From Farm to Corner Store

Getting healthy food on the shelves of convenience stores could be the first step toward replenishing food deserts.
Fresh fruit photo by LaoWai Kevin

Photo by LaoWai Kevin.

Fresh, local farm produce may soon be available at the last place you’d expect to find it: your local convenience store.

In Washington state, the health department and Thurston County are using a $10,000 stimulus grant to put healthier foods on the shelves of convenience stores. Their first step was to label healthier products more clearly. But their second, more innovative idea was to bring produce from local farms to the Lucky 7 Food Store, a convenience store close to Olympia’s low-income housing.

Two organic farms signed on to the project. Today, cilantro, spinach, chard, and snap peas keep cool in Lucky 7’s refrigerator. From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Wednesday, fresh produce such as zucchini, strawberries, and beets are for sale at a stall in the store’s parking lot.

“Organic food has been thought of as a luxury item,” said Jennifer Belknap, co-owner of Rising River, one of the participating farms. Belknap hopes to change that idea by reducing the prices of the food she sells at the Lucky 7. The other participating farmer,  Ann Vandeman of Olympia’s Left Foot Organics, sells all her produce in packages priced at $2.25 to offer Lucky 7 shoppers a bargain.

While the local-farm-to-convenience-store arrangement is rare, governments and community organizations across the country are working to bring healthy foods to convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods. The Healthy Corner Stores Network (HCSN) is a nonprofit that helps people improve convenience stores in their communities.

Laurel MacMillan, co-convenor of HCSN, says collaboration between community organizations and convenience stores is working with what you already have.  “Getting a grocery store in a food desert is ideal,” she said, “but improving the quality of food in stores that are already there has a more immediate effect.”

Lily HicksLily Hicks wrote this article for New Livelihoods, the Fall 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Lily is an editorial intern with YES!