Aniket Rali, an M4 who plans to specialize in cardiology, made a discovery during his first clinical rotations that led to the formation, in 2012, of The Memphis Mobile Market, a student-led social enterprise set to launch this spring.
“By the time we saw patients in clinic, it was often too late to practice good medicine,” said Rali, who met me in the lobby of the GEB on a gray January morning. “We [Rali, cofounder Namrata Patel, and other medical students] didn’t want to just treat the chronic conditions that we saw—we wanted to give patients a fair shot at being healthy.”
The medical students found that many patients with chronic conditions—patients whose health would benefit from changes in diet—live in areas of Memphis termed “food deserts.” One patient told them that it was not “affordable or practical” for their family to eat healthy foods.
As a result the students banded together to raise funds for a mobile market and take fresh, low-cost produce into designated food deserts in the city. The currently targeted communities are Frayser and Raleigh. They students aim to expand to Binghampton and Soulsville.
“We have the funds to buy the trailer and convert it into a mobile grocery unit,” Rali said. He believes that the converted trailer will be ready to roll in time for the projected March 2013 launch date.
Start-up funds came from individuals and businesses in Memphis and other parts of Tennessee such as Martin and Chattanooga. Business sponsors that stepped up to help include Whole Foods, Inc. and Arch Plastics Packaging, LLC. Charlie Sciara and Sons and Easy Way Producers have helped with pricing, acquiring produce, and market design and layout.
Community support has grown up from the grassroots level: neighborhood churches, community centers and community organizations, a neighborhood farmer’s market and the nonprofit group Grow Memphis.
The plan is to take the converted van into the target neighborhoods Fridays to Sundays initially and to then add other days of the week. “We will sell food at cost or 10% to 15% lower than a typical chain grocery,” said Rali. Volunteers will be able to accept EBTs, cash or credit/debit cards, he added.
Student volunteers will also conduct health screenings and healthy cooking demonstrations.
Rali and board members have applied to several foundations for funds to carry them through their first year of operations. After the first three years, MMM aims to be financially self-sustaining.
The Memphis Mobile Market is affiliated with a national mobile market organization. Affiliated mobile markets are already up and running in Nashville and Chattanooga. Others are planned for Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Dallas and St. Louis.
To find out how you can be a part of this effort, visit the organization’s website at www.memphismobilemarket.org. You can also follow its progress on Facebook and Twitter.
- Margaret Carbaugh, senior writer
Pictured Above: Aniket Rali (M4) with Dr. Hershel P. “Pat” Wall, chancellor emeritus and board member of The Memphis Mobile Market.