Saint Louis University recently received grant funding to tackle the health impacts of living without easy access to grocery stores and healthy foods.
It's hard to imagine that within the borders of an urban area exist neighborhoods without access to grocery stores and yet, food deserts exist all over the United States. In St. Louis alone, there are 15 such areas.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a "census tract with a substantial share of residents who live in low-income areas that have low levels of access to a grocery store or healthy, affordable food retail outlet." The health impacts of living in such a food desert manifest in all forms of malnutrition, from starvation to morbid obesity.
Mildred Mattfeldt-Beman Ph.D., chair of Saint Louis University's department of nutrition and dietetics; Jeremy Goss, a fourth-year medical student at SLU; and Gibron Burchett, CEO of HOSCO, LLC recently received a $75,000 grant from the Incarnate Word Foundation to take on this issue. The collaboration builds on the St. Louis MetroMarket project developed by Goss and his partners, Washington University in St. Louis alumni Colin Dowling and Tej Azad.
Mattfeldt-Beman is the grant administrator and coordinates Saint Louis University's participation in the project.
The St. Louis MetroMarket is a non-profit mobile farmers market that aims to create an oasis in St. Louis area food deserts by providing residents with healthy, affordable produce and proteins.
According to Mattfeldt-Beman, this collaboration between SLU, HOSCO Farms and St. Louis MetroMarket will create a strong Farm-to-Fork program that incorporates local, sustainably grown food sources, jobs training and entrepreneurship programs and build a broad base of community support while capitalizing on existing resources within the City of St. Louis in order to combat food insecurity.
The grant funding will help with startup costs for the market, which will be housed in a retrofitted former city bus that was donated by Metro Transit-St. Louis.
The first stop for St. Louis MetroMarket is the JeffVanderLou (JVL) neighborhood, according to Goss. The JVL neighborhood is home to 5,557 residents with a median household income of $18,617, but the community only has access to three small corner stores following the May 2014 closing of the one full-service supermarket in the area.
The JVL neighborhood was chosen because of the strong ties that already exist between the SLU nutrition and dietetics program and the schools in the area. Marlene Davis, alderwoman for Ward 19 which includes the JVL neighborhood, was an early supporter of the project and has committed coalescing community support around the MetroMarket.
"The MetroMarket will partner with churches, schools and community centers from within the JVL community for stop locations and will sell on Saturdays and Sundays, year-round," said Goss.
The nutrition and dietetics department has access to a significant network of local farmers who will provide the market with produce, meat and poultry. In addition, HOSCO Foods is partnering to assist with food production. HOSCO, a St. Louis-based nutritional foods cooperative, will build a large-scale fish farming operation and hydroponic raft system in order to raise fish and leafy greens for MetroMarket. Both programs will be training low income area youth in food processing and urban agriculture for the market
A sliding scale membership model will be used to subsidize operations in low income neighborhoods as the MetroMarket will concurrently sell the high-quality foods at local corporate campuses for competitive market prices.
SLU nutrition and dietetics students will be on hand to provide nutritional information and interactive cooking demonstrations to showcase the foods available at the market. The customers will be able to taste the food as well as learn why it's an important part of their diet.
"Many people don't recognize vegetables in their natural state," Mattfeldt-Beman said. "And many do not know how to prepare them. Being able to see how they are prepared and having the opportunity to taste them gives people the confidence to try them."
The St. Louis MetroMarket aims for a summer 2015 launch.