South Memphis Excursion 

Two national journalists get a firsthand look at the city’s food desert problem.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the city’s food desert crisis can’t be fixed in one either. But two national journalists on a cross-country tour are hoping to scratch the surface and get a taste of local culture at the same time.

The duo —Nate Hindman, previously of the Huffington Post and Joe Epstein, previously with Thrillist — stopped in the Bluff City last week to tour South Memphis and the Vance neighborhood and check out local businesses.

Memphis was one stop on Hindman and Epstein’s two-month expedition to visit small businesses and talk with entrepreneurs as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “On the Road with Free Enterprise” project. The duo shares stories and video from each city on Here's their Memphis story.

I tagged along for a couple of hours during their stay. Cruising in their Free Enterprise mobile, our first stop was at Shop and Save Grocery on South Third, where we spoke with people about the scarce access to supermarkets in the area.

South Memphis is considered a food desert, meaning residents have inadequate access to supermarkets and healthy food. Memphis was included on the Free Enterprise tour in part because of the prevalence of food deserts here.

“If you’re a poor person trying to get groceries for your family, the choices are either go to a gas station or travel miles to go to a Kroger or Walmart,” Hindman said. “If you’re elderly or don’t have access to a car, that’s pretty hard. Memphis seems to be a farm city. It has tons of farming resources, so why can’t any of that fresh produce or fresh food get into South Memphis?”

In January 2010, a study conducted by the Food Research and Action Center revealed that 26 percent of people in Memphis could not afford to buy food for their families, which was largely attributed to them residing in food deserts. Memphis was subsequently dubbed the country’s “hunger capital.”

Next, I showed the guys Foote Homes, the city’s only remaining public housing complex. We gave out T-shirts, sunglasses, and playing cards to residents sitting outside.

As we made our way down Vance Avenue, we spotted a punching bag hanging from a tree. We stopped so the guys could take some pictures punching it. We noticed a small group of onlookers sitting nearby, and we talked to them about the neighborhood, their thoughts on its revitalization, and the absence of supermarkets in the area.

Up the street was Pullman’s Barbershop. Hindman and Epstein stopped in to talk with the owner, Carlos Miles, and take a couple of photos.

After talking about how the economy has forced him to raise his price on haircuts, Miles gave us a brief history lesson on the area. His grandmother was cutting hair on April 4th, 1968, at a barbershop at Third and Calhoun, a block from the Lorraine Motel, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She heard the shot that claimed King’s life.

Our trip ended after enjoying a barbershop performance from six-year-old aspiring singer, Ayan Alexus, who we met by the punching bag. She came into the shop to sing her own version of Beyonce’s “I Was Here” for us. The guys videotaped the performance. We all looked on with amazement as she sang her heart out.

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