Frederic Byarm, 54, has seen food from many sides.
As a chef, a restaurateur and, of course, as a customer. He’s adding full-time farmer to that list with his next big endeavor.
A Black-owned business, Invincible City will begin its mission to eradicate food deserts in Camden and South Jersey writ-large starting in 2021.
“Frederic’s vision for Invincible City Farms is to improve health outcomes in Camden, while creating jobs and bringing a new sense of dignity to one of our state’s long underserved but proud communities. And as we continue fighting this pandemic and when we emerge from it, Frederic and his team at Invincible City will also be valuable…. Invincible City Farms represents one of the many black owned businesses we are proud to support.”N.J. Governor Phil Murphy
If all goes as planned around next Spring, Camden residents will simply tap an app on their smartphones, scroll through a variety of fresh products, including fruits and vegetables, and have them delivered to their home.
Byarm also says he will look to provide produce to corner stores and anchor institutions, as well as look for ways to give back to the community.
“You won’t only be able to access raw fresh ingredients from us, but we will make it possible for people to order completed meals too. Think Blue Apron, or the convenience of Amazon,” founder Byarm told TAPinto Camden while touring the Bridgeton farm he is based at.
Byarm said he understands if some Camden residents may not always have enough flexibility in their schedules to cook.
“There’s a certain number of people in the community you’ll miss if you just provide the raw products. So if you really want to address the entire food desert, you need to go ahead and make meals that they’ll recognize, make them in a healthy and affordable way,” he said.
Invincible City‘s farm — at which Byarm plans to start operations in May 2021 — is located over 44 miles south of Camden.
Byarm initially began looking in Camden city but was unable to locate a large enough area to kickstart the farm. He said while the Invincible City app will be free to download, residents would pay for whatever product they decide to have delivered. Although all the logistics of the business have yet to be ironed out, he plans to have his own delivery van, which will transport fresh produce from Bridgeton — as well as another facility he is setting up in Salem — to Camden.
“I grew up in Camden, and she still lives there,” Byarm said, pointing to his fiancée, Myeshia Arline. “We refuse to turn our backs on it. We’ll find a way to get a unit operational in Camden. It’ll just take some time.”
Byarm said much of the work happening on the farm is currently at a stand-still. That won’t be the case for long, as Invincible City Farms was the recipient of a micro-loan — maxed at $50,000 — from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) to purchase a tractor twice the size they’re currently renting out, tractor implements, an irrigation system and other “critical pieces” to their operation.
Byarm said he’s currently awaiting the delivery of the equipment.
During a mid-August coronavirus press briefing, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called Byarm a “pioneering small business leader.”
“Frederic’s vision for Invincible City Farms is to improve health outcomes in Camden, while creating jobs and bringing a new sense of dignity to one of our state’s long underserved but proud communities,” Murphy said. “And as we continue fighting this pandemic and when we emerge from it, Frederic and his team at Invincible City will also be valuable…. Invincible City Farms represents one of the many black owned businesses we are proud to support.”
Solving a food desert on multiple fronts
Food deserts are defined by the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service as areas with limited access to affordable and healthy food.
“[In Camden] the issue of food accessibility has been an ongoing problem for its residents for over a decade. Much like New Jersey’s other cities, Camden has entire sections of its residents a considerable distance from any legitimate healthy food retailers,” reads a report from the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
“Due to this, almost the entirety of west Camden is forced to rely on bodegas and corner-stores for their groceries, where a cheesesteak is usually the freshest type of food available,” it continues.
Parkside Business & Community in Partnership (PBCIP) Executive Director Bridget Phifer — who in the past has met with Byarm — said his approach to solving the ongoing issue is welcome in the city.
“We all know Camden is a food desert and deals with high level of poverty,” Phifer said over the phone. “If we’re all able to bring resources like fresh food to families and make those more accessible, it’ll only help. What Frederic brings to the table may be something that exists in other places like Philadelphia, but for the city of Camden it’s certainly groundbreaking.”
Phifer, who recently announced PBCIP’s own success in widening the availability of fresh food in the city, said the positive effects of Invincible City Farms will only be boasted by their outreach locally.
Byarm and Arline said they are open to just that.
Thus far, they have worked with the Center for Environmental Transformation, PBCIP, the Camden Collaborative Initiative, Camden Urban Agriculture Committee, Center for Family Services, Cathedral Kitchen, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, the Camden Housing Authority and others.
When the pandemic began to worsen, many residents were left to risk travel or turn to smaller stores in their neighborhoods.
Offering a quick accessible way to order food to your home will be one way Invincible City plans to tackle this issue.
Byarm said he also plans to add a mobile food market, which will station itself at a different Camden neighborhoods each week on a pre-set schedule — ultimately providing fresh products to the entire city.
He’s thinking of initial steps, Byarm said, like the fact that he’ll begin by planting berries (since they could withstand the moisture in parts of his land) and an array of greens (cabbage, collards, broccoli). But also, the sustainability of the farm as a whole.
“Our farming process will be regenerative. So what is not sold to customers will be composted so there’s no waste, especially for the prepared meals,” Byarm said. “We would like to move into the direction where we’re able to have a bio-digester and produce energy from waste, and then use waste to produce energy to support greenhouses.”
While that may have to wait, other initiatives are taking off quicker.
Byarm said the city of Salem has made it possible for Invincible City to house an “aquaponic system” in one of its buildings. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants).
“We know that people have developed habits that are not nutritious, so our goal is get people to rethink how they view their bodies and their health,” Arline said. “Right now, it’s a matter of, ‘Do I buy healthy food at a higher price?’ With the services, we can help break that cycle.”
This story was produced in collaboration with CivicStory and the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting project. It was originally reported by Steven Rodas for TAPinto Camden, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.