Tatiana Garcia-Granados: From Feeding a Community to Fixing the Food System

When Tatiana Garcia-Granados started The Common Market, she just wanted to bring fresh farm food to her Philadelphia neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion. She never thought she would take on a national problem.

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Tatiana Garcia-Granados – Co-Founder – The Common Market – Final Conformed Script

Tatiana: It’s cheaper to get a truckload of food from California than it is to get a pallet from Upstate New York to New York City. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s just the way that our system has developed.

Tatiana: The Common Market is a non-profit distributor of local farm food. We make the connection between local farms in our region to the institutions and get the food into the communities that need the food the most.

TEXT: Tatiana Garcia-Granados – Co-Founder – The Common Market – Philadelphia, PA – USA

Tatiana: I was born in Guatemala and my father actually had a farm in Guatemala, a pretty big cattle farm. I just have really fond memories of being able to get coconuts from the trees and chopping open with a machete and getting a drink.

TEXT: In 1981, when Tatiana was 7, her family immigrated to Miami.

TEXT: After high school, she moved to Philadelphia to study International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania.

Tatiana: Right after college I actually went to, to work in Central Florida with migrant workers who are living in the US but who are just invisible in, you know, in our society. And I learned a lot about the food system.

TEXT: Tatiana planned to work in finance, and in 2001 she began her MBA at the University of Pennsylvania.

TEXT: There she met her husband, Haile Johnston.

Tatiana: When Haile and I discovered this amazing neighborhood in Philadelphia we were able to buy a house. And as we were spending more and more time there we also became aware of how much need there was and how much also opportunity there was for us to make a, a difference.

TEXT: Tatiana and Haile started a nonprofit organization called the East Park Revitalization Alliance.

Tatiana: We started with the goal of bringing resources into this community that had been, you know, really neglected for, for a long time. One of the most popular activities that we did with the, with the kids was healthy cooking classes. After doing it for a few months we realized, “If the kids wanna actually teach their parents or take what they’re learning home and prepare food for their families there’s no place in our neighborhood where they can buy this food.” And so that’s what, you know, kind of prompted our, our exploration into how do we get healthy food into the community itself.

TEXT: Tatiana and Haile realized that farmers’ markets couldn’t solve the problem.

Tatiana: Farmers, they’re low income, too, and they need to get a fair price for what they’re growing and it’s not gonna work if we have low-income farmers trying to serve low-income consumers. In order to make the food accessible and affordable it needs to be at a volume that can actually, you know, have efficiencies and start to bring some, the prices down.

TEXT: Tatiana and Haile wanted to buy food at fair prices from local farmers and sell it to institutions around the city.

TEXT: In 2008 they started a second nonprofit, The Common Market.

Tatiana: A non-profit structure would allow us to access the grants for capital, and then we’re also able to tap into kind of low interest loans for the capital that we needed to get started. Just to start up you need to have, you know, a refrigerated warehouse space. You need to have refrigerated trucks. You need very expensive assets in order to do this.

TEXT: The couple began by sourcing produce from just five farmers near Philadelphia.

Tatiana: Our farms are usually within the 75 mile range. It gives you an idea of how close the agriculture is to the city which makes it even more mind blowing that it’s so hard for the food to get here. We love working with institutions because a hospital or a public school is making a larger order.

SOT We made a salad out of that—
-Oh, I love (unintelligible).
-And tomatoes.
-This is amazing.

Tatiana: And then also they’re typically working with some of the more marginalized people in our society.

TEXT: The Common Market works with more than 80 local farmers.
TEXT: The organization makes 75% of its revenue selling an average of 250,000 pounds of food a month.

Tatiana: We started a national expansion about a year ago, replicating our model to different regions in the country. One of the big challenges right now is trying to go from being a pretty small, lean startup based in Philadelphia, in one location. And by going national, how do we also replicate the culture, the strong culture that we have here? Our motivation for starting the Common Market was never about, you know, generating a profit. We just want to make sure that our food is accessible to everyone.

Posted: January 31, 2017

Nusha Balyan at The Story ExchangeTatiana Garcia-Granados: From Feeding a Community to Fixing the Food System