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Hi, I'm Malcolm Woods

I’m the New Media Editor at Outpost, though I’m the old media editor, as well. In both capacities, I read, hear, photograph and write about food. I also eat food pretty regularly, all of which means I spend a lot of time thinking about food in...
Malcolm Woods

Small town grocers and sustainability

Food, Love and Policy By Malcolm Woods on July 8, 2011

The editor’s note in the summer issue of Graze, out now at all three Outpost stores, makes note of an abandoned grocery store in a small rural Wisconsin town. It’s not an unusual sight; according to a story in today’s USA Today.


Small town grocers face numerous challenges, from centralized distribution systems to lifestyle changes to truly frightening competition from massive retail chains luring shoppers away from Main Streets and siphoning food dollars.


The USA Today articles reports on the decline of independent grocers in two Midwestern states, Kansas and Michigan, but the story is likely quite similar across the country. But what residents of the small towns are finding is that the loss of a grocery store has a profound and often domino effect. The owner of a neighboring hardware store tells USA Today that his business has dropped by half since the town’s grocer shut its doors.


The loss of the town grocery store affects nearby businesses, but the impact on some segments of the population is even more devastating. Eldery customers and others without easy transportation to the more distant stores - the large retail chains often build far from the center of any one town in an attempt to be within driving reach of several small communities -  suffer from the loss of a local store, as their access to the full product line offered by a grocer diminishes. Convenience stores and gas stations might offer some food items, but often lack fresh items.


It’s easy to rationalize a trip to the large retailer, with the seeming convenience of a full range of items for sale and discount prices of a sort that independent grocers may be unable to match. But these small town examples also serve as a startling wake up call for the widespread and long term consequences of failing to shop locally – empty main streets and diminished ease of access to healthy foods. Just look at the USDA’s Food Desert Locator to see the large expanses of our nation that qualify as food desrts.


The USA Today article does carry an encouraging report near the end of the story about Walsh, Colorado. After the town’s lone grocery closed, the town’s residents banded together and reopened it as a cooperative, and report that the store is now thriving.


We’re partial to the co-op route. It offers one of the best ways to counter the loss of control over the foods we eat and it empowers a community by deepening the roots of the local economy.


Co-ops and buying local – the path to good health.


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