“I’ve been in East Nashville 27 years, but I grew up on a farm, and we always raised a garden. By the time I graduated college and moved here, I was really missing some of the food I grew up with. I found out about Sunshine Grocery on Belmont and just loved what they were doing, and I kept running into neighbors of mine from the East Side. I started on a quest to figure out how I could put a store like that in East Nashville, not knowing the first thing about the natural food industry. I was in medical sales before I started the store. I spent four or five years just going to all the natural food expos, talking to anybody and everybody in the industry. I heard about building relationships with local farmers, and it inspired me. I came home wanting to reach out to local farmers, local vendors, get more local things going, and be local ourselves.” —John Dyke
John Dyke’s primary mission — to educate his community on the existence and appreciation of fresh real food — comes to life on the first step inside The Turnip Truck’s new location. You’re instantly in the produce section, a wild party of fruits and vegetables that just look different. All organic, all local, no two tomatoes look exactly alike, as their genetically modified cousins do marching in lockstep at Walmart’s herbaceous Triumph of the Will motif. The Turnip Truck’s greens are varied and often large, the myriad bell pepper colors are deeper, and one would be forgiven for wanting to snatch a shiny big strawberry and blithely chomp it while passing through to the juice bar.
The Turnip Truck, from its inception in 2001 in 5 Points to its brand-new and muchly expanded digs a few blocks away at 701 Woodland, is a magnet and hub for people who care that you are what you eat. A lanky, 50-something gent, with whitish hair and beard, Dyke could be Hemingway’s genial younger brother. We sit in his new office (still under construction, as is a good bit of the second floor) with a floor-to-ceiling window view of East Park just across Woodland from the store. The sunlight streams in, a vista metaphoric for what he wants to do: engage the community. When the second floor is finished — downstairs already is — there will be tables, and the space set up for meetings, classes, and other endeavors local groups may need a gathering
“The design of this new store, with the mezzanine on the second floor especially, is to show the customer as the heart of the store,” Dyke says. “This is East Nashville’s store, and I want the community to tell me what they want
He is clearly excited about the expansion. “Our produce department is four or five times the size of what it was in the old store,” he says. “We’ve added more and more to the juice bar, we have kambucha on tap, beer on tap, a deli, we’re putting in a fresh salad bar, a hot food bar, and a bakery. We have a full-service meat and seafood department now, which we didn’t have before, grass-fed beef from just up the road in Kentucky.
“Between the farms we work with, and the vendors for soaps, honey, health and beauty aids, candles, and other things, we’re working with about 80 different vendors now,” Dyke says. (And lest it be forgotten, there is a second Turnip Truck on the west side of the river in The Gulch for the convenience of the Westies.)
“With the two stores, we now have roughly 120 employees, so it feels good to be a source of employment for the community,” he says. Down the road, Dyke envisions an aquaponics greenhouse on the roof of the new location, and reaching out to the community children with an education program about real food and why it matters.
So what does John Dyke do for fun? More of his passion, actually. “I just bought a little farm outside of town,” he offers. “I’m looking at putting in an organic orchard with apples, peaches, pears, plums, figs, and apricots, looking at cultivating heirloom fruits, keeping those seeds growing for new generations.”
Dyke’s own entrepreneurial seed found good purchase on the East Side. “It’s a great neighborhood to be in. I’ve lived here now longer than I lived in my childhood home. This is home. I love it.”