Tag Archives: food insecurity

Supply-Side Experiment in Food Desert Goes Bust

Jim Scanlon at his Newport News store. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Poor Jim Scanlon. He bought into the conventional wisdom that food deserts are a supply-side problem — an unwillingness of grocery store operators to locate in inner cities. Hoping to remedy that deficiency, the idealistic former Ukrop’s executive opened Jim’s Local Market in a low-income neighborhood in Newport News in May 2016.

Now, a year and a half later, he’s closing the store, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Explains Scanlon: “It’s just that the sales are not there, and the profitability is not there. It’s not working out.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Food deserts are a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. Poor people, like many Americans, just don’t like broccoli, kale, quinoa, cauliflower, or other trendy superfoods that go in and out of fashion among the cultural elites. Pleasures in life in the inner city are far and few between, and the poor, also like many Americans, gravitate to food that provides immediate gratification… Which means they gravitate to processed food loaded with salt, sugar and fat that tastes good. Go into any convenience store or corner grocery in the east end of Richmond and you’ll see aisles stocked with snack foods and soft drinks — the kind of food people are willing to spend their money on.

If you want poor people to eat healthier food, putting healthy food in front of them won’t work. You can literally give away the carrots and squash, and many people won’t eat them. Not only have they not acquired the taste, they have lost the cultural knowledge of how to cook them.

Tricycle Gardens in Richmond was launched to create urban gardens and create a supply of healthy vegetables that poor, inner-city residents should include in their diets. The idea behind the nonprofit was the old give-a-man-a-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a-day, teach-a-man-to-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a-lifetime philosophy. The group built small, “key-hole” gardens that anyone could install in their backyard and reap a bounty of vegetables. I don’t know if Tricycle Gardens had many takers, but let’s just say, I have seen little evidence of a horticultural revolution sweeping through Richmond’s inner city. The last time I communicated with the group — it’s been a couple of years — its leaders were recognizing that they had to work on the demand side. The outfit was talking about giving cooking classes to teach how to make yummy dishes out of brussel sprouts, and it was partnering with local schools to get kids involved with raising garden vegetables, learning about nutrition, and excited about eating healthy food. If we want poor Virginians to eat more healthy food, that’s the kind of slow, plodding change we need to undertake.

Another well-meaning group is investing a grocery store in Richmond’s East End. The building is now under construction. With all the gentrification taking place in the East End, that venture may find enough customers among young urban professionals to sustain itself. Otherwise, it will likely meet the same fate as Scanlon’s Newport News enterprise. Simply put: The enterprise is addressing the wrong problem.

Fixing Food Deserts Won’t Fix Food Insecurity

by James A. Bacon

Speaking of food…food_desert there’s new research out on the differences in diet and nutrition between different socioeconomic groups. The conventional wisdom is that a major factor explaining the gap in nutritional quality between affluent and poor Americans is the difficulty poor people have in accessing fresher, healthier food — the food desert phenomenon.

Using new data sets unavailable to previous researchers, Jessie Handbury, Molly Schnell and Ilya Rahkovsky were able to hone in food-buying practices of poor and affluent shoppers in the same grocery store. They found that the same patterns prevailed  — affluent people buy healthier, more nutritious food than poor people do.

“Our results indicate that improving access to healthy foods alone will do little to close the gap in the nutritional quality of grocery purchases across different socioeconomic groups,” they write in “What Drives Nutritional Disparities? Retail Access and Food Purchases across the Socioeconomic Spectrum,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Improving the concentration and nutritional quality of stores in the average low-income and low-education neighborhood to match those of the average high-income and high-education neighborhood would only close the gap in nutritional consumption across these groups by 1-3%.”

The authors suggest that two other variables are at play: the price of food and consumer preferences for certain kinds of food over others. Their research did not indicate the relative importance of those factors played in influencing food purchases.

Bacon’s bottom line: Once food preferences are established, it is very difficult to change them. That’s not to say it can’t be done — If I learned to like brocolli and brussel sprouts, for cryin’ out loud, anybody can change their food preferences — but it is a long, slow process. The problem is compounded by the fact that the food preferred by the poor — loaded with salt, fat and sugar — is engineered to taste better than healthy foods. And it’s compounded yet again by the fact is that many Americans across the income spectrum have lost the cultural knowledge of how to cook healthy foods. Educated Americans acquire that knowledge by watching cooking channels, buying cook books, and exposing themselves to new foods at finer restaurants. Those options are less available to the poor.

