Path in Food Desert
Roberts, Jane, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
For three growing seasons, Rev. Kenneth Robinson kept a mental tally of the broccoli, cabbage and carrots streaming out of the farmers market at an abandoned fish market in South Memphis.
When white eggplant showed up at one of the stalls last summer and no one knew how to prepare it, he made another note.
In June, the notes will bear fruit at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway. With $1.2 million in grants, the community development arm of St. Andrew AME Church is opening a green grocer in 3,600 square feet of an eyesore that was the empty Carter's Fish Market.
"The common wisdom was that a farmers market in South Memphis would not be as successful as other locations because the consumer demand would not be there," Robinson said.
"Our vendors who sell at other places tell us they do as well if not better here," he said.
The market, open Thursday afternoons during the growing season, produced about $5,000 in sales a day last season, enough to keep eight vendors busy, and encouraged.
The downside was that, in October, the place closed down.
The market will still happen each Thursday afternoon, but instead of fresh produce being available one day a week, the store at 1400 Mississippi Blvd., will be open six. It will have a dairy case, meats and other groceries.
Including vendors, the store will employ about 40 people.
"We have to overcome some obstacles in where we are sourcing food outside fresh produce, so we can get better prices and pass then on to our customers," said The Works executive director Roshun Austin.
"The eggs are often sold at other farmers markets at $4 a dozen. That won't work here."
The average household income around St. Andrew is $36,000; statewide, the average is $54,000.
She is looking for grants to underwrite the cost of groceries and education kitchens.
The area has stabilized in the last decade, losing only 6 percent of population between 2000 and 2010. But the decade before, it lost nearly 20 percent. The people who are left are 90 percent African- American and mostly elderly.
The other dynamic is that the closest grocery stores are the Kroger on Union Avenue in Midtown or the Kroger in Southgate Shopping Center on Third Street. Both are more close to 2.5 miles away.
"But it's a 45-minute bus ride to either grocery store," said Curtis Thomas, deputy executive director of The Works Inc., the church's community development corporation.
"Two-and-a-half miles doesn't sound like a lot if you have your own car. For elderly people trying to haul groceries back on the bus, it's pretty difficult."
Last week, construction workers at the now-gutted Carter's were building gutters. Inside, plumbing was in place for a demonstration kitchen and rough cuts on the floor showed positions for three cooking stations, open for people who want to learn to cook diabetic- and heart-friendly diets.
When they finish, they'll get a free bag of ingredients to make that day's test recipe at home.
"We're going to have a 1,200-square-foot demonstration and education kitchen," Thomas said.
"We'll have a nice big open space, enough seating for 25 students or observers, all facing an island," he said. …