D.C. Central Kitchen plans to announce on Saturday that it will team up with D.C. Hunger Solutions and the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development to launch a program that will deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to approximately 30 stores in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
The Healthy Corners pilot program will target bodegas and retailers in those D.C. neighborhoods that have been designated food deserts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (For those not yet paying attention to American poverty issues, food deserts are low-income communities located more than a mile away from large grocery stores; 10 miles for rural communities.)
To jump-start the program, DCCK has agreed to provide corner stores in these wards not only with refrigeration units but also with (at least initially) low-cost or no-cost produce to stock those units, says chief executive Michael F. Curtin, Jr. The investment in new equipment is important, Curtin adds. The program couldn’t ask these businesses to give up cooler space currently devoted to sodas or beer or other products that generate revenue.
“We’ll [deliver] a whole range of products and see what sells” at these stores, Curtin says. Some of the produce, he adds, will be local, such as zucchini, apples and greens. Some fruits, such as bananas and oranges, will obviously be shipped from outside the region. One goal of Healthy Corners is to create new markets for these products and possibly generate jobs as a result.
By providing free refrigeration and low-cost produce for several months, Healthy Corners is essentially lowering the barrier of entry into the fresh food market for these stores, Curtin says. “We understand that this is a risk” for retailers, Curtin acknowledges. “We’re going to remove this risk. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and we’ll move on.”
Many of the ingredients, Curtin notes, will come with recipe cards provided by the DCCK kitchen and catering teams. “If there is eggplant,” Curtin explains, there will be a recipe card with “two or three cooking methods to go along with [the eggplant], so people know what to do with it.”
Once Healthy Corners gets off the ground, DCCK plans to put graduates from its culinary job training program to work creating home-cooking kits with, say, greens, garlic, apples and other ingredients, with an explanation of how to turn them into a tasty dish. “We want to offer some alternatives . . . but make it easy,” Curtin says.
DCCK almost decided to launch Healthy Corners without the city and its $300,000 grant, Curtin tells All We Can Eat. The Department of Small and Local Business Development demanded certain things from DCCK that the nonprofit’s management was uncomfortable with, such as a separate bank account to handle all Healthy Corners transactions. Such a demand, Curtin says, creates ripple effects in the organization’s accounting department, whether with payroll or insurance. The two sides were expected to sign an agreement tomorrow that would mostly resolve the outstanding issues, Curtin notes.
“This is an important program with significant potential benefits not only for our community but as a model for other cities,” Curtin notes via e-mail late this afternoon. “As that is the case, we are opting to go forward” with the city.
If all goes well, DCCK “can start delivering to stores next week,” Curtin says. “Certainly we want to start delivering while there’s still a semblance of summer, so we can capitalize on that.”