At the checkout counter of the Families First Food Market, you won’t find candy bars and junk food to tempt you before you make your purchase. Instead, brightly colored peppers and tomatoes are displayed, picked fresh from Alice’s Garden, a community garden in Lindsay Heights.
Leanell Smith, the owner of Families First, 1845 N. 12th St., said that her goal is to expand the store’s produce options, and provide locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables regularly. Customers are happy to see the produce, Smith said. “They like that it’s from the community.”
Families First and Magic Food Market are two of three corner stores participating in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, a project of Lindsay Heights Health Alliance.
Magic Food Market, 2879 N. 16th St., was the first store to receive vegetables from Alice’s Garden, starting in mid-August. Tomatoes, onions, potatoes and cabbage were available, but not much of it sold, according to Demetrius Brown, a Healthy Corner Store Initiative committee member.
The fresh food from Alice’s Garden, at 21st Street and Garfield Avenue, is kept in the back of the store inside a cooler along with non-organic produce such as lettuce, oranges, potatoes, peppers and onions purchased in bulk, according to storeowner Rajinder Kaur.
Families First has been selling produce from Alice’s Garden for several weeks, and customers are excited about supporting the local initiative. Green tomatoes are the best-selling item; smaller vegetables, such as new potatoes and cherry tomatoes don’t sell as quickly.
Brown said the difference in sales between the two stores may be that Families First only carries produce from the garden and displays it at the front of the store. Families First also accepts the Wisconsin Quest Card, a debit card that replaced food stamps, for purchases of organic produce.
However, Kaur said he thinks sales are low because people prefer quick options, such as frozen foods. “They don’t cook anymore,” he said.
Octavia Jordan, 23, who has lived near Magic Food Store with her grandmother for 10 years, said they prefer to shop there rather than at supermarkets such as Pick ‘n Save. She also likes the idea of fresh produce. “I think it’s better when it’s grown and coming from the community,” she said.
Brown and Joyce Ellwanger, of the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, are spearheading the garden project, with the help of high school students Kwame Nsoroma and Salik Brown, from Milwaukee High School of the Arts; and Sherif Diop, who attends Milwaukee School of Languages.
The teens participated in lining up the first two corner stores to sell locally grown produce. “Their role was to develop an action plan, and maintain the garden plots, (which includes) planting, cultivating and harvesting,” explained Brown. They also checked prices at a local supermarket to determine how to competitively price their produce. Brown and the teens meet with the storeowners and make deliveries once or twice a week.
Alice’s Garden donated two 12- by 24-foot plots to the initiative where onions, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, potatoes, watermelon and strawberries were planted beginning in early July. Vegetables will be harvested from the garden plot until the end of October.
The committee is looking into ways to continue the project year-round and to expand to a third corner store. According to Jessie Tobin, Lindsay Heights Health Alliance program manager, the Lindsay Heights Health Alliance is working to encourage healthy lifestyles, habits and mindsets in the community. “The garden is just one piece,” Tobin said. “(We’re) looking at multiple pieces.”