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Center for a Livable Future


June 13, 2013

Mayor Rawlings-Blake, Food Depot, and Eat Right Live Well

Food Depot event with Mayor: Slides
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“A grocery store can be an anchor in the community,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, addressing an audience gathered in Food Depot in Southwest Baltimore.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake was visiting the grocery store to celebrate what she called an innovative retail strategy for addressing health disparities in food deserts. “We take disparities very seriously,” she said, “and we’re going to close that gap to create sustainable, whole communities.”

The Mayor outlined the major tenets of her new food desert retail strategy, one of which is to retain and expand existing grocery stores in food deserts. Retention and expansion of existing supermarket infrastructure is critical, because establishing new stores can take years and face many roadblocks. The strategy, developed in concert with the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative and the Office of Sustainability, aims to increase access to healthy, affordable foods throughout the city. In this initiative, Food Depot serves as a model, hiring on-site registered dietitian and nutritionist, Sheryl Hoehner, to work with the community and shoppers in cooking demonstrations, taste tests, community engagement and educational outreach.

Benjy Green, the CEO and co-owner of Food Depot, a local, family-owned grocery store that’s been in the city for 98 years, emphasized his “mission to support customers in their efforts to Eat Right Live Well,” a reference to a Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future research project that took place in the store. The Eat Right Live Well study involved formative research about how and why shoppers make purchasing decisions, as well as research into what kind of interventions in the supermarket environment increase the purchases of healthy food.

Anne Palmer, co-principal investigator of the study, recalled that Mr. Green approached the Center three years ago and offered to let CLF “use [his] grocery store as a laboratory.” He provided financial and in-kind support for the research and allowed the researchers to make changes in the store that included training for his staff, product labeling, re-positioning of products, and price manipulation to make healthier foods more attractive. “We don’t have the sales data yet,” said Ms. Palmer, “but we’ve already learned some lessons. Not every store can afford Sheryl [the dietitian], but labels and taste tests increase customers’ willingness to try new healthy food.”

Food Depot is located in Southwest Baltimore, which has a startlingly high rate of diet-related diseases and mortality. Thirty-six percent of Baltimore neighborhoods lack grocery stores that offer fresh and healthy food, and one in four Baltimore children live in a food desert.

“Twenty-eight percent of Baltimore children live in poverty,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake, “and 120,000 residents live in food deserts.” In regard to these grim statistics, her office’s goal is to implement creative food retail models that address health, employment and economic disparities across the city.

Baltimore serves as a model in improving food access, said the Mayor: “People are looking to Baltimore for how we do this,” she said.

Here’s coverage by Gigi Barnett of CBS-Baltimore (WJZ Channel 13). And here's coverage by Don Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun.

—Christine Grillo