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Kansas Town Gets Creative To Save Last Remaining Small Grocery Store

The Daily Tonic is a two to five minute read sharing science backed health news and tips, all while getting you to crack a smile or even lol on occasion.

As a country, we have a long way to go when it comes to optimizing our health. We’ve talked about this before, but obesity rates and the prevalence of chronic lifestyle diseases are all trends that have been moving in the wrong direction for decades.

Our health crisis is an even bigger problem in specific parts of the country. Obesity rates are higher in rural areas than in the nation as a whole, leading to a slew of adverse health outcomes. Combine that with the fact that small rural communities usually do not have the resources to address these critical health concerns. It is no wonder why chronic lifestyle disease is much more common in these communities. 

So what are the root causes contributing to the disparity in health between rural America and the rest of the country? One major contributing factor is access to good-quality fresh food.

According to the USDA, rural non-metro counties lost 39% of their grocery stores between 1990 and 2015. Grocery stores operate on razor-thin margins, especially in rural areas. A recent 2020 survey of Minnesota grocery stores in towns of under 2,500 people found that the average profit for those stores was just 1.1% 

We are no business experts, but that sounds pretty low.

With rural populations declining over the past few decades, more and more grocery stores have been forced to close their doors. In their place, dollar stores and super-centers have become the primary place to buy food for many of these communities. This death of the grocery store in small towns across middle America has led more people to live in what is commonly referred to as a food desert: an area where it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. 

And this is where the uplifting story of Erie, Kansas, comes in. In the final days of May 2020, during some of the direst days of the pandemic, the city of Erie sent out a letter to their residents asking them a single question: “Do you support the City of Erie purchasing Stub’s Market?”

The city’s last remaining supermarket was on the verge of closing down and so the city of Erie decided to take matters into its own hands. The city purchased the supermarket themselves and now runs it like a utility. Each month, the store manager sends a financial report up the chain. City officials are relatively hands-off, stepping in only if the store slips into the red. 

By doing this, the city of Erie has managed to keep its last remaining grocery store, and as a result, its residents have maintained their access to fresh foods that they otherwise would have lost. 

The key takeaway? No single solution will get us out of the hole we’ve dug ourselves into when it comes to our health as a nation. But guaranteeing access to good-quality fresh foods across the country would be an excellent place to start. 

The city council members of Erie, Kansas, may not get the praise or headlines of a tennis phenom, but what they’ve accomplished is inspirational nonetheless and makes for a story more people need to hear about.

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