Spending money to induce grocery stores to locate in food deserts and stock their shelves with nutritious food is a fool’s errand. Grocers won’t stock shelf space with food that no one buys. Conversely, if poor people (a) showed a strong preference for nutritious food and (b) could afford to buy it, grocers would need no prodding — they would supply what the customer demanded.

The lousy nutrition of America’s poor is a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. To change how America eats, the first order of business is to change what Americans want to eat and can afford to eat.

Fixing Food Deserts Won't Fix Food Insecurity

by James A. Bacon

Speaking of food…food_desert there’s new research out on the differences in diet and nutrition between different socioeconomic groups. The conventional wisdom is that a major factor explaining the gap in nutritional quality between affluent and poor Americans is the difficulty poor people have in accessing fresher, healthier food — the food desert phenomenon.

Using new data sets unavailable to previous researchers, Jessie Handbury, Molly Schnell and Ilya Rahkovsky were able to hone in food-buying practices of poor and affluent shoppers in the same grocery store. They found that the same patterns prevailed  — affluent people buy healthier, more nutritious food than poor people do.

“Our results indicate that improving access to healthy foods alone will do little to close the gap in the nutritional quality of grocery purchases across different socioeconomic groups,” they write in “What Drives Nutritional Disparities? Retail Access and Food Purchases across the Socioeconomic Spectrum,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Improving the concentration and nutritional quality of stores in the average low-income and low-education neighborhood to match those of the average high-income and high-education neighborhood would only close the gap in nutritional consumption across these groups by 1-3%.”

The authors suggest that two other variables are at play: the price of food and consumer preferences for certain kinds of food over others. Their research did not indicate the relative importance of those factors played in influencing food purchases.

Bacon’s bottom line: Once food preferences are established, it is very difficult to change them. That’s not to say it can’t be done — If I learned to like brocolli and brussel sprouts, for cryin’ out loud, anybody can change their food preferences — but it is a long, slow process. The problem is compounded by the fact that the food preferred by the poor — loaded with salt, fat and sugar — is engineered to taste better than healthy foods. And it’s compounded yet again by the fact is that many Americans across the income spectrum have lost the cultural knowledge of how to cook healthy foods. Educated Americans acquire that knowledge by watching cooking channels, buying cook books, and exposing themselves to new foods at finer restaurants. Those options are less available to the poor.

Spending money to induce grocery stores to locate in food deserts and stock their shelves with nutritious food is a fool’s errand. Grocers won’t stock shelf space with food that no one buys. Conversely, if poor people (a) showed a strong preference for nutritious food and (b) could afford to buy it, grocers would need no prodding — they would supply what the customer demanded.

The lousy nutrition of America’s poor is a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. To change how America eats, the first order of business is to change what Americans want to eat and can afford to eat.

Are We Reducing Food Insecurity or Aggravating It?

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Richmond schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, and US Rep. Bobby Scott work in the lunch line at Woodville Elementary on March 9, 2015. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Richmond schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, and US Rep. Bobby Scott work in the lunch line at Woodville Elementary on March 9, 2015. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

by James A. Bacon

The federal government has awarded Virginia an $8.8 million grant, to support a program in the City of Richmond and seven localities in Southwest Virginia to fight child hunger. Elaborates the Times-Dispatch:

The children will receive a third meal before leaving school every day, and they will also participate in an off-hours program aimed at making sure they get healthy good when they’re not in school.

In Richmond, where 80% of school children qualify for free or reduced lunch, the program will aid some of the poorest students, stated Superintendent Dana T. Bedden.

Let us grant that child hunger is a real phenomenon and a serious one. No one wants children to go hungry, not even mean, heartless conservatives like myself. But I’ve got a lot of questions, starting with, what the hell is going on?

As I’ve noted before, the United States dispenses billions of dollars of food stamps every month. Every family who needs food stamps gets them. The families of the poor, hungry children targeted by this program get food stamps. Now, I can buy the argument that food stamps are a minimal form of food support and that it’s darn hard to feed a family on food stamps alone. But let’s say you have a mother and three children, who receive benefits based on a family of four who collectively consume 84 meals a week. Now let’s say three of those children are getting free lunches and breakfasts at schools (30 meals a week). Are we saying that the food stamps are such a pittance, and that the free food provided by churches and food pantries are so inadequate, that the mother can’t feed herself and her children for the other 51 meals a week?

