The Turnip Truck: Driving Urban Fare in the Gulch

By Anne Ross

John Dyke grew up on a farm in Greeneville, Tennessee, and knows what food is supposed to taste like. He knows that eating a tomato, for example, should bring a luscious burst of flavor, as opposed to something akin to biting into tasteless cardboard. Dyke has brought his knowledge of healthy food to bear in the creation of his two stores, the Turnip Truck Natural Market and the Turnip Truck Urban Fare, and credits his childhood experience as the thing that really led him to launch the first store, located in East Nashville. "In the summer we grew and canned everything," he says. "There were many months when we didn't even have to go to the store. We lived off the land."

For many Nashvillians, the only things falling off of the Turnip Truck and its new upscale sister store, the Turnip Truck Urban Fare, are healthy, high quality natural products. The stores feature fresh, organic produce-much of it locally grown, and a wide variety of unique and vibrant food and lifestyle options. Dyke describes the importance of being a locally owned business. "We source as much local as we can, and when you really start thinking about the dollar being so tied in to the community, it's not really leaving the community." He adds, "There's no corporate office that's getting the money in another state. All of our money is staying here. We like putting it back into the community and we'll continue putting it into the community. Taking care of my employees is also very important to me."

The opening of the second store last fall in the 12th Avenue Gulch area-the first certified Green Neighborhood in the South-really kicked the whole proposition up a significant notch. Not only is the new store more than twice the size of the East Nashville Turnip Truck, but Turnip Truck Urban Fare brought Executive Chef Laura Wilson and Chef de Cuisine Sam Tucker on board, a move that has definitely lit up Nashville foodies! Dyke has set the quality bar very high, with a clear commitment to deliver a wide variety of healthy food options that are carefully researched. Much of Turnip Truck's produce is certified organic, and the store is filled with products that emphasize fair trade and sustainable business practices. Dyke also points out their ample offerings of gluten-free products, from gluten-free crackers and frozen foods to baking products.

The creative displays throughout the store make shopping a fun and engaging experience. One entire wall is dedicated to bulk grains, beans, and spices, and another wall is fully stocked with micro-brewed beers. The store features meat, seafood, and cheese departments, plus a salad bar and a hot bar with soup, a coffee bar, a deli, and café seating.

Set in the midst of the cluster of trendy stores that populate the Gulch, The Turnip Truck Urban Fare offers as wide a selection as the larger natural food chains, but creates a much more intimate shopping experience and reasonably priced offerings. The commitment to showcasing local products is evident. The store offers baked products from Nashville's Provence, Silke's, and Great Harvest, and Dyke says that they are starting their own in-house bakery. "So we'll be doing our own bread from scratch," he says. "We're hopefully going to roll that out in the next couple of months." Urban Fare sells locally roasted coffee from Drew's Brews and Bongo Java, and from Alabama's Higher Ground, which donates a portion of its proceeds to the Appalachian Trail and to the Tennessee Organic Growers Association. There are also regional cheeses such as Bonnie Blue and Noble Springs, and Kenny's Farmhouse cheeses from Kentucky.

Most of the meat products at the Turnip Truck are organic and grass fed, with Organic Valley as the leading supplier. Dyke explains his preference for these options, saying, "What a lot of people don't realize-Organic Valley is kind of neat in that it is a co-op of small farmers that have come together. There are twelve farms in the state of Kentucky and three farms in Tennessee that are under the cooperative of Organic Valley. So some people think that it is from far away, but a lot of that food is regional and local."

Dyke takes pride in some of the other unique local products that he sells, pointing out the Olive & Sinclair chocolate that he has to hustle to keep in stock, the butter and honey almond handcrafted soap from Alchemy of Sol, and paletas (popsicles) from Chili Pops. Dyke says, "The woman who makes the Chili Pops has an interesting story. She was battling cancer and wanted to find something to nourish her body, and ended up making these popsicles. They were so good that people wanted her to start producing them. They're very popular."

Another significant contribution that the Turnip Truck Urban Fare is making to the neighborhood is its proximity to the Edgehill Community, previously one of several areas of Nashville without access to grocery stores or other sources of fresh, healthy food-also known as a food desert. In addition to providing a source of nutritious food, Dyke and the Turnip Truck family of employees and volunteers are working with the Edgehill Community Garden as their way of giving back to the neighborhood. "We did an amazing project back in November," remembers Dyke. "We had some volunteers, and we got 50 fruit-bearing trees and planted them in the garden. Brenda Morrow was the other strong force behind this garden. She works with a lot of teenage children and she does an amazing job with those children. It was quite an amazing day. We started out here at the store with a breakfast and then moved to the garden. We planted apple, pear, there were some apricot and plum trees, and we also did some blueberry bushes. We did all of this with a grant from the James Stephen Turner Family Foundation."

Plans for the garden are in the works for this spring, and on into the future. Dyke says, "This is something that is really dear to my heart, because I would like us to be involved with this community garden and with the children. This spring we're putting some raised beds in for some individuals that will be handicapped accessible, so they don't have to bend down-they can just reach over and be able to garden as well. It's pretty neat."

Sitting at one of the outdoor tables on Urban Fare's front porch, you get a sense of the extent to which this type of quality-focused grocery store brings value and a true sense of home and community to the area. The Turnip Truck stores are vital anchors in their neighborhoods and provide a much-needed service to the larger Nashville community.

The Turnip Truck in East Nashville is located at 970 Woodland Street, and is open 8 am - 8 pm Monday through Saturday, and 10 am - 7pm on Sunday. Turnip Truck Urban Fare is located at 311 12th Avenue South and is open 8 am - 8 pm Monday through Saturday, and 9 am - 8 pm on Sunday.