Next week, on July 29, Short Pump will add another Kroger to its already abundant stock of grocers that have flocked to the West End. This new Kroger, at 91,000 square feet, will become the eighth store in the area. Short Pump will now host just two grocery stores more than the entire Richmond metro area. The opening places Henrico county in the lead over Chesterfield, and other local counties, for access to grocery stores, despite Chesterfield county having twice the amount of square mileage as Henrico. One zip code, 23233, contains almost as many grocery stores as the city of Richmond, regardless of the vast gap in population served. Based on census data, Short Pump has 50,000 residents, compared to Richmond’s total population of 200,000. Now, that’s just one zip code. For every 10,000 residents in all of Henrico County, there are 1.5 grocery stores, whereas in Richmond City the availability is drastically lower, at .5 stores for every 10,000. The zip codes in Richmond that are absent of grocers peddling cheaper, nutritious food tend to be the areas where income is on average 20 percent below poverty; Highland Park, Barton Heights, Jackson Ward and Monroe Ward.
Churchill has one market, but many in the northern part of the district feel it is not very easily accessed. This is an area where 53 percent live below poverty level, and only have expensive corner stores as grocery store alternatives. Those Churchill residents with personal transportation tend to shop outside the city. Other residents without personal transportation and dwelling on the North end of Churchill, near Nine Mile road, are left with no options other than corner stores, or a bus ride that includes a transfer–just to get two miles down the road.
“Many residents here shop outside the city and that’s too bad. I would like to see our tax dollars kept here,” said John Murden, long time Churchill resident, teacher and blogger.
“You go out to a suburban grocery store and you see what you can get in the way of fresh produce, or organics,” Murden added.
Churchill, with its diverse population and income levels, is an under-served community and Murden said that all the residents are asking for better grocery options.
National Agenda spearheads changes
The need for better food options in underserved communities was recognized by President Obama, who in his FY2011 budget proposal earmarked $400 million to help bring new markets to areas like Richmond’s Highland Park or Churchill.
More than half of this money, split between three agencies, will include tax credits designed to stimulate private investments. This national program hopes to create better options for the 23 million citizens nationally who live without access to grocery stores.
The barriers of investment in underserved communities are something that the Food Trust, with its nation-wide programs, understands well. Since 1992 the Food Trust has worked at creating better markets in Philadelphia. Their success has become a model for many states, and they are now partnering with the White House.
Obstacles that create food deserts
“Well, parcels of land [in a city] are scare and they are expensive, comparably,” said Brian Lang, director of the Food Trust’s Supermarket Campaign, in response to barriers in urban development.
“Additionally, in a dense city, a developer has to assemble from various lots of parcels and the remediation costs make it more expensive than just bulldozing a suburban greenfield,” added Lang.
At a recent charette, Churchill residents vocalized the need for a grocery store to 7th District Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille. Samuel Patterson, liaison for the councilwoman, confirmed that residents believe the lot at 25th and Nine Mile road, owned by the RRHA, is the perfect spot.
“A grocery store there has been on the table for a while,” said Patterson.
While the suggestion gathers dust, local residents have gathered their gardening tools and found an alternative supply for fresh, healthy food.
Residents create new solutions
Churchill resident Lisa Taranto decided to start growing her own food and help Richmond residents do the same. The first garden, Jefferson Avenue Community Garden, in Churchill, was launched 8 years ago. Now in its eighth season, that first garden has grown an organization that has expanded into four Community Gardens, three Learning Gardens, a green house, and now an urban farm.
“We believed community gardens and the simple act of growing food were the fastest ways to improve the health of the community–both for the residents and the environment,” said Taranto.
The urban farm, Richmond’s first, is located at 9th and Bainbridge, and spans a half acre. The urban farm is a year round food operation yielding enough food to open a farm stand twice a week–on Tuesday and Thursday. The location is in a low-income neighborhood, 26 percent below poverty, that has no easy commercial access to fresh, healthy food.
No surprise, sales are doing great.
“We anticipate around $10,000 in sales, and hope to double that next year,” said Taranto.
Tricycle Gardens has introduced Richmond to the complete cycle of food production; seeding, gardening, harvesting, canning, cooking and sustainable ecological practices.
The work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The organization’s willingness to advocate at city and state levels for sound agricultural and ecological policy and the use of food as a way to improve shared civic spaces fits nicely with Mayor Dwight Jones sustainability goals for the city of Richmond.
Taranto now sits on a city advisory committee that plans to turn vacant, city-owned properties into community gardens.
City gets involved in urban farming
“They see it as a good thing for the city,” said Taranto, when asked why the city has initiated such a project.
“Study after study shows that it (community gardens) decreases crime, increases biodiversity, increases community leadership and ownership,” she added.
Alicia Zatcoff, recently appointed Sustainability Manager of the City of Richmond, said one of the many goals of this program is to foster community.
“This program is part of Mayor Jones sustainiability goals for the city; to improve the quality of life for residents, improve our environment, enhance economic conditions and help provide a food source within the city” said Zatcoff.
There will be about 100 plots, spread throughout the city, that will likely be made available towards the end of the year, after City Council passes the ordinance that approves the permits process.
The city will work directly with groups, like neighborhood associations, who will in turn parcel out the individual plots. There will be a fee.
Mayor Jones is also creating a Blue Ribbon Health Commission to examine health issues within urban communities. The mayor is on board with the national trend that associates health issues with lower-income neighborhoods and their lack of access to quality food.
“Of course providing healthy foods will help address health issues like obesity and diabetes,’ said Zatcoff.
All of these initiatives, working in tandem, just might accomplish more for the community than a grocery store ever could.
But a reasonable proportion of grocery stores per capita and per square mile should stay on the table.
A helpful map of local zip codes.
This data was compiled through several steps.
- Scraping the Internet Super Pages. This involved calling many grocery stores to see if they were really grocery stores, or still open. Corner stores are NOT counted. Although that would be a useful map for comparison, and something I hope to get around to doing. Feel free to do it yourself!
- That data was cleaned up and pasted into an excel file, then cleaned up some more.
- I used Microsoft Access to match zip codes and store volume with Census data: household income, per capita, percent below poverty line…
*I decided NOT to include store names. Those can be viewed on this excel sheet.
- Then I did an extensive search on zip codes and counties, using this website and the above map. I added that info to each individual zip, plus I added in square mileage and overall county statistics based on census data, 2009.
- This info is compiled into this final spread sheet. I also realized it was important to include the zip codes WITHOUT grocery stores, so I added that info in. You will not see complete statistics for those zips. I didn’t have them in the census profile database that I used.
- Using that spread sheet I ran my analysis
- Then I went to ManyEyes to create my graphics, and used Mapalist to produce the map of areas without grocery stores