Food desert, my eye!

Ever since Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group called Detroit a food desert in a 2007 report, the moniker has stuck with the city.

Since then, organizations like Peaches and Greens have sprung up to meet the needs of their community. Researchers like Robert Linn have come up with different conclusions about the existence of food deserts. The city has worked to help stores like Whole Foods and Meijer build stores within the city limits.

Often ignored in discussions of Detroit’s food desert are the independent grocers that exist within the city, which offends James Hooks, the owner of Metro Foodland. His store has been providing fresh groceries to the Grandmont Sub and Rosedale Park neighborhoods in Detroit since the 1960s.

“We don’t like the idea that if you’re not a chain store, you’re not a legitimate grocery provider for the community,” says Hooks. “We want to be appreciated by the people who claim that Detroit is a food desert.”

That’s why AFPD (formerly Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers) decided to pull together a map plotting the location of the 86 full service grocery stores located in Detroit. Auday Arabo, president and CEO of AFPD, says he was surprised a map like the one his organization revealed had been produced.

“Let’s put together a map with all 86 full service grocery stores that offer meat, produce and the like and let’s show people. And if after they look at this map, if they still think there is a food desert in their mind, then we will have that discussion,” says Arabo.

He also points out many of these independent grocers have taken over locations vacated by chain stores in the past, serving and employing people in the community. In fact, three new independent grocery stores have opened this year.

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4 comments on “Food desert, my eye!

  1. What about food quality and affordability? It's is one thing to have grocery stores all over the city, but a total other thing for each and every store to offer quality food and produce that is fresh and affordable.

  2. Did you watch the video, Mel? What did you see? That isn't good enough? Have you ever been in any of the markets in the city? They do have higher per-item expenses than suburban chains. How much profit is it "okay" for them to make, in your opinion?

  3. DEGC's Green Grocer Project has been a partner and supporter of Metro Foodland. Its new healthy rewards program was launched through help from a Green Grocer Project technical assistance grant. In addition, DEGC secured $50,000 in grant monies from the Wallace Center and MEDC, as well as in-kind support from the Eastern Market Corporation to pilot a fresh and local farm stand at the store which launched in October. DEGC staff has invested significant attention to working with Metro Foodland to implement the farm stand and to make connections to other resources the store has requested.

  4. While it may be true that media overplay the "food desert" phrase, DEGC's Green Grocer Project has been working diligently with Detroit's independent grocers to improve their stores, open new ones, and generally develop better food choices for Detroit consumers. While the media might play up DEGC's role with national and regional chains, we've also invested significant staff time, resources, and care into working with independent grocers. In focus groups with Detroit residents about grocery stores in their neighborhoods, they've expressed a desire for certain operational improvements. We're committed to helping grocers make those improvements to meet consumer demand.

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