July 12, 2011; Source: Register Guard | A creative partnership between the nonprofit Lane Coalition for Healthy Youth (LCYA) in Lane County, Oregon and the regional Dari Mart convenience market chain is expanding access to fresh, organic produce in low income neighborhoods with poor access to grocery stores or farm stands.

The United States Department of Agriculture calls such areas “food deserts,” and many public health efforts are now focused on expanding access to wholesome food in these settings, both urban and rural. LCYA is part of the national “Healthy Corner Stores Initiative,” through which dozens of local organizations work to expand access to wholesome food in convenience stores.

The Lane County initiative is unique in that produce is provided by individual farmers who bring it to the parking lot. In a sense, it creates a mini-farmer’s market hosted by a mini-mart. This approach is interesting because capital costs are minimal. And business risks are low because locations can be tested and shifted easily. Because it’s a corporate partnership, the legwork and relationships to establish the first site go a long way toward easing logistics for sites that follow.

When Jack Richardson, the first participating farmer, pulled his pickup truck full of salad greens, cucumbers, squash and more up to the Dari Mart on the west side of Springfield, Oregon, he attracted 80 customers in just two hours. He’s now planning to bring produce every Wednesday afternoon through September.  LCHY’s Kayla Scott-Bresler notes that the program is expanding to two other Dari Mart locations in low income sections of neighboring Eugene, Oregon before summer’s end.

With some creative alchemy, LCHY and Dari Mart are demonstrating that fresh produce can grow even in an asphalt parking lot.—Kathi Jaworski