There’s been movement in both direction in efforts to alleviate so-called “food deserts” in St. Joseph. Efforts to offer grant support for grocers or convenience stores to offer healthy food choices came at about the same time as a downtown organic grocer went out of business.
Json Myers’ Goode Food Delivered at 801 Francis closed last weekend. The space at 8th and Felix is available for lease.
“It’s been just me trying to keep that going,” Myers said, but he said some local outlets are beginning to offer healthy options. “I’m not a person who goes to the government to cover that, but I believe it’s something that should probably happen.
Myers says the downtown area is once again a food desert, with no options outside of restaurants and convenience stores. But he says St. Joe is so small that you can easily drive from edge to edge. “We don’t have walkable communities, unfortunately, which definitely would have kept it alive,” he said.
Officials with the City of St. Joseph Health Department, the University of Missouri Extension and the State Dept. of Health and Human Services are offering grant money to encourage more access to healthy foods, especially in areas that are more than walking distance away from a grocery store.
“We have a lot of grocery stores on the Belt, but then past that everything dwindles significantly,” said Nancy Taylor, the Health Educator for the Health Dept. “We’ve got the Green Hills on the North End and the South end now, thank goodness, but there’s still gaps.”
Taylor said there are efforts afoot to improve “…walkable, bikeable, multi-modal means of transportation” so we’re not so “car-centric.” That requires sidewalks in good working order, and safe places to walk and bike with adequate street lighting.
“We’re working on trying to get St. Joseph to become a bicycle-friendly community,” she said. “There’s also a walk-friendly community designation that we’re looking into as well.”
“We understand the importance between transportation and public health.”
The Stock Healthy – Shop Healthy” initiative is a partnership between the Health Dept., the University of Missouri Extension that address both the supply and demand sides of the food-desert conundrum. Taylor says they’ve reached out to several corner grocery stores and convenience stores, particularly those without bakeries and other healthy options. But she says they have not had a very good response.
Taylor stresses that such a move is good for business. One Missouri store discovered dramatic increases in sales.
“His biggest income was from alcohol, but after he implemented Stock Healthy – Shop Healthy he actually moved his alcohol display toward the back of the store,” Taylor said. “He was having so much success offering healthier foods that that become the focal point of the store when you first walked in.
The grant program offers marketing tools, everything from shelving and posters, to advice on taste testing, cooking classes, setup and layout.
“We can provide some of the fruit baskets, or the racks and trays, things that you can store to sell the healthier food options. And then like the posters, they call them ‘shelf talkers,” where you put them on the shelf and people would see ‘do you know that the cost of a banana is cheaper than the cost of a candy bar?, and they say ‘hey, I’m going to buy a banana instead of a candy bar.’ ”
Businesses interested in taking part in the grant program can call Taylor at the City of St. Joseph Health Dept. at (816) 236-1491. You can also find details at the Missouri Extension Web site here.