Filling a Food Gap

Tomiko Peirano

Tomiko Peirano › Tomiko has amassed decades of experience in the food industry, from her family's restaurant in Oregon's ...


There is an abundance of exquisite eating to be had in New Orleans, that's for sure. What's lacking, however, are grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods. A food desert is a common and upsetting phenomenon wracking poor, urban areas – and it is especially devastating in a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

Wendell Pierce is trying to change that.

In her NYTimes article "In New Orleans, an Actor Turns Grocer," Jane Black talks with the actor (of "The Wire" and "Treme") about his attempts to reinvigorate areas that are bereft of fresh food options with his Sterling chain of convenience and grocery stores.

"Bringing fresh food into these areas helps create economic growth," Mr. Pierce said. "But it also helps people understand that there’s value in eating better. It’s not something that’s only available in a better neighborhood."

And the need is definitely not being understated:

A Tulane University survey in 2007, the latest data available, found that nearly 60 percent of low-income residents had to travel more than three miles to reach a supermarket, though only 58 percent owned a car.

Mr. Pierce and his business partners have been given a break on rent to help grow their much-needed business (they will pay a percentage of annual sales once they surpass $9 million) and they are fine-tuning their venture to a customer that might not have the means to get there by offering a free shuttle service for those who spend over $50.

Their goal is to not only revitalize the area, but to get people reinvested in cooking:

Mr. Pierce is convinced that to preserve its food culture, New Orleans needs grocery stores as much as restaurants. “When I think of Sterling Farms, I remember those Friday nights with my mother,” he said. “That communal thing actually going to get the fresh food that you’re going to cook and eat together. That’s a memory. As corny as it sounds, it feeds the soul as much as the body.”

Let's hope they succeed.

Click here to read the full article.

What sort of food desert success stories have you heard? Share them in the comments!