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Your Board

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Outpost's Board of Directors will use this blog to discuss issues the board is exploring as it envisions Outpost's future. Can't make it to a meeting? Check here frequently to read what the Board is up to. Outpost's Board of Directors. From left...
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Your Board

Innovative projects to address healthy food access

Sounding Board
Outpost's Board of Directors will use this blog to discuss issues the board is exploring as it envisions Outpost's future. Can't make it to a meeting? Check here frequently to read what the Board is up to. By Your Board on May 28, 2014

Innovative projects to address healthy food access

- David Lee, Board of Directors

 

Earlier this month, we opened our fourth store in Mequon. It was a really exciting day for the Outpost community and for the many Outpost owners in Mequon, many of whom had been travelling all the way down to Capitol Drive to shop.

 

The new store is a thing of beauty - sustainable in form and function - and if you haven’t been up there, you really ought to take a trip. Last year was my first year on the board, and most of the important decisions we made last year had to do with the Mequon store. It was amazing to see all of it come into fruition.

 

In addition to the excitement of having a gem of a new location, I think it also better positions us to begin tackling our High-Five, which as you may know, are the five pillars with which we measure our long-term success.

 

Number one in our High-Five is core to our business purpose: Lively Neighborhood Markets. In this objective, we are committed to addressing the lack of healthy food access in at least two Milwaukee neighborhoods. This is really exciting and it has me thinking about the opening of Fare & Square in Chester, Pennsylvania last fall.

 

Billed as the nation’s first non-profit supermarket, Fare & Square is a $7 million dollar, 16,000 square foot supermarket that was opened by Philabundance, a food bank in Philadelphia, and a group of local and national partners including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley Regional Economic Development Corporation, and many others (Full disclosure, I work for Feeding America, the national organization of food banks, of which Philabundance is a Member. But I had nothing to do with this project).

 

Fare & Square provides the residents of Chester, PA with its first full-service supermarket since 2001, featuring competitive prices and a target of 10% below cost on some items.

 

Structurally, it functions like a food co-op: it offers a free membership program, and if a family qualifies by having a low-income, the membership also unlocks a 7 percent credit based on what they buy that they can use on future purchases. Since its opening last fall, it has grown to over 7,000 members. The store’s 45 employees were all hired locally, providing jobs for people in the community. Whenever possible they purchase from local vendors. 

 

It remains to be seen whether the model proves to be sustainable. With the razor thin margins in the grocery industry, it’ll be interesting to see whether a non-profit can succeed where a for-profit market failed (the property that houses Fare & Square was the site of Chester’s last supermarket). There is food purchasing power in the area since residents of Chester had to buy food from somewhere prior to Fare & Square’s opening. Since there was no market, all of that purchasing power, upwards of perhaps $10 million, had been diverted to supermarkets outside of the county.

 

Ultimately, this model and structure may not be the right solution for Milwaukee and Outpost. I only highlight it as an example of the many innovative social enterprises happening across the country to address healthy food access.

 

There are a multitude of different organizations working on projects of differing size and scale to address low-income healthy food access. Starting small, some food co-ops have low-income memberships. Other organizations, like our own Walnut Way, are working on healthy corner stores. Still others are partnering youth with community organizations to start urban farm stands. This is a really exciting time to be in the social enterprise of food. 

 

As Outpost begins to explore and plan for addressing healthy food access in our city, what are some innovative ideas that you have seen and heard about?   

 

 

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