Groundwork Jacksonville hit pay dirtwhen it connected with Ariane Randolph. The local organization is spearheading a community-wide effort to reinvigorate economic activity in the city’s old Eastside neighborhood, where fresh food is scarce and full-service grocery stores are nonexistent. And Randolph’s mobile grocery service, the Urban Apple Natural Market, is one of the first of several businesses to sign on to the Jacksonville Public Market (JPM).

“Access to healthier food and access to health care go hand-in-hand,” Randolph says. “One little change can make the difference.”

The Jacksonville Public Market is part of Groundwork Jacksonville’s 10-year vision to re-create the city’s “Emerald Necklace,” by reconnecting Jacksonville’s neglected urban neighborhoods. Groundwork program manager Alyssa Bourgoyne says that the Jacksonville Public Market still has some vendor spaces available — for crafts and children’s activities, for food and other items for sale, and “for anything that’s creative.” The organization welcomes vendors and supporters from all corners of Jacksonville, leaders said at an April 22 press conference.

The Eastside-based venture will bring fresh food, family programs, live entertainment, master gardener presentations, and other activities to residents, the greater Jacksonville community, and out-of-town tourists in tandem with Jaguars home games. An open-air, outdoor marketplace, the Jacksonville Public Market will be located at the corner of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard and Albert Street.

While the neighborhood sits just a few blocks away from the bustling commerce of EverBank Field, it is recognized as a “food desert.” The nearest full-service grocery stores are miles away, leaving residents with limited access to fresh, whole foods.

Enter Ariane Randolph, owner and creator of the Urban Apple Natural Market, a mobile, handicapped-accessible grocery service that will bring fresh fruits and vegetables to JPM.

In addition to purchasing the truck that will house the Urban Apple Natural Market, Randolph looks forward to partnering with members of the community to grow fresh food.

“We’re growing food ourselves, teaching others to grow fresh food,” she says.

Sporting her Urban Apple T-shirt, Randolph told a crowd of 50 people, gathered at the corner of Randolph Boulevard and Albert Street for the press conference, that she was “busting out at the seams” with excitement about plans for JPM.

For Randolph, revitalizing Jacksonville’s Eastside neighborhood is a family affair. The Eastside has been home to Randolph’s family for at least six decades. Her mother, Deborah Standley, has lived there all her life. Randolph’s grandmother and Standley’s mother, Alberta C. Johnson, died in 1984, but not before she passed along family traditions of growing fresh food and cooking it at home. 

She spent much of her childhood at her grandmother’s Eastside residence, she told Folio Weekly Magazine. Randolph and her husband now live in her grandmother’s house, which they are renovating; they plan to raise a family there.

“We cook there now,” Randolph told FWM.

While the Randolphs’ decision to settle in Eastside is partially a matter of “coming home,” it’s much, much more.

All too often, neglected urban neighborhoods are ignored and left to crumble, or they become gentrified, which involves outside developers coming in to a neighborhood, building attractive housing, and drawing expensive businesses to the area. As rents and land values increase and properties are bought up, longtime residents in newly gentrified neighborhoods find themselves priced out of their homes.

The Groundwork Jacksonville vision for Eastside and JPM, however, is the opposite
of gentrification.

“[It] allows residents to frame the initiative,” Janet Owens said at the press conference.

Owens, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), credited Groundwork Jacksonville and several partners for working with the residents of Eastside on the vision and on the market, including Operation New Hope, Eastside Community Coalition, National Groundwork Trust in Washington, D.C., grant writer Dave Roman and Wells Fargo, which has contributed $30,000 toward JPM so far. EverBank has also donated to the vision.

Randolph believes that the Jacksonville Public Market will be a springboard for more economic activity in her neighborhood.

“We’re raising our kids to be job creators,” Randolph says. “They’re not going to get it unless they see Mama do it.”