Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and food: roundup in honor of Thanksgiving, Part 1

1. Happy thanksgiving!

(Someone once asked me what my favorite food was and I responded that Thanksgiving, turkey etc. is my favorite meal.)

2. Food is definitely more expensive these days/going up in price.

I do the bulk of grocery shopping for our household, and over the past couple months I have definitely noticed a significant increase in prices, not just at Safeway--their prices have definitely creeped up significantly since their big "rollback" about 18 months ago--but also ethnic markets like PanAm International.

So I can appreciate the sentiment expressed in this article from the Post, "Grocery store openings boost underserved communities in D.C. region," about the opening of an Aldi, a deep discount limited selection grocery store (I really like their dishwashing detergent and will buy "generic items" there like canned beans):

“I’ve been praying that they’d bring a store like Aldi’s or Wal-Mart to this neighborhood because that’s where we spend our money,” Davis said. “The stores where consumers spend most of their money is outside of D.C. This is going to improve everything in the neighborhood.”

City officials said having a branch of Aldi, which is known for low prices, will help meet several needs.

It made me realize that in commercial district revitalization planning, it might be reasonable to plan for different price points within various retail categories, especially food and restaurants.

3. USDA released a study about the local food movement, see the blog entry "New Report: Local Foods are Working for the Nation," and AP did a story, "Locally grown food a $4.8 billion business" too. This is the report: Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States. From the USDA blog entry:

Local markets are important for a lot of farmers. ERS finds that a whopping 40 percent of all vegetable, fruit and nut farms in the United States sell their products in local and regional markets. Nearly 110,000 farms across the nation are engaged. Some of these same farms are also selling into national or international markets.

For all of these farms, local markets are key to their bottom line. On average, these farms reported that local food sales accounted for 61 percent of their total sales. Almost two-thirds of the producers, regardless of size, reported that local food sales were at least seventy-five percent of their total sales!

The market for local foods goes well beyond direct-to-consumer sales. ... Combined, intermediated and direct local food sales totaled nearly $5 billion in 2008. Intermediated sales were three times larger than direct-to-consumer sales – so in other words, farm sales to regional distributors, grocers and restaurants are a big piece of the local food picture.

Local doesn’t necessarily mean small. Farms selling locally run the gamut from small to large – those with gross sales under $50,000 to those grossing over $250,000. Large farms are more likely to sell to restaurants, distributors and retailers than are small farms, and direct-to-consumer sales are evenly split between small, midsized and large farms.

Local means jobs. One out of every twelve jobs in the U.S. is associated with agriculture, and local food plays a role in that. The ERS report finds that fruit and vegetable farms selling into local and regional markets employ 13 fulltime workers per $1 million in revenue earned, for a total of 61,000 jobs in 2008. In comparison, fruit and vegetable farms not engaged in local
food sales employed 3 fulltime workers per $1 million in revenue.

4. In my previous entry on Walmart, I forget to mention that just about all the discussion with regard to the proposed Walmart locations in DC and food deserts is bullsh*t. Most of the stores are to be located within a couple miles of other grocery stores. Only a handful of Census tracts in DC, maybe 5, are defined as food deserts by the USDA.

The Walmart on Georgia Avenue will be 2 miles from one Safeway and 1 mile from another. The Walmart on Riggs Road will be 0.3 miles from the Giant at Eastern Avenue and will be under 2 miles from the other Walmart on Georgia Avenue.
Giant Supermarket at Riggs Plaza, Prince George's County, Maryland
Giant Supermarket at Riggs Plaza, Prince George's County, Maryland.

The Post story mentioned above, "Grocery store openings boost underserved communities in D.C. region," has a big discussion on the Aldi opening and food deserts, even though the new Aldi is located across the street from a Safeway (less than 600 feet away), and the new Aldi doesn't take WIC benefits. See "D.C. Aldi Doesn't Accept WIC" from WAMU radio. (Although the difference in price is significant and does matter, unless you have WIC food benefits...)

5. The Mariposa Food Cooperative in Philadelphia is setting up a program to fund membership equity accounts for lower income households.

Typically, member-owned food cooperatives require that members pay in some capital, an amount ranging from $100 to a few hundred dollars, to help fund the store. This usually entitles members to a discount from list price, although nonmembers can also shop at the store.
From their press release:

In advance of the grand opening of its new grocery store at 4824 Baltimore Avenue, Mariposa Food Co-op is excited to announce the launch of its “Revolving Equity Fund” campaign. The Co-op is seeking donations to seed the fund, which will offer the benefits of Co-op membership, including ownership rights and discounts, to low-income families and individuals who could not otherwise afford the $200 member investment requirement. The creation of the fund reflects Mariposa’s deep commitment to improving access to fresh food for all residents of its West Philadelphia neighborhood.

Mariposa has been operating out of a small storefront at 4726 Baltimore since the 1970s. In January 2012 Mariposa will open an expanded store at 4824 Baltimore Avenue that will be five times the size of the current location. “Just the opening of the expanded Mariposa Food Co-op will dramatically improve access to healthy food in our West Philadelphia neighborhood,” said Peter Collopy, Mariposa’s convener. “This is one more way we’re working to make sure there are no barriers to joining and taking advantage of Co-op membership.”

Mariposa is much like any other grocery store, offering a full range of food and household products. There is one big difference, however. Mariposa is owned and operated by its members, the people who shop there. There are no annual membership fees or dues. Instead, Mariposa requires a one-time, refundable capital investment of $200 per member called “member equity.” The Co-op currently has 1100 members but expects to exceed 2000 members by the end of the first year in the new space. Mariposa aims to raise $20,000, or enough to cover 100 subsidized memberships, before beginning administration of the fund.

While Mariposa’s new location will allow non-members to shop, members will receive sizable discounts on all Co-op purchases. Members can also place special orders through the Co-op’s suppliers, take advantage of in-store promotions, and actively participate in the operations and governance of the Co-op.

“The $200 member investment, even though it’s fully refundable and we offer payment plans, is still a financial barrier for many potential members,” said Chakka Reeves, Mariposa’s Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, and the store’s newest hire. “We don’t want money to ever be a barrier to joining.”

Mariposa Food Co-op will use the Revolving Equity Fund to subsidize all or part of a member’s equity for the duration of a membership. When an individual ends their membership in the Co-op the equity designated to them would not leave with them, but rather go back into the fund to be assigned to a new qualifying member.

Mariposa Food Cooperative, Philadelphia, mockup image

6. Canadian Geographic Magazine has a story, COMMUNITY GARDENS, Cultivating communities: How community gardens are growing on Toronto's public housing projects" about community gardens at public housing projects.

While it's not the same thing exactly, years ago a public housing dweller in DC grew crops on land at his housing project and sold the items he grew. He was charged with a crime, misuse of public resources.

But there is no reason that community gardens, orchards, and other urban agriculture initiatives shouldn't be part of public housing projects and other civic assets, even with the possibility of income generation for the participants.

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