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A CPH Alumnus Plants the Seeds of Food Equality

There are a host of reasons why many people don't eat healthy foods. Cost and access are two significant barriers. For some, a lack of nutrition education—just knowing which foods are good for you and which aren't—also presents a challenge. In Philadelphia, a new company co-founded by a Temple public health alumnus looks to address these problems.  

Launched in early 2017, WeGardn provides a simple and relatively inexpensive way to get fresh, farm-to-table food virtually anywhere in the city. The startup’s offices at 5th and Jefferson in North Philadelphia are close enough to Temple’s main campus that one of the company’s founders, CPH alumnus Aasit Nanavati, is often on campus, visiting or working.

“I’m here all the time,” said Nanavati. “This place is like home.”

It’s not a surprising sentiment. Nanavati received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Public Health in 2009 and 2012 from the College of Public Health. However, it’s significant considering all the places he’s lived and worked since then.

Since graduating, the South Jersey native worked in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. before travelling to Uganda and India. While abroad, Nanavati worked on social programs including sensitivity training for police in Mumbai, India, healthcare service tracking modules and national public awareness campaigns.

These diverse experiences gave Nanavati an in-depth look at life in other parts of the world and how they apply to his own country. Now, he says, his public health education and work put him in the position to do what he does now.

“As an undergraduate student, I was given the opportunity not only to learn about the issues of inequity globally, but also the issues affecting local Philadelphians,” said Nanavati.

After graduating with his MPH, he knew he wanted to use his time abroad to inform future work back home: “I focused on gaining the skills and perspective needed to understand how to address a challenge and create a solution that is feasible for scale in this region and that would have immediate impact.”

With WeGardn, that means using healthy food as a social impact tool, as opposed to the “luxury” he says it’s become for many people. Eating healthy, said Nanavati, has evolved from a bedrock of nutrition to being something that’s trendy and often expensive.

“The culture in the country has changed--we’re not seeing the benefits for the entire population,” he said. “There’s a big discrepancy in food education, and there are places where Cheetos are cheaper than carrots” said Nanavati. That’s where WeGardn comes in.

The organization partners mostly with local organic food growers to offer locally-sourced food to people who normally can’t afford or don’t have access to it. Users place orders on the company’s website, which was overhauled this month in order to be more user-friendly. Already, WeGardn delivers to many places in Philadelphia, and offers pick-up options for areas it doesn’t yet serve.

The marketplace is a first step for Nanavati’s wider vision. He hopes the service opens the door to food education opportunities and eventually become a system that can be replicated anywhere in the country.

“We want to grow this into food education and evolve the food culture,” he said.

Posted:  August 25, 2017