One of the most pressing issues facing low-income communities today is access to fresh, healthy food. In recent years, supermarkets have been touted as a “silver bullet” that offer the dual promise of jobs and healthy produce. But as Michel Nischan, director of the Wholesome Wave Foundation, points out in a recent blog post for the Atlantic Monthly, these stores often close as quickly as they open: “After all the “new market tax credits,” employment subsidies, and long-term low-interest financing melt away, what will these new supermarkets do? They will likely leave for the same reason they left the first time around—because their models won’t work where families can’t afford them.”
Aside from the fact that supermarkets generate few jobs and do not significantly contribute to the local economy, they do not generate what is truly lacking in many communities–local ownership and identity. Farmers markets, on the other hand, may not operate on a consistent basis but are successful because they are rooted in the community.
A new “hybrid” market, or “local food hub”, model that PPS is developing with Wholesome Wave offers a potential solution by not only selling a wide variety of healthy foods, including local produce, but also creating a place for community-centered activities to take place like healthy clinics and day care centers. It could also include a community plaza or public space with a seasonal farmers market and place for community events.
This new “hybrid” market would generate opportunities for local entrepreneurship as well as jobs (and job-training) at urban farms and value-added processing facilities. According to Nischan, it’s far from a Utopian dream: “It sounds like an American neighborhood the way they used to work.”