Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food access in Bayview - UPDATE

Robin Nicolaus, Ann Berry, Rhonda Winter, Michael Janis, Roberto Varga, and Jeffrey Betcher (not pictured) talk with FoodsCo Store Manager Tim Arrivas during a walk-through of the store.

Access to nutritious food at a reasonable price is a big issue for those who live in Bayview Hunters Point. Unless you grow your own, finding a decent carrot may well require spending time in a train, bus or car.

Many community-based groups have been working to change that, and some existing food retail businesses are responding to the gap in services.

A collaboration of community groups, government agencies and business leaders, called SEFA (Southeast Sector Food Access Working Group, has been meeting for years to improve access to healthy foods by supporting urban agriculture, attracting new food options to the neighborhood, working with existing food retailers to improve their offerings, and creating community-based education and advocacy responses.

The group administerered a survey to residents two years ago in which 94% of respondents said they would support new food options in the neighborhood, an astounding expression of community concern. Well over half of the respondents said they bought their food outside the neighborhood, helping to explain the $38 million in annual food retail leakage in Bayview.

The survey also showed that residents were sorely critical of what are still the two main food options in the neighborhood: SuperSave Market and FoodsCo (a division of Kroger).

Customers of SuperSave Market on 3rd Street will have noticed that the fruits and vegetables are more prominent now than they used to be, and that a deli with more healthful choices has been created.

Community members and store management walked through FoodsCo a year ago, and walked the same store again last July, looking for opportunities for improvement and evidence of progress. The group found that, while staff is concerned and working hard, and while the fruits and vegetables are competitive in quantity and quality, there was no improvement in the cleanliness of the store.

Some participating community members felt the store was worse than a year ago with regard to cleanliness, and expressed additional concerns about marketing of unhealthy options, and aisle obstructions that could be safety hazards.

Prices at FoodsCo remain lower than at other stores, and some cosmetic changes to the store, mostly exterior ones, have helped make the parking lot a better experience for customers.

Healthier products, like whole wheat bread and organic milk, which FoodsCo began stocking as a result of earlier advocacy, did not sell well at first. Now, however, those and other healthier products are selling much better, and store staff have received requests for high-end cheeses.

The store manager, Tim Arrivas, an impressive leader who started with the company in 1982 in an entry-level position and worked his way up, gave the group its tour. Arrivas proved open to customer feedback. The produce manager, Kin Tsui, was clearly doing all he could to ensure the quality of produce the store offered.

Other food retail options have been appearing along 3rd Street, including a remade Community Produce Market," a new bakery, and a fruit and vegetable stand at Upper Crust Deli.

Urban food production in community and backyard gardens that results from community-building and workforce development goals, are becoming trendsetting phenomenon. A farmers' market facilitated by Hunters Point Family and SF Environment is finishing its sixth year.

More information: Access to healthful food is good prevention for chronic health problems that are more prevalent in Bayview Hunters Point than other neighborhoods.

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