Healthy Changes on the Block: Top 5 Reasons to come to the March 29 Grand Re-opening of a Healthy Neighborhood Market in South LA

Our friends at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council are hosting a grand re-opening on March 29 of a market in South Los Angeles that they helped transform into a healthy food hub. Clare Fox, sale director of policy and innovation with LAFPC invites you to the festivities. Also, visit the community planning forum in Boyle Heights this Saturday!

Saturday marks a new era for the corner of Vermont Ave and 60th Street in South Los Angeles. A freshly painted bright blue corner market hoisted a sign with a new name: “Alba Snacks & Services.” The market owner Nelson Garcia participated in a year-long program with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) to become a healthy food retailer. As a participant in the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network (a project of LAFPC), Nelson received technical assistance on food retail, design and business that resulted in major store renovations, a new focus on healthy food, and a new business name.

This Saturday is the “grand re-opening” of the store as a healthy food retailer. Here are five good reasons to celebrate with Nelson and the community tomorrow:

1.     Increase Access to Healthy Food

Nelson’s store conversion project is a part of a larger effort to expand access to healthy food in South Los Angeles, where many neighborhoods face diminished healthy food options. National studies have connected access to grocery stores and other healthy food retail with reduced numbers of chronic disease like diabetes. In South Los Angeles, some neighborhoods have less than one grocery store per 10,000 residents, according to the Health Atlas for the City of Los Angeles. South Los Angeles also struggles with a rate of 11% adult diabetes compared to only 6% in West Los Angeles. By offering more fruits and healthy snacking products, Nelson is a part of a movement to create equitable access to healthy food in an effort to improve the health of his South Los Angeles neighborhood.

2.     Support Small Business Leadership for Health

South Los Angeles is home to three times as many small corner neighborhood markets like Nelson Garcia’s as compared to West Los Angeles. Usually stocked with high-caloric, low-nutrient food items, small food stores are nevertheless a place where many residents in under-served neighborhoods buy food, especially young people, the elderly and transit dependent. That’s why the Los Angeles Food Policy Council focuses on catalyzing a resource network specifically for existing small food retailers called the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network (HNMN). Through HNMN, we offer free ongoing business and leadership development training and support to small stores who desire to become healthy food retailers. We know that South Los Angeles and other LA neighborhoods considered “food deserts” or “food swamps” are home to many innovative and risk-taking entrepreneurs like Nelson. With additional resources, tools and support, neighborhood markets can be a part of bringing improved food options and health services to their communities. By supporting Nelson’s growth with his new healthy food business, we can support the growth of a community-responsive business leader in South Los Angeles who cares about the health of his community.

3.     Connect with Good Food Neighbors

But Nelson cannot do it alone. It also “takes a village” of activated stakeholders committed to one another’s mutual success to shore up sustainable and healthy community change. For his “market makeover” project, Nelson has quite a team behind him: the principal, teachers and student leaders from nearby Hawkins High School; a brand strategist, architect and graphic designer affiliated with food retail firm Shook Kelley; community development practitioners from Leadership for Urban Renewal Network, food policy friends at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, nearly 200 backers through an online crowd-sourced Kiva Zip loan and the support of local Councilmember Curren Price. Perhaps most critical for the long-term success of Nelson’s efforts: several neighborhood institutions have committed to regularly buy healthy food from Alba Snacks & Services. Nearby Hawkins High School, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, Southern California Library and Voice Neighborhood Council have become “Good Food Neighbors,” to Alba Market and will promote the new healthy food products now available to their students, patients and constituents. Hopefully, this mutual commitment between Nelson and his local neighborhood organizations will prove “fruitful” for the longevity of his market makeover project, resulting in even more fresh produce offerings.

4. Fun!

What would be a grand re-opening without some grand family fun? You won’t want to miss the full slate of activities, including music, food, face painting, loteria, dance performances, youth-led workouts and raffles. Several workshops throughout the day will focus on “smart snacking,” because Nelson’s store is the snack mecca for the dozens of junior and senior high school students who swarm the store every afternoon eager for a quick bite. Up until now, kids would line up out the door for the array of sugary, salty and processed “junk” snacks that made of the bulk of the store’s offerings. Starting Saturday, students looking for a grab-and-go bite can now reach for a tangerine, bananas, yogurt, trail mix, baggies of apples or carrots, healthy breakfast or protein bars. The grand re-opening event will feature healthy snack demos, sampling and learning about what healthy snacking is all about.

5. Live the Plan for a Healthy LA

The draft Plan for a Healthy LA identifies the need to expand access to healthy food and promote sustainable local food systems as a key aspect of addressing health disparities across the city. The draft Plan calls out as an objective for the City of Los Angeles “to increase the number of corner neighborhood stores in low-income and underserved areas that offer a substantive supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.” The Grand Re-opening of Nelson’s store as Alba Snacks & Services brings to life this policy objective. His market makeover project can serve as a demonstration project of how to creatively transform the existing food landscape in South Los Angeles, and therefore inform the kinds of policies and resources that could be included in the Plan for a Healthy LA and beyond. The Plan will be a valuable blueprint for how city leaders tackle the major health inequities seen across Los Angeles. Real-time examples like Nelson’s store conversion project highlight the immense opportunities to invest in the existing resources of underserved communities to catalyze increased healthy food access and improve residents’ chances of health.