This just doesn’t add up. Something is going on that the care giving class does not appreciate or understand.

Are the benefits of food stamps stretched thin, perhaps, because female heads of household are living with boyfriends contribute little to the family pot yet must be fed?

Do poor parents change their behavior based on the rational expectation that, if they don’t feed their children, they know the state or philanthropic organizations will step in?

Is the problem not poverty, per se, but the fact that mothers are strung out on drugs or otherwise so consumed with their own disordered lives that they can’t get it together to prepare meals for their children?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is that the more food we dispense, the worse food insecurity seems to get. And the only solution that anyone can think of is to shovel more money and more free food at the poor. I worry that we are enabling the very behavior that causes child hunger in the first place.

Are Do-Gooders Making Food Insecurity Worse?


by  James A. Bacon

Food deserts are back in the news here in Richmond with the premier of a documentary, “Living in a Food Desert,” at the Richmond International Film Festival. First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, who has made food security her signature cause, attended the screening and addressed the audience. More than 300,000 Virginia children are food insecure, she said. “There needs to be a forceful call to action.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams picked up on the remarks in a column today. Mrs. McAuliffe, he wrote, “called it ironic that a state whose $70 billion agriculture industry feeds folks around the world is not reaching its neediest citizens.”

Yes, it is ironic indeed. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to more people than ever in the program’s history. It is ironic that food insecurity exists despite the existence of school lunch and school breakfast programs for disadvantaged children. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the efforts of groups like Tricycle Gardens to encourage inner-city Richmond residents to raise their own food. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the mobilization of the not-for-profit community through food banks, food pantries and church food drives in an unprecedented giving away of free food and free meals. It is ironic that Richmond’s Feedmore food bank has originated as an institution that provided food for emergency situations into one that fills chronic, ongoing needs. Food insecurity, one Feedmore official told me two years ago for an article I never completed, was becoming “the new normal.”

Everyone quoted by Williams laments the terrible state of affairs. And let me just say, before being condemned as a heartless, evil  conservative, that it is a terrible thing for children to go hungry. But when food insecurity evolves from a sometime thing to a permanent state affairs — and seven years after the Great Recession, it’s getting a little hard to continue blaming the economic downturn — it makes me wonder if we’re doing something wrong.

Here’s my question: How, despite the funneling of unprecedented government and philanthropic dollars to the feeding of the poor, has food insecurity has gotten worse? There are clues in Williams’ column.

A recurrent theme Sunday was that this issue represents an opportunity for folks to take charge of their lives by developing socially conscious economies around food.

It is important for any solution around food deserts to not be paternalistic in the sense that you just come in an drop food off and you’re gone,” Duron Chavis, project director of [Virginia State University’s] Indoor Farm, says in the documentary.

“The key word there is empowerment,” said panelist John Lewis, director of Renew Richmond. “We have the opportunity to empower communities that live in food deserts, especially low-income individuals, to take their food system back.”

Now, couple those comments with this: “As disciples of the Lord, we are commanded to feed the hungry. And we take that commandment seriously,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael A. Sanders of Mount Olive Baptist Church. “We have quickly become one of the largest food pantries in the city of Richmond.”

To what extent does the commandment “to feed the hungry” conflict with the imperative to “empower” the poor? Does society’s impulse to feed the poor result in behaviors that are the opposite of empowering? Why don’t poor people grow their own garden plots? Why don’t they organize community gardens? There are plenty of vacant plots of land in the East End of Richmond, the city’s biggest food desert. There are plenty of groups, like Tricycle Gardens, that are willing to provide the know-how. Why isn’t it happening? Is it possible that the more outsiders take on the obligation to feed Virginia’s poor, from Richmond’s East End to Appalachia, the less they do for themselves?

Are our charitable impulses making worse the very problem we decry? That’s the one question no one seems to be asking.

