Cornering the Market 

Fewer than half of corner stores in Memphis offer fresh food.

In some Memphis communities, it's easier to get a beer than a banana.

New research from the Food Advisory Council demonstrates that customers aren't being offered healthy food in Memphis corner stores.

According to the survey, only 44 percent of local corner stores had fruit available for purchase. Of those that had fruit, only an average of six pieces were offered. An even smaller percentage (17 percent) of corner stores had vegetables.

The Food Advisory Council teamed up with undergraduate students at Rhodes College and the University of Memphis to survey local corner stores. In the city, 124 stores out of approximately 500 were surveyed.

Christian Man, co-chair of the council, said the research was inspired by similar surveys of corner stores on the West Coast.

"Corner stores are a culturally viable food infrastructure," Man said. "We were interested in seeing if there was a role corner stores could play in food security in our urban neighborhoods."

The council also needed a way to see the initial offerings of corner stores — the variety and cost, for one — in order to move forward in its mission. The council was founded in 2012 as an arm of GrowMemphis to improve food security in the city through local policy.

The survey was completed as an audit with students going to individual stores mainly within the North Memphis area and recording lighting, cleanliness, and food available. The assessment also found that 40 percent of refrigeration space, which could be used for healthy food, was occupied by beer.

For this project, the Food Advisory Council sought the help of a law clinic at Harvard, which the organization has enlisted before.

"We've reapproached them about helping us develop some understanding about programming and policy work throughout the country," Man said. "The question was, 'What have other community organizations tried to do through corner stores? Has it been effective?' The arc for this project is developing a baseline understanding for what does and does not exist in corner stores [among other things]."

In May, the council will receive a full report that includes the work of councils in other cities such as Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

"We'll be well-positioned to begin our own work in the arena of corner stores, and what we do is going to be informed not just by the survey we did, but by the report that was generated," Man said. "The Food Advisory Council will then take stock in where we are and set a new strategy based on that. We want to learn from what we're hearing from other cities around the country."

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