Laresia and Austin Avery have big dreams. They want to see food waste and food deserts eliminated, help vulnerable communities have access to fresh and healthy food, and mitigate the impacts of waste in the process. They want this to happen nationally, but first they are trying to eliminate waste and hunger in Memphis.
The couple behind Fish-n-loaves, a Memphis nonprofit dedicated to eliminating food waste and feeding people in food deserts, have found success with an aquaponics farm and distribution center food in Frayser. Now they areplans to open another sustainability center in Orange Mound, the next step in their journey to keep Memphians healthy.
“Why is Orange Mound the next neighborhood? … I wish we could say that we sat down, we had this great vision, God said, ‘Ahhhh!’ But that’s not (what happened), ”Austin said.
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The Averys looked at the history of Orange Mound and its importance to Memphis as well as data from the American Heart Association on areas of high food insecurity.
“We’re all about… eradicating food waste and eradicating food insecurity and eradicating food deserts,” Austin said.
And they made significant progress on that goal at Frayser.
Each month, Fishes-n-loaves serves more than 500 meals in the neighborhood and saves more than a ton of food waste, Austin said, based on reports the organization sends to its partner organizations, including the American Heart Association and the Care Foundation. It serves meals and distributes food from the aquaponic garden and donations from individuals and restaurants.
“It’s a metamorphosis”
Choosing Frayser for the first location was an easy decision – Laresia grew up in the neighborhood. The Frayser Sustainability Hub was a concept they presented to the American Heart Association in the hopes of trying something new in Memphis and eventually growing. They found a location and got to work fixing it, creating an aquaponics garden, and feeding the neighbors.
“We got some ground and started to mix pieces together,” Austin said. “We want every place we enter to be more beautiful than when we arrive. “
The Averys lead a team that works at the neighborhood garden and café – the food distribution hub – growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, from greens to tomatoes. This food, food collected from restaurants, and donated canned or canned goods are distributed free of charge to those who pass through the cafe.
As they made changes to the property, they saw owners around them making changes to theirs as well. Flower beds appeared in the courtyards, Laresia said, planks were removed from the windows and tenants moved into formerly vacant properties.
“People started coming to talk to us, and it was amazing. It’s a metamorphosis. This is what we wanted to do. We wanted an oasis in the middle of a neighborhood, ”Austin said.
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Fish-n-loaves also partners with Christ Community Health Services, which refers patients to the non-profit organization to help people with diabetes and other ailments find easy access to fresh food. Healthy eating is something Laresia is passionate about.
Growing up, she saw the impact of lack of access to fresh food on her friends, neighbors and classmates. And once the couple started a family, Austin made the decision to change his eating habits due to his polycystic kidney disorder, a decision Laresia was only happy to help.
She started incorporating more chickpeas, kale, and other healthy foods into their daily meals, a big change for Austin, who grew up on the Gulf Coast and enjoys Creole and Cajun cuisine. The two have compromised somewhat – Laresia will be making cheesesteak but replacing the meat with mushrooms.
His lessons on fresh fruits and vegetables have also had an impact on the children who visit the sustainability center. One day, she noticed that while they were distributing food, the children stopped asking for candy or cookies and were looking for apples and oranges instead.
“They were like, ‘I don’t want candy today. I want fruit, ”she said.
The Orange Mound location, which is slated for vacant land at 2854 Douglass Ave., will not be a copy of the Frayser hub. The Averys said they wanted it to reflect the neighborhood.
A request to the Memphis and Shelby County Adjustment Council outlines plans to build another aquaponic garden with a pantry and soup kitchen as well as a studio.
Ultimately, Austin and Laresia want to inspire others to fight food waste and see the model roll out across the county, helping to wipe out food deserts everywhere. This is all part of a larger “Hungernomics” program, aimed at tackling food waste and lack of accessibility on a large scale.
For now, they are focusing on expansion within Memphis, initiatives in St. Louis and along the Gulf Coast, and a new student ambassador program, the Junior Food Waste Council, for Engage Shelby County school students to eat healthy and eliminate food waste.
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“We had a lot of young people asking us, ‘What can I do?’ and ‘What can I be involved in?’ ”Laresia said.
One of the first student ambassadors, Amaree Williams, 10, said he wanted to help eliminate food waste and encouraged his classmates and friends to do the same.
“(I want to) help my community and help other people’s communities and help people help their communities,” he said.
Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, football and healthcare for The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached by email at [email protected]