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USDA official tours successful grocery co-op in St. Louis area

Writer:

Roger Meissen
Senior Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 573-884-8696
Email: MeissenR@missouri.edu

Photos available for this release:

From left: Kara Lubischer, MU Extension community development specialist; Sean Thomas, director of the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group; Roger Beachy, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture; MU Extension Vice Provost Michael Ouart; area farmer Rusty Lee.

Credit: Roger Meissen/ MU Cooperative Media Group

Roger Beachy, right, director of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, tours the Old North Grocery Co-op in St. Louis on Feb. 25 with, from left, Old North St. Louis Restoration Group director Sean Thomas; MU Extension community development specialist Kara Lubischer; and Michael Ouart, vice provost and director of MU Extension.

Credit: Roger Meissen/ MU Cooperative Media Group

Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Story source:

Michael D. Ouart, 573-882-7477

ST. LOUIS – The Old North Grocery Co-op got some much-deserved attention recently as Roger Beachy, director of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, listened to how the co-op helps fill the gap in a former urban food desert.

University of Missouri Extension invited Beachy to learn more about how it and local organizers brought area produce to the Old North neighborhood, which suffered from a lack of access to healthy foods.

“This project isn’t just about a food desert. It’s about community development, business growth and urban renewal,” said Michael Ouart, vice provost and director of MU Extension. “This is a perfect example of how pure economics and building renovation met up with a problem in the community and how we as Extension addressed both of those things together.”

The Old North Grocery Co-op opened last summer and prides itself for bringing food grown “from 100 feet to 100 miles” of the neighborhood. Previously, only fast food and convenience stores were within easy walking distance of the neighborhood, creating what researchers call a food desert.

MU Extension focus groups showed that 41 percent of neighborhood residents had no access to a car and they typically traveled 30 to 40 minutes by bus to reach the nearest grocery store, limiting their regular access to healthy food.

Beachy said the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies food deserts and healthy food access as priorities in addressing the obesity epidemic in America.

“Prevention of obesity is a matter of choice and what’s available to children and adults at the time of eating, so if there’s access (to healthy food) in schools and local markets we find there’s a greater chance that will translate into healthier eating,” Beachy said. “It’s wonderful to see the University of Missouri Extension in St. Louis, Kansas City and other urban areas where needs are great and not just in rural communities.”

Rusty Lee – who grows vegetables on 21 acres in Truxton and drives 70 miles to deliver his produce to the co-op – said MU Extension is the reason he joined the Old North effort. Extension specialists near his farm connected him with Kara Lubischer, an MU Extension community development specialist, who helped get the Old North Grocery Co-op established.

“Extension was aware of what I was doing and they networked with Kara to connect us,” Lee said. “The great thing is that this partnership helps to simultaneously revitalize our rural area and Old North.”

Ouart said Extension connects consumers with their food by bridging the gap between research and the local community.

“It’s a three-way partnership between USDA at a federal level, Extension at a state level and the local community,” Ouart said. “Extension puts us on the ground and in a position where we can be a broker of educational information, of services and of building partnerships. That’s what we do best.”