We hear a lot about food deserts that impact many of our urban communities throughout the United States. At Urban Patch we are developing an initiative that will take on this critical issue with our local community and local farmers. As we develop the program we hope to make a real and immediate impact on the access to healthy and affordable food in our community, and perhaps create a model that can be used in other urban communities elsewhere. So . . .
Let’s create our own food OASIS!
Where we can, with a little knowledge: Eat Healthy, Eat Affordably & Live Well for Less!
The idea for the initiative began when our Mid-North Indianapolis neighborhood’s Walgreens drug store on 38th and College Avenue closed in 2013. Shortly after a Dollar Tree store took over the space, joining Dollar General and Family Dollar to become the third dollar store within a 1-block radius. Fast froward to 2015, the only grocery store in the neighborhood also closed its doors for good. Unfortunately, in our community it is not so easy to come by the much-needed groceries or stores that market and provide healthy, affordable food. Our community is a “food desert” and that contributes to our local population’s disproportionately high rates of diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes. It is a problem that affects us across social, economic and environmental concerns.
In the longer term we hope to bring high quality grocer or co-op market to our community. But in the short-term, our community needs better food access now. What if we could help to take this resource we already have in our community–a cluster of affordable general stores–to promote healthy food access? What if people went to the dollar stores for healthy food and other sustainable products, just as much as they did for candy, pop and chips? How could we help to make the dollar store a healthier, more sustainable part of our community? We decided to call our “dollar store project” Oasis, to recognize that our urban communities do have resources and vitality within them, and that part of the work is to teach people how to identify, utilize and augment those resources.
Oasis has multiple components:
1. Work with dollar and general stores to identify products that are healthier for their customers. This includes taking stock of inventories and potentially identifying “healthy/sustainable” sections in the stores to make shopping more convenient.
2. Show people how they can shop healthy at the dollar store, and make healthy choices for their families. This includes recipes, guides and workshops on healthy food shopping. These will be cross referenced with home and community gardening, i.e., fresh food from the garden plus dried/frozen foods from dollar store = a healthy, affordable meal.
3. Provide fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers using green carts that would regularly service high-traffic areas in the neighborhood (similar to a NYC green cart program).
4. Advertise healthy food sections in weekly circulars – show deals, include recipes and lifestyle ideas. This can be distributed to community groups, etc. and have a social media aspect (weekly OASIS deals on facebook, twitter, etc.) as smartphone ownership is high even in lower-income communities.
5. Develop a long-term socially and economically sustainable plan for affordable fresh food access in our community (a new grocery store or co-op market).