Issue November 24, 2010

Jerry’s kids

Facts, rumors and political innuendo

While preparing for Thanksgiving Day, residents should note Louisville’s progress on the food justice front. There is movement in both the private sector and Metro government, where efforts to bring healthy foods to impoverished areas have been more successful than expected.

Utilizing a $7.9 million federal grant to help eliminate “food deserts” by bringing fresh produce into low-income areas, the city recently unveiled its fourth Healthy in a Hurry Corner Store in the Park Hill neighborhood, the second opening in as many months.

“It’s encouraging,” says Josh Jennings, a community health specialist in the city’s Center for Health Equity. “In each neighborhood that we launch a store we work closely with the community beforehand, from storeowners to youth coordinators. It shows that this is not just another government program that doesn’t communicate with people and drops in unannounced, telling people to eat healthy. We listen to the people first, ask for their input, and keep their voices heard.”

Owned by Ibrahim and Heather Shaqdieh, the store is located inside the Parkway Food Mart across the street from Parkway Place housing complex, a notoriously debilitated project with more than 600 units.

After repainting the store’s exterior, adding new signage and purchasing new refrigeration units, the owners used the rest of the $12,000 grant to hire a part-time produce manager to oversee the initiative’s progress.

Over the next 18 months, Jennings says five more stores are set to open in strategic locations that will benefit 12 different neighborhoods in west Louisville and east downtown.

There have been concerns that the city’s commitment to addressing healthy food inequities would stall given the recent departure of former Metro Health Director Dr. Adewale Troutman, who resigned earlier this month to take a job in south Florida. Much of the department’s success in capturing federal grant money has been due to Troutman’s national prominence in the health community.

“Dr. Troutman has left big shoes to fill. There’s no question about that,” says Jennings, adding that part of Troutman’s legacy will be making public health a social justice issue. “But there’s so much momentum behind this grant, with our partners at the YMCA and within communities, that it should continue on as planned. We’re hopeful the next health director — whoever he or she may be — will continue to address these inequities across the city.”

In January 2009, the Healthy in a Hurry initiative launched its first set of stores in two locations — one at the Dollar Plus store in Smoketown and another at Shorty’s in the California neighborhood — with the goal of making it easier for residents to find healthy foods in areas where they might otherwise not be available.

Earlier this year, the city released its “State of Food” report, which confirmed that the food desert crisis is still largely about a lack of access in certain parts of the city.

The report notes that there are still swaths of west Louisville and east downtown where residents lack grocery stores and private transportation to get to fresh produce.

While the Dollar Plus store has thrived and posted record sales at its east downtown location in June, the initiative failed to gain traction in west Louisville. A few months after partnering with the city, Shorty’s owner Nour Kurdi abandoned the initiative, citing insufficient sales.

In September, however, city officials and residents of the Shawnee neighborhood celebrated the initiative’s launch inside French Plaza.

Beyond Metro government’s attempts to improve citizens’ access to healthy food, there is good news for west Louisville’s Park DuValle neighborhood.

On Tuesday, residents were invited to a groundbreaking for a new, long-overdue grocery store in the area.

Earlier this week, the owners of ValuMarket announced they will operate the First Choice Market at 3030 Wilson Ave., with construction set to begin in the next few weeks and a grand opening scheduled for summer 2011. The store will be the first phase of a larger retail center in the neighborhood called Wilson Crossing, with the full-service grocer taking up 20,000 square feet.

For more than a decade, residents have been waiting on a full-service grocery store to set up shop near the Villages of Park DuValle development, a sizeable community that replaced the old barracks-style Cotter and Lang public housing complexes with single-family houses and apartments. And for years, city officials had promised a grocer was coming. Residents now are hopeful that First Choice will flourish and spur further economic development in the area.

Like many West End neighborhoods, Park DuValle lacks a supermarket and is surrounded by fast-food restaurants.

Along Broadway, for instance, running from the West End through east downtown, there are 24 fast-food restaurants in just a 2.8-mile stretch, the highest concentration of fast food in the state.

In addition to being underserved by supermarkets and steeped in fast food, many residents also lack private transportation to get to a grocery store. In Louisville Metro, only 13 percent of households lack personal vehicle access whereas 28 percent of west Louisville households and a striking 51 percent of east downtown households lack vehicle access.

Robert Holmes Jr. of Louisville Real Estate Development Co. and Randy Roth, a partner who lives in Milwaukee, are developing the $4.4 million Park DuValle project. The developers also have been awarded a federal grant of about $800,000 that will go toward inventory and administration of the store, which will create more than 30 full-time jobs.