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Meet the people where they are: the corner store

Photo: Tabitha Mustafa / AFSC
Photo: Tabitha Mustafa / AFSC
Photo: Tabitha Mustafa / AFSC

Humans have basic needs in order to survive: food, water, and shelter to name a few. Unfortunately, easy access to good quality tools for survival are hard to come by in some neighborhoods. Availability and
affordability are just some of the challenges that affect nutritional choices in food desserts. In Hollygrove, the Hollygrove Market and Farm does theoretically provide one source of fresh fruits and vegetables, but proximity isn’t always the mark of accessibility. At Peace by Piece, we realized there was a better way to get quality produce to the local community.

The market sits near the edge of the predominantly Black Hollygrove neighborhood. Folks come from all around the city to shop there and others have their goods delivered. Despite accepting EBT cards, most of the neighborhood’s residents shop elsewhere. Passing by the Market on a near daily basis, I’m often hard-pressed to find Black citizens, especially those native to New Orleans or living in the Hollygrove area, shopping there. I was baffled to say the least.

It had been a while since I have been inside Hollygrove. I asked about the staff and the relationship to the community. It turns out, there’s not a single Black staff person in the market. One of the lead growers is Black; he’s from Texas. Without any real connection to Hollygrove, New Orleans or Black folks, it was clear that partnering with Hollygrove Market was not the way for Peace by Piece to make quality produce more accessible to low income residents and people of color in the neighborhood.

Everyone knows that if there’s no other business in the hood, there is always, without fail, a corner store. In the small portion of Hollygrove between the levee and Carrollton, Earhart and Palmetto, there are several corner stores, and they are always packed.

After examining the fresh food options—or the lack thereof—available in the corner stores, it became clear that this could be a partnership worth building. The Palestinian owned stores usually stock staples like cabbage, potatoes, onions, and carrots. That’s about it.

In thinking though our plan we remembered that there’s often a disconnect between the Black and Palestinian communities in poor neighborhoods. We weren’t sure what, if anything, could come of the
proposed partnership.

Peace by Piece went to the corner stores and explained that young Black folks in the community were growing vegetables. We asked if the owners would be willing to sell our organic non-GMO produce to the
community at fair prices. They said yes. One owner responded, “The kids are doing it? Of course, we’ll do it for the kids.” Whatever issues adults may have due to nuanced expressions of oppression that come up in daily interactions were seemingly lost when the store owners were able to help youth provide basic needs for their neighbors.

Starting in summer 2016, this pilot program will take off in the Hollygrove neighborhood. We’re hiring young Black staff from the neighborhood to grow the program into something that is of the community, by the community, and for the community. There’s no other way it will work.

- Tabitha Mustafa
New Orleans Peace by Piece Program Associate

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