(Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)
This story is part of "Food Security" month of the Generocity Editorial Calendar. Find the series here.
On October 20, Waterfront Ventures in Camden hosted a pitch competition that changed Fredric Byarm’s life.
During his pitch at the Adventure Aquarium, the Camden native spoke of his effort to eliminate food deserts — areas with limited or no access to fresh foods — in urban communities, starting right here in Camden with his startup, Invincible City Farms (ICF).
Byarm’s idea was ultimately chosen out of hundreds of entries at the first annual Camden Catalyst pitch competition to receive $25,000 toward launching his business and a year of free office space at Waterfront Lab.
ICF is, first, a food production and distribution company: Organic fruits and vegetables will be grown using indoor and outdoor farming facilities year-round, after which the produce will be distributed to corner stores, bodegas and local supermarkets at an affordable price. (Byarm is currently focused on buying land for farming facilities, with an estimated launch in early 2018. He expects his products to go to market in early 2019.)
But it’s also a social enterprise dedicated to making a positive impact on Camden County, where almost 65,000 people — 12.6 percent of its population — suffer from food insecurity.
Byarm, who worked previously in culinary arts and at a local food bank, said he wants ICF’s first location to be in North Camden, where development of a waterfront park is underway, and has committed to employing over 100 Camden residents by this spring, including young people and returning citizens. Employees will also be able to receive help with earning their GEDs and driver’s licenses.
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“The data is apparent, the dependency model does not stop chronic issues within distressed communities. We offer a new solution,” Byarm said — “decentralize the supermarket model, strengthen small business owners, hire the people of the city to grow and distribute the healthy food items that they need to improve their lives and the lives of their family members.”
“There’s a void of businesses who are employing and creating income for Camden residents,” he said. “ICF wants to change that.”
Karen Talarico, the executive director of Cathedral Kitchen, a Camden nonprofit dedicated to providing food for people in need, said she hopes ICF can help improve food access in the city.
“Food insecurity is still an issue here in Camden, due to the underlying issue of poverty in this city,” she said. “Almost 40 percent of the people in Camden live at or below the federal poverty level, so people cannot afford to buy healthier food or enough food to feed their families and support good health.”
Talarico also pointed to the 2014 opening of a PriceRite store in Camden that helped significantly with creating more healthy food options, as well as jobs.
Byarm’s goals are ambitious, but he’s driven by the seriousness of Camden’s economic development struggles.
“I have a firm belief that if we stop overlooking the resources within the city and leverage them to address the needs,” he said, “the city can work its way out of this problem.”-30-
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