Hunterstown, a neighborhood in Alton, is a USDA-designated “food desert,” which means it is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or high-quality fresh food. This presents an issue for the Alton community, especially for those without the access or resources to purchase the expensive fresh food from across the river in St. Louis. Sociology and anthropology professor Jackie Burns, along with Principia Alumnus Penny Schmidt, plan to open a grocery store called Grassroots to address this issue.
It is important to first recognize that Grassroots is a not a charity, but a nonprofit organization. Burns noted that the store will cater to two tiers. “The first tier, the higher-end tier, is going to be the one that carries the store. The people of Hunterstown don’t have the purchasing power to keep a store like this open, so you’ve got to have this other demographic shopping there to make sure it stays open,” Burns said. “That’s looking at locally-grown, organically-produced food, so it’s a little expensive. But we’re also contributing to restoring the local food system through the 150 local producers.”
Grassroots is meant to be for everyone. Locals do not typically have the right income level to purchase fresh food, but since the upper and middle class do, this makes it possible to give discounts to locals that cannot afford it. Grassroots is meant to be a mutually beneficial grocer that supplies the community with access to fresh food. Burns and Schmidt are working with the farmers’ market in Alton, which is where they spread awareness and meet growers to supply the food.
Burns made a three-year pledge to pay the rent on the building, a large commitment for a grocery store that may or may not be successful in the next few years. However, according to Burns, “it will be more than just a grocery store. It will provide a social context for the churches, the food pantries and the people to come together in Hunterstown and improve their lives.”
Currently, Grassroots has student-volunteering opportunities, specifically in fundraising. “We’re going to have some booths at the farmers market, and a few other local venues to promote Grassroots,” Burns said. “We need people to run the booths to raise awareness.”
Grassroots Grocery will be located at 415 Ridge St. in Alton, and its website is GrassrootsGrocery.org.