Our survey found that there is a vibrant and diverse food system in the Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood of Duluth, Minnesota. Residents travel significant distances to shop at stores in Superior, Wisconsin, in West Duluth and in Duluth’s Central Hillside. Residents consume food they grow in their gardens and acquire from food shelves and buying clubs. In addition, residents eat out at both fast food and sit-down restaurants.
While many in the neighborhood are able to access the food they need, a significant portion of the community faces immense problems accessing safe and healthy food. The fact that almost 40% of the respondent households with children use the food shelf is significant. Similarly, for community members who use EBT, the food shelf has become the “norm” and not just an emergency food outlet.
The community’s existing food outlets are insufficient in terms of their selection and have too high of prices. Our store assessment clearly documented very high prices and inadequate selection in neighborhood stores, especially in terms of fresh vegetables. While many neighborhood residents travel outside of the community to shop, those who utilize the neighborhood’s stores tend to be without cars, live in households with children, and on public assistance programs – just the types of individuals who do not have the ability to travel outside of the community for cheaper and healthier food.
Of the respondents who contributed written comments, 43% described the need for a neighborhood grocery store. Preferences for store type varied and included full service grocery store, small store, store with low prices, and store that stocked a diverse array of goods. The consensus was clear, however, that respondents want a “brick and mortar” space in the community to improve food access for themselves and for their neighbors.
Although our qualitative responses were overwhelmingly in favor of a neighborhood grocery store, “non-traditional” food delivery outlets were also quite commonly used in the community. Hunting, fishing, gardening, MFIP, Ruby’s Pantry and SHARE all provide food at lower costs than most traditional grocery stores. While these delivery networks are seasonal and sporadic, they still form an alternative economy in the community.
A small neighborhood convenience store that stocks groceries and fresh vegetables makes sense for Lincoln Park/West End for a variety of different reasons. First, a store of this size would easily fit into the most densely populated part of the neighborhood. This convenient location would solve the problem of unreliable transportation. This type of store would stock newspapers, cigarettes, and beverages and would serve as a both a pedestrian friendly neighborhood hub as well as a community center. Important drawbacks of a store of this scale are selection and price. Due to space limitations, smaller stores must limit their stock to a smaller selection of groceries and would likely be unable to satisfy the needs of all neighborhood consumers. On a related note, because of their limited buying power, smaller stores tend to have higher prices than full service grocery stores.
Achieving this type of store could be a question of existing neighborhood stores and/or gas stations expanding their selection to provide fresh produce and more moderately priced groceries. It would also require stores to consider altering their streetscape to better serve existing neighborhood residents who travel to the stores on foot.
A Full-Service Grocery Store
Full service grocery stores demand a significant amount of space. Even discount retailers, like Aldi and Save-A-Lot, require a large footprint as well as a loading dock. The space for this kind of investment does exist in the Lincoln Park/West End neighborhood near the Heritage Park development and along Michigan Avenue. However, this site is still a significant walking distance from the most densely populated parts of the community and any plan for this site would need to consider improving the area’s walk-ability and public transit systems. Varieties of different avenues exist to help support the development of this type of grocery store. For example, the HFFI initiative is making available federal funds for grocery store development. Likewise, existing grocery retailers in the state, especially those with an interest in low-income communities, might be interested in opening a new store.
Milwaukee-based food activist and farmer Will Allen has created what he describes as a “Food Hub,” which distributes fresh produce weekly to neighborhood institutions that in turn sell the produce to families with limited access to grocery stores. These food hubs work with local farms in and outside of the region to provide residents of Milwaukee with fresh, healthy food in a sustainable way on a weekly basis. This food distribution program requires planning for important details. For instance, this plan requires a space that is up to code for processing fresh vegetables and repackaging them for distribution. In addition, a program like this would also need to have a small grocery store attached to it that could be run and managed in a manner similar to Minneapolis’s Midtown Global Market, which rents retail stalls to local entrepreneurs. Duluth-based programs, such as Seeds of Success, Institute for Sustainable Futures, and the Sustainable Agriculture Project at the University of Minnesota Duluth are all interested in pursuing this model.
Increasing Transit Access
A variety of different options meant to help Lincoln Park/West End residents’ better utilize existing grocery stores already exist. For example, Duluth’s Whole Foods Co-op offers customers a $3 cab voucher and the 4th Street Market currently offers grocery delivery on a somewhat informal basis. In addition, considering breakthroughs in communication and GPS technology, it would be possible to create an efficient grocery delivery system for neighborhoods that do not have grocery stores. Another option for improving grocery store accessibility would be to work with local cab companies and the Duluth Transit Authority to improve access to nearby grocery stores, such as by locating taxi stands and bus stops in more convenient locations.
 To learn more about these Duluth-based projects and programs, please visit http://www.communityactionduluth.org/program_seeds.html, http://www.isfusa.org/, and http://www.d.umn.edu/cscd/sap/main/index.php