By C.N. Staff Writer
Healthier food is coming, back, east of the river. The first Saturday in April national health grocery Whole Foods descended upon the southeast neighborhood of Congress Heights. The popular natural and organic food grocery hosted a mini pop-up store at the St. Elizabeth’s, east campus, Gateway DC Pavilion. The chain announced in late March that they would begin a monthly pop-up store to bring healthier food choices to the southeast community.
The food is sold at the larger store’s regular price, but Mid-Atlantic president for Whole Foods, Scott Allshouse, said all profits would be donated back to the community, the Post reports. He said, “We’re going to take the opportunity to sell our products, provide access to high quality foods and then take the profits and donate 100 percent back to the St. E’s community.” The chain already has four stores in the District and hopes to open a new one around the H Street NE area, a corridor of the city that is rapidly growing and the Nationals Ballpark, just across the South Capitol Street Bridge.
The pop-up store comes at a time when the majority of the southeast community, predominately comprising Wards 7 and 8, has no healthy food options. In 2012 Yes! Organic Market, the local chain of small, organic grocery stores, closed its store on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, in the District’s Fairlawn neighborhood. The store opened in 2010 with a $900,000 grant from the District, but according to owner of the local chain, Gary Cha, the Pennsylvania Ave. SE location struggled to make a consistent profit.
In a 2012 Post interview Cha said, “It’s a difficult place to get in and out. That was something that I couldn’t overcome. I wanted to be the first — well I guess I was the first — organic market east of the Anacostia River. We wanted to be the first to offer healthy foods across the Anacostia River. And I tried to do that the best that I could. But that location, the way it is located, is very hard to get to.” Cha is speaking about the accessibility, which many residents complained about, to the store. If you are driving west on Pennsylvania Avenue SE coming from the Southern Avenue SE direction, it’s hard to turn into the store, which had limited street parking on the side and a few spaces in the buildings garage. One could not legally make a left turn or U-turn to gain access to the store.
Besides the southeast community loosing out on healthy food options, the city also lost the $900,000 grant it donated to the store’s build out. However, another organic food organization, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, is dedicated to bringing quality food to the area. The non-profit organization is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the DC area.
Arcadia’s Culinary Educator and SNAP Outreach Coordinator, JuJu Harris, was on hand at the Whole Foods pop-up store in April providing cooking demonstrations. She said through Arcadia’s Mobile Market, which will be in Ward 8 three times a week and Ward 7 twice a week, they aim to “improve access to healthy, affordable food regardless of where you live or how much you earn.” The market will do so by operating regularly scheduled stops in low-income, food-insecure communities; offering high quality, locally grown, sustainably produced farm products at affordable prices; accepting all forms of payment, including food assistance benefits; doubling the purchasing power of food assistance benefits through a “Bonus Bucks” program; and providing educational resources for how to prepare the market’s offerings in nutritious, cost-effective, delicious, and easy ways.
As for the Whole Foods pop-up mini store, Mayor Gray seems hopeful that their partnership with Gateway DC Pavilion will eventually evolve into an actual store. For now, the pop-up plans to travel to the pavilion on the first Saturday of every month ending October 4th and picking back up April 4, 2015 and May 2, 2015. During the monthly pop, up residents can expect to see cooking demonstrations, get recipes and join in on activities for children of all ages. The store will operate from 12-5pm.
To find out more about the Whole Foods partnership with Gateway DC Pavilion please visit http://dmped.dc.gov/event/gateway-health-whole-foods To find out more about Arcadia please visit www.arcadiafood.org