THE BLOG
10/25/2013 02:48 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

An Oasis in a Food Desert

Previously published on BillMoyers.com

On this week's Moyers & Company, historian and author Peter Dreier tells us that the current political crisis is fraught with possibility for progressives in America -- and shares the reasons he continues to be optimistic, including dynamic grass roots initiatives around the country.

"All over America right now there are people fighting back on a grassroots level. The people in Richmond, Calif., are suffering and they're not being patient. They are fighting back against Wall Street. They are taking their own lives into their own hands. And that's happening all over the country."

He highlights SeaTac, Wash., where the city council is about to vote on a $15 minimum wage for the people who live in that town; the Dream Defenders taking over the governor's office in Florida; the Moral Mondays initiative in North Carolina; the New Era Windows factory in Chicago; the coalition of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the Teamsters Union, the Sierra Club and national and local community groups that forced the Port of Los Angeles to clean up its act, to create a clean trucks program, to clean up the environment; the students fighting the fossil fuel industry by demanding that their colleges divest from the major fossil fuel companies that are causing global warming.

"There are these victories happening, there are these hopeful signs. And if the media gave more attention to them, Americans would realize change is possible. So it's only because people don't know about them because they're not in the mainstream media that people think that things are hopeless. But they're not hopeless. People on the ground are making change and they're building a movement that's going to have lasting impact. And we need to spread that message."

In this report, producer Karla Murthy visits America's first nonprofit grocery store, the Fare & Square, which is bringing fresh and affordable fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy to Chester, Pa., a community that has struggled to find healthy food options since the city's last supermarket closed in 2001.

Chester, home to 35,000 people, has been designated a food desert, a low-income area lacking easy access to healthy food, by the US government. For the residents of Chester the Fare & Square grocery store -- seven years in the making -- is a welcome relief: "It's a beautiful supermarket," said employee Geraldine Carter.

The store is the brainchild of Bill Clark, the executive director of Philabundance, a nonprofit hunger relief organization. Chester has a 36 percent poverty rate and unemployment is 13 percent. Clark said at one time Chester had five grocery stores, but they all closed when the city fell on hard times after manufacturing virtually disappeared.

About half of the city's residents don't own a car making it difficult and costly to travel to a supermarket. As Clark put it: "To bring a gallon of milk is a hardship if you have to use two buses to get home."

So far 60 percent of Chester's families have signed up for free membership to the Fare & Square, which allows shoppers with annual incomes equal to or less than twice the federal poverty level to receive a seven percent store credit every time they shop. About 60 percent of shoppers are using benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to pay for their food.

The 16,000-square-foot store receives funding from the government, foundations and corporations, as well as individuals. The goal is to one day be financially self-sustaining, but it's still early days, so a time frame has yet to be set.

Now the question is: Can the Fare & Square be a model for other food deserts in America, home to 13.5 million Americans looking for fresh food?

Producer and Editor Karla Murthy
Camera/Associate Producer Alexandra Nikolchev

Moyers & Company airs weekly on public television. Explore more at BillMoyers.com.

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