A Worthwhile Experiment in Bringing Nutrition to the Inner City

The Class-A-Roll teaching kitchen on wheels

The Class-A-Roll teaching kitchen on wheels

by James A. Bacon

The East End of Richmond is a notorious food desert where thousands of low-income residents don’t have ready access to healthy food. Richmonders have responded in a number of ways, most visibly by encouraging the cultivation of gardens in empty lots and back yards and by working with local convenience markets to sell fresh vegetables along with the junk food that fills their shelves. But all the good intentions have foundered on a basic problem: Inner city residents have lost the taste for kale, spinach and zucchini. Not only that, they have lost the cultural knowledge of how to cook the vegetables.

Bon Secours, which runs a community hospital in the East End and has committed to improving community health, has decided to tackle the problem of poor nutrition head on. Yesterday the health organization unveiled a mobile kitchen, the Class-A-Roll, that it will use for cooking classes and demonstrations. States a press release:

Class-A-Roll will target parents between the ages of 18 and 35, as well as children aged 12 and under. … Class-A-Roll will assist parents and children with the skills and knowledge to make healthy choices with regards to the food they purchase and how they prepare it.

First Lady Dorothy McAulliffe and a student from St. Andrew's School check out the Class-A-Roll kitchen.

First Lady Dorothy McAulliffe and a student from St. Andrew’s School check out the Class-A-Roll kitchen.

Volunteer nutritionists, culinary students and others will man the kitchen on wheels. Bon Secours is partnering with various community organizations to line up events in Church Hill and the East End. The program goal is to influence a 10% increase in fruit and vegetable consumption by improving access to neighborhood food markets, thus contributing to a drop in obesity rates.

Bacon’s bottom line: Bon Secours has the right idea. Do-gooders can ply people with all the healthy food in the world, but if the poor people don’t like the food and don’t know how to cook it, they won’t eat it. That problem is not unique to poor people, by the way. My wife and I have tried unsuccessfully for years, using every means from meting out old-fashioned punishments (you can’t leave the table until you finish your broccoli) to bribery (eat those brussel sprouts and you’ll get ice cream for desert), giving lectures on health and nutrition to pleading on our hands and knees, but we haven’t made a dent in the atrocious eating habits of my 15-year-old son. Given the futility of altering the nutritional intake of a lad whose life we exercise a large measure of control, I can’t imagine that watching an occasional demonstration of the Class-A-Roll will alter the behavior of inner-city kids addicted to a lifetime of eating salt, sugar and fat.

But, hey, you don’t know until you try. And the effort could be worth it if it saves only a handful of poor kids from a future of obesity and diabetes.

(Full disclosure: Bon Secours is former sponsor of Bacon’s Rebellion coverage of community health issues.)

Will More Gov’t Spending Reduce Richmond Food Insecurity?

Food deserts in Richmond. Click to view larger image.

Food deserts in Richmond. Click to view larger image.

by James A. Bacon

After two years of deliberations, a Richmond Food Policy Task Force has issued recommendations for tackling so-called “food deserts” in low-income city neighborhoods racked by obesity and food insecurity. I was anticipating a touchy-feely report full of good intentions divorced from real-world considerations. My worst fears were not confirmed. Although they were fiscally improvident, the proposals issued by the task force were restrained in their ambitions.

The task force does call for more spending, of course. How could it not? When government sees a problem, it invariably defines the solution as more government. Thus, the task force would spend $600,000 over two years to create a food hub/community kitchen, hire a food policy coordinator costing $100,000 yearly, hire two animal control inspectors to inspect urban chicken coops at a cost of $84,000 yearly, and expand healthier-school work groups at a cost of $100,000 a year.

On the positive side, there was a recognition that government also needs to get out of the way. The city should revise zoning laws that hinder urban agriculture and the raising of fowl, while also encouraging the conversion of vacant lots into community gardens.

We can all agree that the problem is real. Residents of inner-city Richmond, like other communities across the country, have deplorable diets that are heavy in starch, salt, sugar and fat. Access to healthy food is difficult in many neighborhoods, especially for people who do not own cars. Obesity leads to poor health and higher medical bills, which society at large pays for.

The question is whether government can do much about the problem. The task force, which is comprised of community food advocates, city planners and public health officials, are inclined to believe that change is possible…. at least on the margins. Their solution: Grow and eat more fresh food.

That’s a wonderful idea. I’m not sure it justifies the expenditure of an additional $1 million a  year in city funds, but it’s a wonderful idea. Indeed, it’s such a wonderful idea that the not-for-profit enterprises like Tricycle Gardens are already pursuing it. Whether the city can materially add to what Tricycle Gardens is already doing is anyone’s guess.

