Addressing Food Insecurity in Nashville: A Closer Look at Local Organizations’ Efforts

D’Ana Rogers (Operations & Analytics and Strategy ’24)

TFC Immersions Chair

I’ve been living in Nashville for a little over five years, and like everyone else, I’ve noticed a consistent increase in food prices. These higher prices have made making ends meet difficult for many Nashvillians. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since I know people struggling to put food on the table – sometimes I struggle too. Food insecurity is a challenging experience, and one of the most significant emotions associated with it is embarrassment. Many people feel ashamed at the thought of admitting that they’re unable to make ends meet.

During my first year of my MBA, I felt a strong desire to be part of something greater than myself. However, I also wanted to explore opportunities beyond Owen because I sometimes felt out of place. The Turner Family Center (TFC) caught my attention with its programs, such as the Social Ventures Summit and Immersions. I found the Immersions particularly interesting because they provided a chance to explore the people, the city, and the challenges it faces, as well as how organizations were addressing those challenges. I appreciate how these Immersions highlight that people care and are willing to find their niche to make an impact in various ways.

The idea for the food insecurity immersion was born during a conversation with the Director of the TFC, Professor Avila. I knew that food insecurity was an issue, and I was curious to see how different organizations were tackling it. During the January Immersion, we visited two organizations, The Nashville Food Project and The Second Harvest Food Bank, to learn more about their efforts to address food insecurity.

On a brisk January morning, our small, diverse group visited The Nashville Food Project (TNFP) in West Nashville. Comprising a diverse group of graduate students, a few MBA students, a Ph.D. candidate, an economic development (GPED) student, and TFC staff. Given our group’s intimate size, we could carpool over to our first location, TNFP. Upon arrival, we were greeted with the sight of excess food being delivered to the facility. The building, modest yet bustling with activity, featured a rentable meeting space, a compact commercial kitchen, and office space accommodating roughly a dozen employees. The sunlit space radiated vibrancy and energy.

Our tour was led by the Chief Culinary Officer, Bianca Morton, who shared impressive statistics about the kitchen’s productivity, revealing that it churned out 6,700 to 7,500 meals weekly. She highlighted the significant impact of these meals on the lives of thousands of school-aged children and adults. A particularly amusing anecdote involved an unexpected donation of hundreds of pounds of asparagus, challenging the team’s culinary creativity. After the tour, we enjoyed a meal prepared onsite while an employee shared insights into the operations and history of TNFP. A comprehensive Q&A session with Bianca followed, where she addressed our inquiries about business, finance, and the logistics system.

Next, we carpooled over to The Second Harvest Food Bank(SHFB), where we were scheduled to complete a tour and donate some of our time volunteering. I believe this was a selling point for a couple of the participants. SHFB was a large warehouse, and I was unsure what to expect. What we came to learn was that SHFB ran like a well-oiled machine. It was incredibly impressive. We were guided to the volunteer sign-in area when we entered the facility. From there, one of the volunteer coordinators gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to various employees and volunteers. We were able to visit the various refrigerated sections and a free food pantry that was open to select organizations. Once we returned to the volunteer center, we were given our assignment. We would be packing boxes of food in a conveyor belt style. We were separated into teams and placed in different locations. Box makers, re-suppliers, box fillers, and box tapers, we all had our roles, and we began to work. Mumin, our professor of Operations Management, would have been proud of how streamlined our process became. We worked fast and efficiently and finished five full pallets with 30 minutes to spare in our volunteer shift. We were exhausted and sweaty, but we were proud of our work. Hundreds of people would be fed with the food boxes we assembled that day.

In conclusion, our visit to TNFP and SHFB was not only an educational experience but also a profound journey into the heart of Nashville’s community service efforts. Witnessing firsthand the operational efficiency, community impact, and dedication of these organizations deepened our appreciation for their vital roles in addressing food insecurity and fostering a spirit of communal support and resilience.