Kick-started with a grant and completed by a group of South Side partners, a small new greenhouse near the entrance of the South Side Community Center is one more step in this neighborhood’s trek to leave the food desert.
All three South Side U.S. Census tracts were deemed food deserts — areas that don’t have easy access to fresh, healthy and affordable food — by the FDA after the neighborhood’s only grocery store, the IGA on State Avenue, closed in 2013.
The national dollar store chain Family Dollar moved in near the spot in 2015.
“You can get some food there,” said Marilyn Cullens, who’s lived on the South Side for decades. “That is helpful.”
But she acknowledged it’s not a grocery store.
The concern for leaders and community organizers on the South Side is that a lack of fresh food and convenient shopping can encourage the consumption of too much processed and high-calorie food. And that can lead to obesity and other health issues.
And so groups like the South Side Task Force, RiverStone Health, the community center and the Friendship House have worked to improve access to healthy foods for the neighborhood.
The latest in that effort is the greenhouse, which was introduced to the community on Thursday morning with a small ceremony at the senior center.
“This is a positive thing,” said Matt Lundgren, executive director of the Friendship House.
The Friendship House is a faith-based nonprofit that serves kids through after-school, summer care and preschool programs. They joined the partnership as a way to teach their kids healthy habits, to plant and grow their own food and to create important relationships with the senior citizens at the Senior Center, with whom they’ll do the planting.
To tackle an issue like the South Side’s food desert, it’s vital to partner up with community stakeholders, create a plan and move forward methodically, said Melissa Henderson, a representative of RiverStone’s Healthy By Design program.
“You take it slow,” she said.