and it is making a difference,” said Eugene Champion, the executive director of Saint Patrick Community Outreach Inc.
The Green Machine's mission is to “improve access to healthy foods for individuals and families living in low-income communities.” The majority of Memphians who live in food deserts do not have access to a personal means of transportation. Due to this fact, many people are forced to either rely on public transportation or find some other way to acquire the groceries they needed.
With the aid of the Green Machine's numerous sponsors such as Easy Way Stores, the Mid-South Food Bank, WMC-TV, the University of Memphis Graduate Program in City and Regional Planning and many others, the Green Machine plans to expand its initiative in eliminating the food desert blight in several Memphis areas.
“In the near future, we're trying to work that out because there is such a great need for us...as just one bus we can't do it all,” Weaver said.
For now, the mission is “so far so good” due to the grants and donations received.
For those who rely on the Green Machine for their weekly supply of healthy choices, this is music to their ears.
“The Green Machine is a cool deal," added Don McKay, a resident at the Wesley Madison Towers, an assisted living facility on Madison Ave. "It helps a lot of people that have trouble getting around for various reasons...seniors and people with disabilities and things like that. It's a good thing, and I'm glad it's here."