The problem in getting inner-city residents (or poor Americans anywhere) to embrace the production and consumption of healthy food is two-fold. First, people have lost the taste for fresh food and the knowledge of how to cook it. Second — and here I am swimming in the treacherous waters of political correctness, but it must be said — many poor people simply aren’t willing to expend the effort.

Over the past 100 years, the food industry has transformed how people eat. Americans of all ethnicities and income groups are totally disconnected from the process of growing and preparing food. Following market demand, the food industry has labored mightily to make food cheaper, tastier and easier to prepare. And it has succeeded. The big drawback is that food companies have made processed foods unhealthier. Along the way, Americans lost the taste for fresh food and the knowledge of how to cook it. If it doesn’t heat in a microwave, it’s too much trouble. You can give some people fresh food for free and they will not eat it. The problem isn’t one of supply or access, it’s that they don’t like the taste of fresh food or don’t want to make the effort to prepare it.

A revolt against processed foods has arisen over the past decade or so, but it is confined mainly to higher-income and better-educated classes who can afford to pay higher prices for food. Many of the urban farmers in Richmond are college-educated idealists. With the laudable exception of the 31st Street Baptist Church, which raises vegetables for its food pantry, the poor residents of Richmond’s East End have been slow to embrace either fresh food or gardening.

One would think that poor people would flock to the idea of urban gardening. It is their health, after all. And food consumes a disproportionate share of their incomes. Why wouldn’t they volunteer to help tend community gardens? Why wouldn’t they invest time and effort in cultivating key-hole gardens in back-yard planters? “Relief gardens” proliferated in cities across the country during the Great Depression as the poor, sometimes with philanthropic or government assistance, raised their own food.

But America is not the same country it was in the 1930s. Multiple generations of welfare have shorn many poor Americans of the habits, attitudes and ambition to organize and exert themselves on their own behalf. We can amp up nutritional education and put more fresh food in schools. We can organize school kids to get involved with gardening in the hope that they want to eat what they grow. Maybe we can erode the cultural preference for junk food. But we can’t force people to eat healthier, much less grow their own vegetables.

As Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones said, “This didn’t happen tonight, and it’s not going to change overnight.” He’s right about that. Whether city government can make a difference without tackling ingrained cultural attitudes remains to be seen.

Food Insecurity: Virginia Must Be Doing Something Right. But What Is It?

Food insecurity in the United States. Source: Feeding America.

Food insecurity in the United States. Source: Feeding America.

by James A. Bacon

Question: Why does Virginia have the third lowest rate (tied with Massachusetts) of “food insecurity” among the 50 states? Given the Old Dominion’s low rates of unemployment and poverty and relatively high incomes, one would expect Virginians to be less at risk for going hungry. But look at the map above, based on Feeding America’s 2013 “Map the Meal Gap” project. There must be more to the story than the usual socio-economic factors….

Food insecurity is lower in Virginia counties than counties across the state line with comparable racial and socio-economic characteristics. Thus, the poor, predominantly white Appalachian counties of western Virginia have lower rates of food insecurity than the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia. Likewise, the poor, largely African-American counties in Virginia’s Southside tend to have less food insecurity than their counterparts in North Carolina.

Food security among children.

Food security among children.

The same pattern can be seen in food security for children, who live disproportionately in poor families. Indeed, eastern Virginia (and Maryland’s D.C. suburbs) stand out as one of three pockets nationally — the others are North Dakota and New Hampshire/Massachusetts — where children suffer the least food insecurity.

There appears to be something unique about Virginia, perhaps something arising from its policies and/or institutional arrangements. What that uniqueness might be, I don’t know.

Feeding America’s methodology adjusts for regional variations in the cost of food, so that’s not a factor. The report mentions Virginia only in passing:

Most states have counties where … the majority of food insecure people are likely ineligible for any federal food assistance. For example, there are 21 counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia where a majority (50% or more) of food insecure individuals are estimated to have incomes too high to be eligible for any assistance programs (above 185% of poverty)…

Lower-income households in highly affluent jurisdictions such as Northern Virginia are at greater risk. Because their incomes are high by national standards, they they don’t qualify for federal assistance. But the high cost of living in affluent localities may force difficult trade-offs between rent, transportation, food and other necessities.

