Before long-distance trucking and the demise of the corner grocer, any fruits and veggies you got were locally grown. When a grocery store closes these days, gaps develop in access to affordable, fresh produce. Entire neighborhoods are reduced to “food deserts” and the health of an entire demographic can be put in jeopardy. So the challenge becomes: How do we get healthy food to the people who need it most?
Good news: A cadre of nonprofit organizations are actively working to solve the problem. Formerly known as the Cincinnati Health Foundation, Interact for Health gives grants to nonprofits working to fill those gaps with regionally grown produce. By bringing affordable produce into parts of town where the options are scarce, they set up a virtuous circle, incentivizing local farmers to grow sustainable food.
“As more and more acres come into production, prices come down, which helps ensure access to quality produce,” says Kristen Barker, cofounder of Cincinnati Union Co-op Initiative (CUCI). CUCI runs Our Harvest Union Co-op, which distributes local produce in underserved neighborhoods and is working with IFH to expand their program across a 20-county area.
They are not alone. Now in its third year, the Findlay Market Farm Stand Project is also establishing oases in urban food deserts. Karen Kahle, Findlay Market’s programs and communications director, says the farm stands were a hit from day one. “We’re just trying to cover our costs,” Kahle says. “We give the farmers a fair price, we give the consumer a fair price, and we hope that gets people buying local fresh stuff and improving their health and nutrition.”
It’s still early days yet, but it appears demand is high. To meet it, Findlay Market is rolling out a retail store, DIRT, where area farmers can sell produce on a consignment basis. And CUCI is a guiding partner in Apple Street Market, a full-service cooperative grocery that will sell local produce in Northside in the former Save-A-Lot. As Kahle and Barker will tell you, the short shelf life and logistics of managing many partnerships makes filling the food gap no mean feat.