MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Visitors of The South Memphis Farmers Market call it an oasis for the community that’s making miracles happen and changing lives.
Green tomatoes, red tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches. Take your pick. All things nourishing, fresh and local can be found at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway East.
Behind the tents, sweet potatoes, and juicy watermelons of the South Memphis Farmers Market is a journey rooted in the heart and soul of the 38106 zip code.
”Our motto is restore, renew and reveal, and that’s people and places,” explained Roshun Austin, the President and CEO of The Works, Incorporated Community Development Corporation that runs the market.
The residents came up with the concept of the South Memphis Farmers Market. Each year, neighbors choose the vendors and operating hours.
It also gives local farmers an outlet to sell their bounties.
”A wonderful opportunity to get fresh produce and quality produce,” explained Glimp, Tennessee Farmer Debra Lockard. “It’s in the unincorporated area of Tennessee off Highway 87 at the second fork in the road.”
Lockard says she prayed to become a farmer at the ripe age of five.
“Now this dream has come true for me,” said Lockard.
The 2019 Lauderdale County Tomato Farmer of the Year has been selling produce six years on this corner from her family’s 90-year-old farm.
“Everything that I grow is in memory of my parents and grandparents,” said Lockard.
The people at the market have become like family.
”You care so that means you’re taking people to the hospital, we are going to funerals we are making sure kids have their uniforms for schools, so it’s more than just about food,” said Austin.
It all began when residents already struggling with transportation issues identified the nearest grocer was miles away from their USDA-certified food desert.
Their corner stores are convenient, but lack fresh food.
”Catching the bus back and forth to the store,” neighbor Durrell Brown recollected.
He used to commute an hour to and from the market for groceries before the farmers market opened in 2008.
”Now it’s right around the corner,” he said.
In addition to the outdoor vendors, The Grocer at the Farmers Market sells produce, dry goods, dairy and everything else you’d find in a small grocery store.
”I always describe our store more like a different time and place, like a 1940s general store but you know everybody and you know a lot about their families,” said Austin.
When studies revealed 38106 has the lowest life expectancy in Memphis due, in part, to diet-related disorders, The Works opened a nutrition lab.
”Cooking Matters is a six-week course, two hours each time, free to participants, but it teaches them how to prepare food healthier, to maximize their food budget and minimize waste,” explained Austin.
They also partner with Methodist University Hospital – Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare to teach classes for diseases linked to poor nutrition.
Durrell, a diabetic, took the course. He says it changed his life.
They even have their own bicycle club to get neighbors moving.
”We have a great sense of community here,” smiled Austin.
Brown, a former security guard, became such a regular that the market asked if he wanted a job, and after tragedy struck when Brown’s wife passed away, managers offered him more hours to keep his mind off of his loss.
Now, Durrell is the assistant manager of the farmers market.
”I made it. I’m 51-years-old now,” he said. “I’m surrounded around good people.”
As they say, it takes a village.
”These are our neighbors and we love them,” said Austin.
The farmers market is a true source of pride for the 38106. During the 2020 pandemic, the market has been a lifeline for South Memphis delivering food for 15 weeks to neighbors at no cost.
Last season, they hosted 14 outdoor markets serving nearly 5,000 visitors, as the 5-star destination has become a beacon of light for people living in the surrounding neighborhood.
Click here for their hours of operation: http://somefm.org.