The following story was written by a University of Missouri student as part of the 2010 Sonja Hillgren/Farm Journal Ag Journalism Field Reporting Institute. Learn more.
By Kevin Petersen
Old North St. Louis looks a lot like the other areas in St. Louis City. Battered red brick buildings line the streets that stretch as far as the eye can see, and faded signs cling to old churches and corner stores.
For this reason, the building at the corner of 13th Street and St. Louis Avenue seems unremarkable, but the brightly colored banner hung across the top signals something new.
"FARM FRESH GROCERIES. EVERYONE WELCOME!"
Next-door, a fenced lot with a chicken coop and a large urban garden seems even more out of place within the city limits.
So what is all this doing here?
Old North is in the midst of a revitalization. The crumbling brick buildings are being pieced back together, people are moving back to the area and the food gap is closing. That building on the corner — the Old North Grocery Co-op — is one the reasons why.
"Old North is a nutritious food desert — there is food in the neighborhood, there is Crown Candy, a gas station, a couple of fast food restaurants, but there was not a nutritious option year-round until the grocery store opened," said Kara Lubischer, who works in Old North as a community development specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
"The goal is to improve the overall health of the neighborhood," she said. "The way to do that is to have the right choices available."
Before the grocery co-op opened in 2010, Crown Candy Kitchen, a staple to St. Louis sweet tooths, was the closest place to buy food. Nearby Bob’s Quality Market mainly sold beer, chips, hair weaves and cell phones. The closest grocery store was 20 minutes away by bus, but most residents travelled about 40 minutes to a farther, safer store, Lubischer said.
In a recent speech, John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, discussed one of the problems with the food system.
"Certainly people need to be educated about food choice, but they need to have a range of choices of foods they can select." Ikerd said. "If we do that, then people will make good, healthy choices."