In Seattle, A Little Green Oasis In The Food Desert

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), about 10 percent of all Americans currently reside in “food deserts” 1-kilometer (.6 mile) or more from the nearest grocery store. These areas, unsurprisingly, tend to be located in low-income urban neighborhoods, such as the South and West sides of Chicago — but also, ironically enough, in areas that were once (or still are) food-producing regions, such as Northeast Kansas. To make matters worse, these areas are often home to low-income individuals lacking regular access to a vehicle.

The problem is big enough that First Lady Michelle Obama has made eradicating America’s food deserts a special focus of her Let’s Move initiative.  But she’s not the only one thinking big about healthy food for everyone, and one solution — the brainchild of graduate students Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich — is actually rather small. It’s called the Stockbox Grocery, and it is, in essence, a tiny permanent grocery store capable of creating an oasis of fresh produce, dairy, and meats in neighborhoods where fresh isn’t always an option.

Stockbox Grocer

image via A.R. Goodman/Fast Company

Fast Company reports that the idea started off in 2010 as a kind of food-cart-meets grocery store in the Seattle neighborhood of Delridge, but changed when Ferrence and Gjurgevich realized that for people to really make the switch to purchasing healthier food (as opposed to the kind of fare available in convenience stores), they needed a grocery store they could depend on to remain in the same place.

The new South Park store, due open in August of this year, stands 500 square feet square, just a bit bigger than your average cargo container. And yes, it does look a bit like a cargo container, but it also has the friendly neighborhood look of an actual storefront, which helps to which helps to support other local businesses (the South Park Stockbox will be located on a parking lot shared with a laundromat, coffee stand and pet food store ).

The “little grocery that could” – initially funded by grants, business plan awards, and money from that ubiquitous source of benevolent crowd funding, Kickstarter –is now turning its attention to investors in the  interests of launching 3 to 5 such stores next year. Food-pricing here, as a matter of principle, is on par with the big grocers and well below the prices charged by convenience stores, the latter of which tend to profit on having a captive audience, so to speak, in food deserts.

As you might imagine for this greater-good-minded endeavor, the grocer will feature locally produced and organic products alongside mainstream staples whenever possible. It will also offer grab-and-go-type meals and snacks that make it easy to get dinner covered in a pinch, with a frequently changing selection for variety. Like the big grocery stores, Stockbox plans to offer loyalty programs, recipes, and specials as well.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.