Creating a Food Equity Movement in the Mississippi Delta: Tyler’s Story

Tyler Yarbrough headshot Tyler Yarbrough, Project Manager for Partnership for a Healthier America’s (PHA) work in the Mississippi Delta, was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and knows firsthand the disparities that exist in communities like the one he grew up in.

“The Mississippi Delta has some of the highest health disparities in the nation,” said Tyler. “I’ve been here my whole life so I live it. I see it. I feel it. People don’t have easy access to food. A lot of people have to drive 20 miles to get to a grocery store or the grocery store that they go to is under constant threat of shutting down.”

In 2018, Kroger, the primary grocery store in Clarksdale that served as a main outlet to healthy, fresh foods for many residents, closed its doors after 75 years in the community. In an area where accessibility to fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables is already limited, the store’s departure left many residents reeling. It also fueled Tyler’s passion to fight for health equity in under-resourced communities like his own.

“My passion for health equity was a response to a real threat - the threat that your grocery store can leave you at any moment,” said Tyler. “That’s a real thing. In Coahoma County, the hospital is also under constant threat of being shut down. The basic pillars of health - literally a hospital and the food that you eat - are under constant threat of being taken away from you. This constant threat is a significant amount of stress on people and a community. It either drives people out to more urban areas for a better life, or it can stifle and keep people trapped.”

Since then, Tyler has been on a mission to elevate hope and work hand-in-hand with his community to find stronger ways forward. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in Public Policy Leadership and hopes that his role at PHA will create more good food access points in the Mississippi Delta through retail store transformation, farmers markets, coalition building, community engagement, and storytelling.

At PHA, Tyler is taking time to understand the needs of the community and bringing together local expertise with the national expertise to create a Food Equity movement in the Delta. “There’s so much great work already happening in the Delta and my job is to bring people together to elevate and celebrate that work.”

Tyler is currently most excited about the work he’s doing with Al Jones, owner of J’s Grocery, a local store that has been in the community for 20 years. By working collaboratively with national and local experts in store planning, operations, and merchandising, Tyler and Al are committed to making J’s Grocery a hub for long-lasting, good food in the community. He’s also looking forward to bringing PHA’s Good Food for All program to the Mississippi Delta later this year with locally-sourced food.

PHA is working with stakeholders like Tyler in the Mississippi Delta to increase the affordability, accessibility, and visibility of vegetables and fruit through community-centered change.

Tyler’s story is part of an ongoing series about all of the great work that’s happening in the Mississippi Delta to build health equity.

This work is made possible by our partner Novo Nordisk.

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