This project got its start in Fall 2008 in conversations at partner organization Capuchin Soup Kitchen with guests of the soup kitchen. In these conversations, which were facilitated by Lisa Richter and Gwen Meyer of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen's Earth Works Urban Farm and SEED Wayne's Kami Pothukuchi, participants shared experiences related to getting healthy food in the near-Eastside neighborhood, perceptions of the neighborhood food environment and ideas for improving it.
Guests expressed frustration and resentment that the corner stores sold mostly stuff that "folks were addicted to," like alcohol, tobacco, junk food, and lottery, and little else. Out of these conversations, the Healthy Corner Store idea was born. Started initially as a pilot project involving three stores within a half-mile radius around the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, it is now a funded project and will cover all of Detroit.
Almost every neighborhood has corner stores that are also known as convenience stores or party stores. Such stores sell food, and more often than not, accept food stamps for food purchases. The food stamp program is a federal nutrition program that provides low-income households with cash assistance with which to buy food. (The Food Stamp Program recently changed its name to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).
However, corner stores typically carry few types of food that are healthy, wholesome, fresh or affordable. Detroit FRESH: The Healthy Corner Stores Project seeks to address this gap.
Corner stores are a good target for such interventions because residents often depend on them for food given lack or poverty of transportation options, they represent retail infrastructure that already exists in such neighborhoods, and significant amounts of SNAP dollars are spent there. When residents lack access to fresh and healthy foods, they risk falling prey to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardio-vascular disease.
Detroit FRESH works with many corner stores of different sizes in Detroit's neighborhoods, with the majority on the city's Eastside. Our first store came on line with fresh produce sourced from our distributor in June 2009; two a month later. By the end of April 2010, we have 17 participating stores (with 15 owners or sets of owners). Three are owned by African-Americans, while the others are owned by Chaldean-Americans.
Once a store agrees to participate, Detroit FRESH equips them with supplies such as baskets, shelves, basic produce handling information, and connects them to a produce distributor who delivers smaller quantities that such stores typically handle. We also provide advice and tips on merchandising and produce management and in-store marketing. Program staff then also do outreach in a few blocks in all directions of these stores to inform residents and neighborhood organizations about the availability of produce in these stores, and seek their opinions and feedback on the stores and the project. We also track the movement of produce in the stores and their prices on a regular basis.
As stores increase the level of their participation, our goal is to connect them to other sources of fresh and healthy foods and to host events in the stores and nearby related to nutrition education, cooking demonstration, health screening, etc. Stay tuned for periodic updates from Detroit FRESH!
If you live on the Eastside and would like information on Detroit FRESH or wish to share your opinions on participating stores or other feedback, please write SEED Wayne's director Kami Pothukuchi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit FRESH: The Healthy Corner Store Project is implemented in partnership with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Eastern Market Corporation, and MOSES.