A community-owned market is hoping to fight food insecurity in Louisville communities that have faced scarce options when it comes to accessible, healthy, and affordable produce.
The West Louisville community has been designated as a food desert, which is defined as an area that does not have access to affordable and nutritious food. But Cassia Herron, the president of the Louisville Association for Community Economics, said she does not like calling it a “food desert.”
“A desert is something that is naturally occurring,” she said. “This is not something natural. This is the result of discriminatory practices and regulations.”
“With food justice, when you don’t eat, you’re less likely to go to school and to go to work and more likely to be truant and be incarcerated,” Shauntrice Martin, the founder of the #FeedTheWest initiative, said. “People talk about the school-to-prison pipeline but food is a big part of whether we can be successful.”
Herron saw the problem of food insecurity and decided something needed to be done. Along with other local community leaders, she started the Louisville Community Grocery, which was incorporated in 2019, as a way to bring healthy, nutritious food to her community.
The Louisville Community Grocery will be a cooperatively owned market that would sell local and affordable produce in areas like the West End and Old Louisville that have seen their options for healthy groceries decline over last few decades.
“We had lots of alternative grocery stores and so to see the steady decline and the lack of access to what I’ll call real comprehensive food is devastating,” Jeana Dunlap, a member of the Louisville Community Grocery board, said.
“We see so many Family Dollar, Dollar General stores,” Delores Butler, the vice president of the Louisville Community Grocery board, said. “I live in the Russell community and they’re flooded with that. I want to see more stores, healthy food stores, fresh foods, healthy foods that we can go in and purchase.”
“That’s exciting to be fighting for something, not against something,” Herron said.
The Louisville Community Grocery and LACE are looking for “owners,” with Herron estimating around 2,000 people ultimately having a stake in the cooperative market. Herron said owners would pay a $150 fee, with discounts offered for people who meet certain requirements and would have a voice in how the market will be managed.
“There is an intentional push for West End residents to be a part of the conversation on the front end instead of waiting and being reactionary, which a lot of initiatives in the West End, that’s the blueprint,” Martin, who is also an owner, said.
Louisville Metro Council had set aside $3.5 million in grant money for a community grocery in Louisville, but while Herron said she had been under the impression this money would be going to the Louisville Community Grocery, she learned it had not been directed towards any organization and that she would need to make a bid for the grant money.
“We’re going to bid on those funds like other folks who are interested in working on grocery projects and we hope to be able to secure that,” she said.
Herron said the Louisville Community Grocery board and the LACE board have also been working on finding a location for the market. She said there are several different candidates and early market research has shown these places do have a need for fresh and affordable groceries.