By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Access to quality grocery stores is imperative to obtaining healthy food for proper nutrition. Yet, 23 of the 86 ZIP codes in Dallas consistently lack access to a supermarket, according to Access to Grocery Stores in Dallas published by the International Journal of Behavioral and Healthcare Research
More over, the study showed that food deserts were more likely to exist in low-income neighborhoods with a large African American population.
A food desert is defined as an area that has limited access to supermarkets, supercenters, grocery stores or other sources of healthy and affordable food may make it harder for some people to eat a healthy diet in this country, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Accross the U.S., almost 39.5 million people live in food deserts where there is limited access to grocery stores, according to the latest research conducted by the agricultural department.
One local Dallas businessman hopes to take the lead in eradicating food deserts.
Bruce Carter, founder of My Grocery Store Network, expressed that the city of Dallas can take the lead in closing the gap of food deserts and be a model for other cities experiencing food insecurity. He has plans to present his business plans and model to the Dallas City Council which outlines how the network can help underserved communities thrive.
“My Grocery Store Network was designed to eradicate food deserts in America,” Carter said. “We spent several years trying to understand why it existed. And it came down to access and behavior. Understanding both of these, especially in urban cores, we took the data and came up with the concept that says that we can get the community to appreciate the store and appreciate those within the community.”
According to its website, the grocery network seeks to increase America’s food security, enhance access for those living in rural and underserved communities by providing access to healthy food options, employing nutrition education in the household, and increasing their quality of life by feeding the whole body.
“I just believe that Dallas has an opportunity to take the lead on food deserts because there has been epic failure,” he said. “Michelle Obama took the initiative with $400 million. That didn’t work. Because you cannot just put food on the shelf in these underserved communities and think it’s going to work. The Walmart on Wheatley and near 67 left because of that. So we want to be able to change mindsets.”
Carter said he is waiting to hear back from the Dallas City Council as council meetings resume in August before opening the first physical store in Dallas. He said he is waiting on the city to see their level of participation.
“We are poised to open, and we have our certificate of occupancy,” he said. “We’ve done everything that we need to do. We just need to see where the city stands and their commitment to this demographic of people.”
He said his model is unique since its starting wages are $15 per hour, collaborates with Black farmers, works with education partners to educate and provide healthy food options, and works with police to reduce crime in the area.
“I think food deserts exist, it doesn’t matter where they are, they exist,” Carter said. “One, because you have to care about making sure the needs are met. And the people in those communities have to be committed to the success of the business. So where you have poverty, you have crime, some of this is crime of necessity and some of this crime is because you know what, ‘I don’t give a damn because nobody cares about me,’ and so in these urban cores of South Dallas, Philadelphia, Chicago, there is a consistent pattern of poverty, crime and theft. “Businesses go out and businesses leave. So that’s what we have.”
Another feature of the concept is to have more access to healthy food items.
“We believe that My Grocery Store Network is a system that can have healthy food options, and not just food that you buy and put on the stove or you eat,” Carter said. “Within our network, we will have food trucks that we bring to the store on a daily basis. One, we will only prepare vegan food, the other, we will do meal preps. So as a shopping partner you buy food, it can be prepped so you and your child are eating healthy, and the third one will prepare hot, healthy meals and non-fried foods on a daily basis. The store would not be open on Sundays. We believe that if the staff and the community has a chance to observe Sunday, then a day off, that it’s a great model and Chick-Fil-A has proven that it works. We believe that that model will work for us also.”
Why hasn’t the United States, a first world country, been able to eliminate food deserts? Carter has his theories.
“We want to try to address some of the systemic failure that is taking place in America over the last 100 years,” he said. “When you look at the fact that 100 years ago, you had a million farmers in America, and now your Black farmers, you’re down to about 45,000 Black farmers on roughly 16 million acres of land 100 years ago. Now they’re down to roughly between one and two million. The question is, how do you get back to that particular demographic having a fair share? Within the agriculture industry, the data shows that one of the biggest issues is not the ability to grow and produce but the ability to get it to market and have someone that would purchase it on a consistent basis. So we thought we would solve several issues, one, allowing this demographic of farmers to really thrive and at the same time, putting together a food chain supply for a new grocery store that has a concept that the demand is high and people want it there.”
Carter said working with farmers is critical since they provide food security for future generations. MGS is also partnering with the USDA, NASA, 1890 land grant institutions, HBCUs, Black farmers, local small nonprofits and little league organizations in order to develop 1 million farmers by 2026.
Currently, 46 people have applied for job opportunities with MGS.
“If you want people to participate in the workforce, we have said that certain people won’t work in certain zip codes,” he said. “Well, if we go into work, I lose the opportunity for maybe daycare or I live in a poverty-stricken community, then I am more apt to say it’s not beneficial but at $15 bucks an hour, we believe that will get people where we believe it is proven. We’ve had applications for people that live in the immediate area of the store. So for that minimum of $15 bucks an hour, I think you will develop dedicated employees and you need those employees in the community to have to know that the store is valuable in their life. So with that, you don’t have to have as much security, because the people that have that job, they’re going to be on the team and make sure that you’re not being stolen blind and bad behavior is not running around the store.”
A living wage
Providing a living wage is another component of MGS.
“We wanted to put something in place that caters to the homeless and that’s why paying $15 an hour is important because you have to have a system to be successful in historically underserved communities,” Carter said.
Carter said that MGS will help underserved communities thrive.
“The unique thing about My Grocery Store Network is the concept that you’re not just a customer, you are a shopping partner,” he said. “So what you do helps the community thrive, that means part of the sales for the network, which receives a royalty, based on the sales, they opted to split the royalties, and put some of that back into the community because there’s a heavy homeless population. So when the store opens, there will be a couple of RVs bought from sales that will have showers for those individuals to take showers on a daily basis. Barbers from the community that come in and cut and groom these individuals. So it leaves the outer part of their body well presented. We can change and see what we can do to affect them on the inside.
“I think all in all because you look at community marketing partners, we’re saying to local nonprofits, and smaller organizations in the area, if you go out and recruit people that become shopping partners, and they are dedicated to the business that will pour back into your organization. So you have access to have good vans, and maybe even have staff. So the concept while it produces a profit for the actual store owner, the override of sales goes back into the community in some shape, or form, which once again, as a building a concept that I am a partner in this effort, it has value to me, it has value to my family, and it has value to my community. So I will do my part in making sure that it’s sustainable.”
The network has provided an online application at https://www.mygrocerystorenetwork.org.
Carter also recently launched the My Grocery Store Network 50/50 initiative, a community trust building pilot in which 50 Dallas police officers presented 50 bikes to area youth on July 14 at 3540 Simpson Stuart Road. Carter said the goal for the initiative is to cultivate unity between law enforcement and the community by everyone doing their part. Participants received training in consequences, conflict resolution, de-escalation and how to respond when interacting with the police.
“Given our current issues between the police and the community, we knew that would be a vital part and our slogan is ‘Cultivating Unity By Doing My Part,’” he said.
The initiative is a collaboration between the network and Spokes4Hope, Blessed Are The Peacemakers, National Black Police Association and the Officer Down Foundation. Anyone interested in joining can visit the organization’s website.