“Loudoun, Virginia, has a lower child food insecurity rate (10%) than the national average,” observes the report. “There are an estimated 9,200 food insecure children, 72% of whom live in households with incomes greater than 185% of poverty.”

The implication: Virginia would have an even lower incidence of food insecurity if some counties weren’t so darned prosperous (and expensive) that thousands don’t qualify for food stamps.

That phenomenon makes Virginia’s low food-insecurity rate all the more difficult to explain. Why is the overall rate so low? We must be doing something right. If only we knew what it was!

From Tiny Seeds, Mighty Collard Greens Grow

Saleh Murshed, whose family runs the Clay Street Market, stocks the shop’s new refrigerator with fresh greens.

 by James A. Bacon

To grasp the challenge that faces the reformers who want to introduce wholesome fruits and vegetables into the food desert of Richmond’s inner city, go visit the Clay Street Market in Church Hill. Step through the front door and glance around. To the left, you’ll see Shawn Algahein or one of his relatives behind the cash register ringing up sales of cigarettes, lottery tickets, food and other convenience items. Sweeping your gaze to the right, you’ll view shelf after shelf of food so unhealthy that just looking at it hardens the arteries. Near the door is an array of candy: Twix, Skittles, Hershey chocolate bars and dozens of other brands. Nearby, racks groan under six-packs of Miller beer and big plastic bottles of Coca-Cola. Counters display an endless assortment of snack foods: Dorito’s, Lays Potato Chips and varieties of pork rinds you’ll never find in a suburban store. Toward the rear, you’ll spot shelf space devoted to real if not especially nutritious food, like rice, potatoes, ketchup, canned peas and and canned spaghetti.

Amidst the cornucopia of salt, sugar and fat, set just behind a case loaded with ice cream bars, stands a small refrigerator, a little bigger than one you might find in a college dorm room. Through the glass case you can see a dozen or so bundles of locally grown collard greens and salad greens.

Sales of fresh vegetables are a little slow, says Algahein. He hopes they will pick up in the beginning of the month when many of his customers get their food stamps. “When people see [the fresh food], they say it’s good we have it,” he says. “People are excited that we have it.”

In the past when he tried fresh fruit and vegetables, he lost money. He stocked green peppers, bananas, apples and oranges, he says, but “we threw a lot of stuff away.” Eventually, he gave up. But this time is different. He is taking no financial risk. Tricycle Gardens, a non-profit urban farm, provided the refrigerator at no expense, and it promises to reimburse Alghahein for any produce that goes bad. Give it time, he says, and the vegetables could catch on. “People are looking for stuff that is healthier.”

The Clay Street Market is one of two convenience stores — a Valero market in the Fulton area is the other — participating in a pilot project that Tricycle Gardens and its partners launched this month. The short-term goal is to sell enough fresh fruit and veggies to justify taking up permanent shelf space in the two convenience stores. A longer-term goal is to replicate the project elsewhere. The ultimate goal is to obliterate food deserts, where fresh food is inaccessible to anyone without a car, across the commonwealth.

Sally Schwitters, executive director of Tricycle Gardens, is under no illusions that the task will be easy but she is optimistic. The launch has met expectations. “Within the first week,” she says, “we sold out of collard greens.”

The Healthy Corners initiative arose from conversations involving Tricycle Gardens, the City of Richmond, the state health department, Virginia Community Capital and the Bon Secours of Richmond Health System. City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbill chaired a series of meetings beginning in December 2012. All parties shared a concern that poor nutrition was a root cause of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other maladies afflicting the poor.

“Everyone saw the need and said, ‘Yes, let’s do this,” recalls Teri Lovelace, vice president-corporate development for Virginia Community Capital, a community development financial institution. What she found remarkable, she adds, is the speed with which things came together. People started talking in December and food was placed in two markets by April.

Inspired by the experience of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in distributing fresh food through inner-city grocery stores, the Richmond participants put their own spin on the idea. For starters, they had less money so they decided to start with a pilot project rather than a city-wide roll-out. On the other hand, Tricycle Gardens already had built a strong network of relationships in the East End, so it held a series of community meetings to test the waters. Read more.

We May Be Fat but At Least We Have a Sense of Humor

Hat tip: Martin Davenport