Center will take neighbors to grocery stores to buy fresh produce, more.
By Nancy DeVille • THE TENNESSEAN • April 19, 2010
It’s easy for Vernell McHenry to buy a bag of potato chips and a coke in her East Nashville neighborhood. It takes much more effort to shop for a fresh bunch of broccoli or a fuzzy ripe Georgia peach.
The 54-year-old uses a walking cane. She has no car. She’s forced to rely on friends and family to take her to the nearest grocery store.
Taking the bus requires a trek down a steep hill to Shelby Avenue, and a bus ride downtown and a transfer, just to get to the Eastland Kroger on Gallatin Avenue, only about two miles from her South Seventh Street home.
“It’s getting hot, and those who catch the bus will have to limit the meat and ice cream they buy,” she said. “And if you take the bus you still have to walk up the hill with your groceries. You are in real trouble if you have little children.”
McHenry lives in Cayce Place, a neighborhood that is considered a food desert. The area, which is formally known as James Cayce Homes, is one of several Nashville communities where there is no supermarket and the area’s convenience stores offer little or no fresh produce. The Martha O’Bryan Center is hoping a new initiative will make things easier for the families they serve.
The organization is planning to use its bus to
transport families to area grocery stores twice a week. During one trip, residents will be able to shop at Kroger, Aldi, Goodwill and Dollar General, all adjacent to each other on Gallatin Avenue.
“We have struggled for many years to help families get to sources of fresh vegetables and fruit at the most reasonable prices,” said Marsha Edwards, CEO at Martha O’Bryan.
“We have been in a food desert for many years, and the situation has not gotten better.
This is a low cost way for us to help families.”
The organization raised $3,449.34 of the $5,000 needed to fund the bus service to operate twice a week during the Miss Martha’s Kitchen Throwdown event. Until additional funds are received, the bus will run once a week.
The area is currently served by Bill Martin’s Food Store on South 11th Street, the Eastland Kroger on Gallatin Avenue and CB Foods on Shelby Avenue — the only store within walking distance.
Residents say the quality of the food and the cleanliness of CB Foods makes it unattractive to shop there.
Edwards said it’s time re-evaluate Metro bus routes in the Cayce Homes area and consider adding small loops to connect those without cars to shopping and work.
She believes this tactic will help, but will not totally alleviate food deserts.
Martha O’Bryan is also working to bring farmers and their produce into this community.
Grant for good health
The Food Security Partners of Middle Tennessee received a $225,000 grant last year to fight childhood obesity in three low-income neighborhoods characterized as food deserts: East Nashville/Cayce Homes, Edgehill and a portion of North Nashville, mainly near the Preston Taylor Homes on Clifton Avenue.
The agency launched the Re/Storing Nashville Campaign, tasked to bring supermarkets to these communities and also educate decision makers about the need for access to healthy affordable food.
The lack of grocery stores in a neighborhood not only creates an inconvenience, but can also lead to increased health risks like childhood obesity heart disease and diabetes, said Miriam Leibowitz, Re/Storing Nashville program coordinator.
“If you look at the corner of Harding and White Bridge Road, there are three major grocery stores, but why aren’t there any in North Nashville,” she said. “This is definitely an equity issue.
“What Martha O’Bryan is doing it what needs to happen as an interim step to help alleviate the healthy food inequality that is the everyday norm for residents of Cayce Place and CWA (apartments).”
Residents are just hoping for change.
“Everyone I’ve talked to said it was a good idea,” McHenry said. “I’m just praying that it works.
“People don’t have the concept to understand that for those over here who are trying to eat healthy, it’s difficult.”